When planning for our visit in Barcelona, the last leg of our Spain 2019 travels, I was very interested in visiting some of the famous Antonio Gaudi sights. My expectations were greatly rewarded with this architects’ style and interest in nature. He was a passionate observer, learning directly from what he saw in the sky and the clouds, in water, rocks, plants, and animals. His work was more than just architectural. And each design, project, or gift are all unique. His main inspiration was nature. Gaudi’s most famous phrase, originality is returning to the origin, means that the origin of all things is nature, created by God.
First Gift 1869
The park was designed under the command of Josep Fontsère, the young and then unknown student of architecture, Antoni Gaudí, supported him with the design of the pumps for the waterfall “Cascada”.
Eastern Influence Gifts 1883-1888
A trend in architectural style that combined the Neogothic with the exotic began to develop in Europe during the last part of the nineteenth century. Casa Vicens is a notable building in Gaudi’s fine portfolio of constructions because it was his first commissioned design throughout the city of Barcelona. Unlike many of the other architectures mentioned here, Casa Vicens is located along Carrer de les Carolines which is one of those stereotypically hidden side streets that you stumble across wandering around Barcelona. Take time to find this gift!
Naturalism Gifts 1895-1916
Gaudi’s most creative period corresponds to the completely free development of his ideas based on architecture inspired by nature. The concept of naturalism becomes evident in the Park Guell. Officially commissioned by a Catalan businessman called Eusebi Guell in 1890, who wanted Gaudi to build a ‘garden city’ inspired by nature. Opened in 1922, Park Guell is a wonderland of gingerbread houses, quirky pathways, and mazes which have become a delight to visit. Many sculptures and surfaces are covered with colorful trencadis mosaics. This modernist invention was easy and cheap to cover curvy surfaces. The upper plaza of Park Guell is a mingling point for visitors to relax and observe the stunning views across Barcelona’s finest landscapes.
Casa Batllo, the House of the Dragon, is an unmissable Gaudi building right next to Casa Amatller, a Cadafalch design. In 1903 Gaudi’s clients bought a fixer upper in a fashionable location on Passeig de Gràcia. Inspired by Gaudi’s Park Guell, they gave him free rein. He transformed the plain building into a fantasy world of light and curves with a roof that looks suspiciously like a dragon. The glass and tile mosaic which covers the building glows as the light changes throughout the day. On the lower floors the facade is quite skeletal, explaining why locals call it “the House of Bones”.
Casa Mila was built between 1906-1912 for a wealthy couple, Pere Mila and his wife Roser Segimon. It was the last civil work designed by Gaudi. Funnily enough, Barcelona residents at the time thought the house was hideous. It had an unconventional exterior with contoured waves made out of gray stone. That’s how Casa Mila acquired the nickname La Pedrera which translates to “the Quarry House”. The building’s shape of the exterior continues to the interior by continuous curvatures, from which some people have the vision of waves or even clouds.
Out on the roof, Gaudi turned functional air ducts and chimneys into powerful sculptural forms like sentinels. In fact, quite Darth Vadar-esque. Is it a coincidence that film director George Lucas visited Casa Mila when he was writing Star Wars? Also, there are two arches on the roof which were built to perfectly frame two very specific views. One is Mount Tibidabo and the other, his masterpiece, La Sagrada Familia.
Definitive Gift 1892-1926
Gaudi’s grand masterpiece! The most popular landmark not only in Barcelona, but also the whole of Spain. Gaudi’s, La Sagrada Familia, is a stunningly beautiful piece of architectural genius. A gift full of imagination and detail. It is an analytical laboratory for studying the methods and solutions based on straight-line geometry and equilibrated structures. The beauty of La Sagrada Familia is even more magnified given that it is still unfinished. Gaudi devoted the last part of his life to this project and is even buried here. When Gaudi died in an accident in 1926, he had spent 43 years of his life working on his masterpiece… and only one quarter of the church had been finished. The projected completion date is 2026, to celebrate Gaudi’s centenary. Unfortunately, our current pandemic may alter this date. From the outside, La Sagrada Familia is unlike any Church I have seen before. Between the spires, the facades, the Gothic-styled symbolism, the Modernista asymmetry coupled with Gaudi’s love for nature is all a bit overwhelming. Talk time to soak in Gaudi’s creativity, vision and design. Truly a Lasting Impression!
Tip: (I learned afterwards.) For fantastic photos, plan visiting 2-3 hours before sunset, when the sun is shining directly through the stained glass on the West side of the church.
Some other Gifts
You don’t always have to look up to see Gaudi’s work in Barcelona. His gifts are seen in benches, street lights and in pavements too. Look out for the hexagonal paving tiles on Passeig de Gràcia. The intricate 7-tile ocean-themed pattern from the 1970s is based on a Gaudi design for Casa Batllo. One of Gaudi’s first commissions in Barcelona was for street lights which still stand in Placa Reial. Look for the ones with six arms that are decorated with snakes and winged helmets.