Barcelona… I like to taste this word again and again, softly clamping my tongue between the teeth when I pronounce “c” like Spanish people do. This city so impressed me with its unique identity, cosmopolitanism, rhythm of life, delightful food and outstanding architecture… This is the place where one of the greatest architects of all time was living and working – Antoni Gaudí. I think his creations can be included to the list of wonders of the world – they are so unique, so different and so beautiful. I prepared a brief of his “must-see” works located in Barcelona. Don’t try to visit them all in one day. Like all other works of geniuses they are full of hidden meaning, fine details and symbolism which require time to discover and understand them.
1) Casa Batlló. This is my favorite work of Gaudí. I could have spent hours looking just at the facade discovering new features of this fantastic building. Located in Paseig de Gracia it cannot be missed. It was built for the famous industrialist Josep Batlló Casanovas who gave an absolute freedom to Gaudí for his artistic expression. This building was so much different and far ahead of its time that it wasn’t understood by its contemporaries who gave it such nicknames as “house of bones” and “house of yawns”. Gaudí not only created the architectural look of this building but also designed interiors and furniture.
Gaudí was probably the first architect inspired by … the shape of bones (look at the columns on the facade). He believed that everything in the world including humans and animals is created by God and thus has a perfect structure, form and proportions. He learned from nature and used this knowledge in creating his masterpieces. The railings of balconies are cast iron and may remind different things: part of a skull, carnival masks, dragon’s eyes. The ceramic disks and mosaic on the facade compose a huge impressionist’s painting and can be associated with underwater world especially during the night.
The roofing is crowned in the form of a spine and it also resembles a dragon’s back
Uraveling of Gaudí ‘s inspirations and symbols is the same as putting together a puzzle: you understand the importance of each piece in order to create a full picture.
An outstanding quality of all Gaudi’s works is that he tried to decorate almost every architectural feature. On the roof of Casa Batllo’ chimneys are covered with broken ceramic and painted glass.
2)Basilica of the Sagrada Familia. Construction of this project began in 1882 and accompanied Gaudí for the rest of his life. It became his magnum opus which he understood he wouldn’t be able to finish until his death. The works continue up to this day following the plans that architect has left behind and it is expected to be completed in 20 years. Sagrada Familia symbolizes the life and death of Jesus Christ: it has 3 facades – Nativity, Passion and Glory (the last one is not finished yet and it will become the biggest and the most majestic).
Sagrada Familia, the Passion Facade. The style of the basilica is borrowed from Gothic churches.
The Nativity Facade is full of decorative sculpture which represents the richness and diversity of the World.
Interior of Sagrada Familia resembles a forest of huge palm trees. The effect is enhanced by a skillful lighting through the stained glass windows.
Gaudí ‘s great talent and merit was in extracting some forms from natural environment which he used in his creations and which remained unnoticed by several generations of architects.
3) Casa Mila, “La Pedrera”. Located in Passeig de Gracia this building was ordered by one rich and important family of Barcelona. By that time Gaudi was the most famous and expensive architect. This building was far ahead of its time and as it is clear from its nickname it was not understood by coevals (“Pedrera” in catalan means “stone quarry”).
The liquid, organic forms were absolutely innovative during Gaudí ‘s time. They were created with the use of stone and curved metallic beams. Gaudí invented a “free plan” concept, which never was used before. It released the facade from load-bearing functions and allowed to knock down any partitions without affecting the building’ solidity.
On the roof of Casa Mila’ Gaudí created a “garden of sculptures” by decorating chimneys and air shafts with stone statues. They resemble silent warriors guarding the piece and serenity of this magic house.
4) Palau Güellis located on the Carrer Nou de la Rambla. It was built as a residence for Güell Family and this relatively small building was called “palace” by its contemporaries because of its complexity and beauty.
The entrance of Palau Guell is decorated with a wonderful wrought iron work.
Every chimney on the roof is decorated with mosaic from broken ceramic. It was the first time when Gaudí used this decorative technique and it became one of his most favorite.
The basement of the palace resembles ancient cistern. The columns with fungiform capitals are built from a thick brick.
5) Park Güell. Eusebi Güell wanted to build an oasis of tranquility within industrial city where it would be possible to return to nature and escape from urbanization. It is amazing how Gaudi was able to integrate architecture with nature and to create an absolute harmony between those two. Between 1907 and 1910 Gaudí constructed the famous “endless bench” 110 feet long undulating like a snake.
Entrance pavilion to Park Güell resembles Christmas gingerbread house and fairy hut of gnomes at the same moment. The chimneys are made in the form of a mushroom which enhances connection between this building and nature (forest).
Plates on the ceiling can be associated with sun, medusas, underwater world, forest, etc.
The salamander on the main stairs has become one of the symbols of Gaudi’s work. It is a legendary animal often associated with fire and it can be also interpreted as dragon from biblical sources (remember the medieval story of Saint George and Dragon?). Sometimes it is connected with the crocodile from the coat of arms of City of Nimes where Gaudí studied. It also has a functional purpose as it is the outlet for the tank situated below the colonnade.
The Chairman of the Faculty of Architecture said that only time will show if Gaudí was a genius or a madman (“un genio o un loco”). And time has put everything on its place. Today we call Gaudí “Leonardo Da Vinci of the XX century”.
Want to learn more about various interior styles? Check my “HISTORY OF STYLES” book: