One major reason to visit Barcelona is of course the “modernism(e)”, visible in architecture, but also in all kinds of design and decorative arts. There is probably no other city where this movement – which elsewhere may be referred to as Art Nouveau, Jugendstil - is so striking and present. We owe this if course especially to Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926).
Maybe a few words about Gaudi. Often suffering from bad health, a vegetarian, devoted to his profession, nature and religion, he never married (some experience of non-responded love). He died accidentally at the age of 73, struck by a tram.
I took the time to visit some of his most well-known buildings, all part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can follow these little circles on the ground. Even the paving stones on the most prestigious avenue – Passeig de Gràcia -, where you find some of the Gaudi buildings, are designed by him as well as many of the street lamps...
Palau Güell was built 1886-88 as a private home for a wealthy entrepreneur, Eusebi Güell, who became and remained a leading sponsor for Gaudi. It’s a fairly early Gaudi production in what can be described as an orientalist period. Situated on a narrow street in the old quarters, it’s difficult to get an outside perspective of the building. The interior is just overwhelming. (You may recognise Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider in Antonioni’s “The Passenger” from 1975, in a scene shot here.)
Casa Battlo was redesigned by Gaudi in 1904-06 on an existing building from 1877, also designed by him. There are hardly any straight lines left. We can now refer to Gaudi’s naturalist period. The Balto family occupied the major apartment until the middle of the 1950’s.
Casa Milà, also known as La Pedrera, is from the same period, 1905-10. Good in one way, but bad for photos, is that the exterior is refurbished. We have to satisfy ourselves with a model, exposed inside.
This is the last of Gaudi’s civil works – he was then close to 60. It was commissioned by businessman Pere Milà and his wife Roser Segimon I Artells. The building has suffered a lot over the decades, but is now again looking close to the original plans. The structure allows interior walls to be moved according to individual wishes. One of the floors is now open to public and is decorated in the style of an upper middle class family around 1910. The stairs are for the “personnel”, the owners entered by lifts. You have some splendid views from the top, where once again Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider were filmed, as well as Scarlett Johansson in the Woody Allen movie ”Vicky Cristina Barcelona” from 2008.
I did not have the time to visit some other Gaudi buildings in Barcelona, like the Casa Vicens, Collegio Teresiano in a neo-gothic style or the Casa Calvet, but “stole” some pictures from Google Earth.
Another place linked to the name of Güell is the Park Güell. This is part of an unsuccessful housing site, up on a northern hill. Some 60 luxury houses were planned, two exist, one of which, designed by an architect friend, was inhabited by Gaudi 1906-25. The mosaic salamander, known as the dragon, has become something like a Gaudi symbol.
At last, the Sagrada Familia. Gaudi took in 1883 over a project which had been planned a year earlier. The church has since been under construction and still is. There is a hope to see it finished in 2026, more than 140 years later, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death. Less than one fourth was completed at his death. Today remains a lot to be made, including the top towers – especially the central “Jesus Christ” one which will make it the world’s tallest church (170 m = 560 ft) - and the main entrance, the “Glory Facade” which will necessitate the demolition of a block of houses.
Not easy to take good pictures from the ground level. Here are some views from far.
The Nativity facade (see also top picture) which was ready in 1930, devoted to the birth of Jesus, faces the rising sun to the north-east. Gaudi’s intention was to have it poly-chromed like gothic churches used to be.
The other more or less finished facade is the Passion one, much more austere, facing the sunset, symbolic of the death of Christ.
The interior is now rather complete. The church is open for services and was consecrated by the Pope Benedict in 2010.
The doors on the Passion Facade reproduce the “Pater Noster” in Catalan in sharp relief (and with many other languages “behind”). A “magic square” gives the age of Jesus, read in all senses.
A visit to the top of one of the towers allows a splendid view of the surroundings…
… and to have a closer look on all ongoing works.
Too bad that so many of us, like Gaudi, will hardly have a fair chance to see the completion of the church!
To finish about the Barcelona “modernism”, here are some other remarkable buildings. Gaudi was not alone.