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In Barcelona, in the footsteps of Gaudi

We had read and seen so much about Barcelona that we had the impression that, upon arrival, we would be in a well known land and that we might feel right at home.

Actually, this was not the case! Barcelona managed to surprise us by its well-distributed beauty, its liveliness and its spread out joie de vivre, by its human-scale neighborhoods that were good to walk through.

We walked its streets twice in the past year and we can only dream of going back to the city that could be described as "inviting," if we were to limit ourselves to a single descriptive word.

First of all, it is a city where it is easy to walk and to find your way around because it was planned as a huge checkerboard of square blocks, 100 meters each, that the Barcelonans have named "pom". "Are we far from the Sagrada Familia?” one could ask. “No, you are 8 poms away”… which means 8 street corners.

Its squares, restaurants, museums, and streets hold so many places to discover historical and architectural treasures. This is by no means a secret and Gaudi, the famous Catalan architect, has abundantly left his mark over these places. After all, he is the only architect in the world to have seven of his works listed as World Heritage by UNESCO.

We settled down in a small boutique hotel in the center of the city, the Hotel Jazz, located at 3 Carrer de Pelai - a quiet little impasse - from where we could reach the Rambla, the Gothic Quarter and many of the works of the famous architect on foot.

Follow us!

La Rambla

Since we are close, let’s first take the Rambla towards the sea. It is not really a pedestrian street. It’s more like a huge boulevard whose center occupies the largest part, where pedestrians circulate through small terraces that offer beer, wine and some tapas, and kiosks that offer tourist souvenirs as well as objects for everyday use. Shops and restaurants line this lively, emblematic street of Barcelona, where it is pleasant to wander around, both during the day and in the evening.

We quickly arrived at La Boqueria. This is a very colorful market worth a stop. Here you will find everything from fruits, vegetables, meat, fish and seafood, flowers and sweets. Yes, many stalls offer sweets of all colors and flavors. It seems that the people of Barcelona all have a sweet tooth! We could not resist the seafood platter offered by a merchant at a corner of his counter! This was a treat for both the eyes and the taste buds!

Just as beautiful, provided the traffic allowed us to admire it, was the market pavement, which was designed by Joan Miro, another famous Catalan artist.

The first work: the Palais Güell

A few blocks away is the Palais Güell, the first real work by Gaudi. He was only 34 years old when he conceived this private palace for Eusebi Güell, an industrialist and politician who would become his main client as well as one of his best friends. We often noticed his name during our visit, including at Park Güell.

This palace was the main residence of the Güell family, which had 10 children, and is an excellent introduction to the works of the architect. It is the only domestic work of architecture that Gaudi completed and did not undergo major modifications.

Its facade is reminiscent of the sobriety of Arab buildings that contain many wonders. That is the case here! Do not miss a visit to the absolutely incredible interior, with its many pieces of original furniture, the beautiful dome, the sets of columns, the woodwork, the stairs with wrought iron banisters, and the coffered ceilings. Visit the terrace, with its 20 colorful chimneys and, at the other end of the palace, in the basement, the stables with impressive arches of stone supported by fungi-form columns.

It is 12 well-spent Euros for a visit to this palace, which was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1984.

Small follies!

We then cross the Gothic quarter to Plaza Reial, a superb square, to admire the two lampposts that had been created by the architect also at the very beginning of his career.

We take the Passeig de Gracia towards the Sagrada Familia. En route, a few stops allow us to admire some other masterpieces.

Casa Batlló

This is a beautiful, emblematic house in Barcelona with its marine-inspired shapes, both inside and out. Moreover, the navy blue is very present in the ceramics that decorate the facade, the entrance and the patios.

For the façade, which is considered one of the most original, Gaudi used the stone and wrought iron as well as ceramic applied according to the technique called "spade-plate" or trencadis. This is a technique that consists of breaking ceramic tiles to destroy the patterns and then rearranging the pieces so as to make a new compositions unrelated to the original drawings.

Gaudi was the first to use this method to cover curved and irregular surfaces, a method he applied in many of his works, as we will later see.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Casa Milà or Pedrera

A little further away, on the other side of Passeig de Gracia, is the last apartment building built by Gaudi, a true celebration of the curved line.

After the Sagrada Familia and Parc Güel, it is probably Gaudi's most visited work.

However, there is not much left of the apartments designed by the architect in the 19th century, except a top floor apartment that occupied two old homes at the time and will allow you to discover the key elements of the interior architecture by Gaudi by following the daily life of a rich family.

From there, you can access the rooftop terrace where Gaudi’s original chimneys, as well as the stairs covered with fragments of marble and mosaic, have regained their splendor through restoration.

It is believed that the chimney, which was crowned with small hats, was made by Gaudi the day after the inauguration of the building, with fragments of empty bottles from the party. It was restored with fragments of champagne bottles from the early 20th century.

Casa Vicens

Casa Vicens is located in the Gràcia district, at 24 Carrer de les Carolines. It is a private property that cannot be visited, but is also classified as a World Heritage building by UNESCO.

For this residence, Gaudi was inspired by Indian and Japanese architecture using his favorite materials, bricks and ceramic pieces. He also used baroque trompe-l'œil decor as well as arabesques and Art Nouveau motifs. Pay attention to the wrought-iron gate that reproduces the beautiful leaves of a small palm tree.

The Sagrada Familia

We finally arrive at the famous, and not yet completed, masterpiece of the eminent architect and artist.

Parabolic towers, hyperbolic vaults, facades abundantly carved with multiple characters, a nave flooded with light - sometimes green sometimes blue, depending on the hour - and the stained glass windows through which it pierces.

It is the most representative monument in Barcelona and it is the great work of Gaudi, began in 1883 and to which he dedicated the end of his life. It is truly a masterpiece and, of course, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site!

You absolutely have to visit the interior of the Sagrada Familia despite the long lines you may encounter. It is actually relatively easy to get tickets. For 15 Euros, you can get pre-booked tickets at a specific time, which will allow you to bypass the line. We got tickets for the next day without any problem.

Once inside, stop under the magnificent crucifix, which was also designed by Gaudi, suspended in the nave. Then go to the crypt to gather around the tomb of the brilliant creator.

Park Güell

We saved a visit to Park Güell for the end of our tour since it is located a little further away from our path.

In fact, it is an unfinished dream of a garden city by Gaudi and his patron and friend Eusebi Güell.

The duo planned to build sixty properties with a huge common green area. It was to be a bucolic retreat for the high bourgeoisie, who, it seems, were put off by its remoteness from the city at the time. So it was a total failure.

Gaudi worked there for 10 years until the death of Güell. Only one house had been completed and Gaudi lived there from 1906 to 1926. It now houses a museum dedicated to him, with drawings and furniture.

The main gate of the park, where there are no straight lines, is decorated with mosaics and flanked by two pavilions inspired by Hänsel and Gretel. The pavilion on the right, known as that of the witch, is crowned with a poisonous mushroom. If we look closely, we will see that the pustules of the mushroom are actually reversed cups. It is said that Gaudi had stopped drinking coffee at the time and that's what inspired this creation...

The main staircase is divided in two by a huge multicolored dragon built in trencadis ceramic, one of Gaudi's signature elements. It is just like the famous wavy bench that goes around the terrace offering a good view of Barcelona. This is where the mythical scene of seduction was shot in the film "The Spanish Inn".

Other works 

If you have time, and want to extend your visit, here are some other less-known achievements by Gaudi that can also be admired from the outside only.

Casa Calvet, located at 57 Carrer Sant Marc, is a residential building with some typical decorative elements by Gaudi.

The gateway to the Finca Güell stables (Avinguda de Pedralbes, 7) with the Porta del Drac (Dragon Gate), is a large wrought iron sculpture with bat wings and a mouth that opens around a curvy tongue.

The impressive Miralles Portal, on Manuel Girona passeig, built in 1901, gave access to a private property that no longer exists. Today it provides access to a quiet public street.

Learn more about Gaudi

Gaudí Experiència is a new way to discover Gaudí and his works. Located near the Park Güell, the space offers a journey through the creative universe of the genius of modernist architecture through three axes: interactive walls for adults and children, models of works by the architect and a 4D audiovisuals.

After more than six months of renovation, the Museu Diocesà in Barcelona just reopened with a unique and long-awaited exhibition "Walking with Gaudí". This is a huge exhibition that gathers many objects and documents about the life of the artist and presented through four main themes: his influences, the worlds of Gaudi, his masterpieces and his heritage.

How to visit

You can visit on foot, stepping on the Hop-on Hop-off bus, alone or with a private guide (it is easy to find one online).

The Modernism Route, a government initiative, publishes a guide that includes up to 120 of Barcelona's most important works. You can download it or get it once you are in town. This is an excellent tool to accompany you throughout your tour.

No matter how, on foot or otherwise, alone or accompanied, Barcelona will certainly seduce you, just as it has inspired the great architect and artist throughout all of his fabulous creations.
 

Christiane Théberge


 

Chimneys on the terrace, Palais Güell

Basement, Palais Güell

Lampposts at Plaza Reial

Casa Batlló

The Pedrera

On the roof of the Pedrera

Casa Vicens

Crucifix at the Sagrada Familia

Dragon at Park Güell

The witch pavilion, Park Güell

Famous bench at Park Güell 

Miralles Portal

 

 

 

 

 

   

 

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