Exploring Gaudís Barcelona
Known as the great master of Catalan Modernism, no single architect could be said to have had the kind of influence over the aesthetics of Barcelona than Antoni Gaudí did. A quiet, pious man, Gaudí dedicated his life to finding a new architectural language, primarily drawing inspiration from nature, and the result is a city filled with bold Modernisime styled buildings characterised by organic shapes, bright colours, and ornamental details. Gaudí’s buildings and public works are the embodiment of Barcelona’s unique Catalan identity, imbuing the streets with a certain bohemian energy and charm that makes it unlike any other European city. This week, we take a look at some of the architectural highlights of Gaudí’s Barcelona, which you should add to your 2017 European rail travel itinerary.
One of several Gaudí UNESCO world heritage sites, Park Güell is a series of gardens designed during Gaudí’s naturalist phase between 1900 and 1914. Originally conceived as a housing project which failed, the park is filled with symbols and metaphors which reference Catalan politics, religious exaltation, Greek mythology, history, philosophy and, some believe, Freemasonry. Key buildings around the park include the fairy tale gatehouses at the main entrance on Carrer d’Olot, a former porter’s house known as the Pavelló de Consergeria, which has a display on the history of the park and Gaudí’s design methods, and a spired house called Casa-Museu Gaudí, where the great architect lived for the last 20 years of his life and which houses memorabilia, as well as some furniture made by him. There are a number of other significant landmarks around the park including the iconic mosaic chameleon at the entrance affectionately called ‘el drac’ (the dragon) by the locals, a curving colonnaded pathway, and the Banc de Trencadís, a serpentine bench which curls around the edge of the Sala Hipóstila.
Often referred to as a forgotten GaudÍ masterpiece, Torre Bellesguard was kept hidden from the public for nearly a century until it opened its doors in late 2013. A patriotic building celebrating Catalonia’s age of glory, Gaudí drew inspiration from the medieval castle of Martín I el Humano, a king of Aragon and a count of Barcelona, whose ruins Bellesguard is built atop of. Combining neo-gothic elements and the architect’s characteristic modernist style, Bellesguard embodies not only Gaudí’s creative genius, but also the glorious and complicated history of Catalonia, with references to the Romans, kings, popes, legends, bandits, secrets, and allegories which make this area of Spain so culturally rich and distinctive.
Known as the quarry house (La Pedrera) for its unusual design, Gaudí was commissioned to build this home for wealthy couple Roser Segimon and Pere Milà, who were known for their love of opulence and flamboyancy. As with many of his other designs, Gaudí came up with a number of unique structural solutions to facilitate his artistic vision of open, airy spaces filled with light. Some of these innovations include a self supporting stone front, and columns and floors without load bearing walls. From it’s undulating limestone façade that echoes waves on the sea to the sculptural casings and stairwells on the terrace, La Pedrera exemplifies Gaudí’s commitment to his creative vision. Other key areas to visit include the Espai Gaudí in the attic with it's 270 catenary arches and an exhibition on Gaudí’s life and work, the Pedrera period apartment which features furniture and decorative elements conceived by the architect, and the beautiful inner courtyards which were designed to provide light and ventilation to the apartments.
Few architects were given the creative freedom that Gaudí was permitted by his patrons and for evidence of this, you need look no further than Casa Batlló, a colourful mosaic fairy-tale house nestled between two comparatively austere buildings in the heart of Barcelona. The building is often referred to as Casa dels ossos (house of bones) for its skeletal appearance, which includes skull shaped balconies and bone-like exterior detailing. The building also has a scaled, arched roof that looks like a dragon’s back, with an enormous turret and cross which has led experts to believe the building is an architectural metaphor for Saint George, the dragon slayer and patron saint of Catalonia. Originally built by Gaudí in 1877, and refurbished by him between 1904 and 1906 at the request of the wealthy Batlló family, the interior of the building has many of the architect’s famous hallmarks including organic shapes, catenary arches and mosaiced chimneys.
Unanimously referred to as Gaudí’s magnum opus, the Basílica I Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia (Basilica and Expiatory Church of the Holy Family) is the defining building of the Barcelona skyline, and an absolute must for any visitor to the city. An unfinished masterpiece, construction commenced on the building in 1882 and is expected to be completed in 2026, the centenary of Gaudí’s death. Gaudí dedicated the last decade of his life to the construction of Sagrada Familia and the crypt, as well as the Nativity façade on the side of the building, which has since been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Gaudí’s sketches of the building enabled construction to continue after his death. In typical Gaudí style, the basilica is filled with metaphoric deisign including the three monumental façades representing the three pivotal moments in the life of Christ and the four towers on each representing the 12 Apostles. Inside, references to the divine are melded with organic shapes to create an airy interior unlike any other place of worship in the world.
You can explore all of Gaudi's Barcelona, along with other spectacular architecture across Spain, with a Spain Eurail Pass. This Single-Country pass is available in 3, 4, 5 and 8 days in 1 month validities, and if you purchase your Spain Eurail Pass before the 27th of December 2016, you will receive an incredible 20% off!