Gaudi, Gaudi Everywhere! by:Beatriz Lopez
Each major city boasts a unique cultural icon that defines and shapes its image. Think of New York City and the Empire State Building comes immediately to mind. Picture Paris and the elegant curves of the Eiffel Tower springs into view. Sydney has its Opera House and London, the clock face of Big Ben. When it comes to Barcelona what other building but the Sagrada Familia encapsulates the spirit of this modern, laidback city so precisely?
Barcelona is imprinted with the genius, spirit and architecture of its most famous son - Antoni Gaudi. His most well known work is the ongoing construction of the Sagrada, but if you look closely enough his mark is everywhere in Barcelona, on flowery pavement tiles and ghostlike balconies, in phantasm parks and the curves of window sills. Almost all of Gaudi's work is found in Barcelona, shaping the city with the creativity and energy of his buildings.
La Sagrada Familia
La Sagrada Familia, or the Cathedral of the Holy Family, is different from any other cathedral you've seen before. Eighteen thin spires punctuate the air, the four tallest ones from 90 to 112 metres high. The number has a religious significance - it represents the twelve apostles, the four evangelists St. Matthew, St. John, St. Mark, and St. Luke, the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ. From afar the stone walls of La Sagrada resembles nothing so much as a giant sandcastle, a child's playtoy bedecked with glittering shards of beach-washed glass and shells.
Gaudi himself worked the main faade, which is dedicated to the theme of the Nativity. The faade shows biblical scenes and is peopled with life sized sculptures of birds, animals and children. The work on this incredible cathedral continues, a hundred years after its inception. Gaudi foresaw that his greatest work would not be completed in his lifetime, likening it to the erection of medieval cathedrals which took generations to complete. "My client is in no rush" he once famously said. La Sagrada is currently tipped to be completed in 2026, the year which also marks the 100th anniversary of Gaudi's death.
The interior of the Sagrada is unlike any cathedral, whether Romanesque, Gothic or medieval. White branches of organic trees festooned with flowers reach up into the soaring ceiling and vivid stained glass windows lend radiance and colour to the walls. Gaudi's work, as always, is informed by nature and the space and grace of the Sagrada is a world away from the dark, hushed insides of other European cathedrals. Instead, the Sagrada seems to celebrate the glory of natural shapes and light.
The cathedral is open from 9am to 8pm, April to September, and 9am to 6pm from October to March. On public holidays the cathedral closes at 2pm. Admission fees cost 11 and guided tours are 15. Audio guides are available, along with a variety of books and souvenirs from the bookshop. A trip up into one of the vertiginous towers of the Sagrada is worth it for the view of Barcelona's skyline, but prepared for the long queue and the additional 2 charge.
The House of Bones, as this structure is known, has creamy grey skull shaped balconies dotted across its faade. Formerly a private residence, the insides of Casa Batllo is covered in iridescent cerulean, navy and cobalt tiles. Gaudi drew inspiration from the sea for this house, swirling the bony spine of a whale, undulating waves of water, fish gills and the graduated blues of the ocean into a staircase, the ceiling, windows and atrium of Casa Batllo. The rooftop represents St George and the dragon, with its twisting, dragon-claw chimneys and undulating dragon back, scaled in shiny tiles of red, green and yellow.
Casa Batllo is open from 9am to 8pm on most days, and the entrance fee of 16.50 includes an audio guide, helpful to gaining an understanding of how Gaudi's genius leapt from natural inspiration to practical application.
In the early 1900s, Gaudi was commissioned to build a private residence for a local businessman. Casa Mila, or La Pedrera, "The Quarry" as it is better known as, is a curvy, bone white building standing sentinel a few blocks away from Casa Batllo. Elaborate iron-wrought balconies weave across the faade, and its insides undulate through the top-floor flat and attic. The most popular part of the house is the rooftop, with its giant chimneys that look like medieval knights.
In the summer, from mid June to early July, La Pedrera is open on Friday and Saturday evenings for bookings to listen to live music and sip Catalan champagne. The roof is lit in an eerie, out of this world fashion and the night sky of Barcelona from here is worth a visit. Normal visiting hours are from 10am to 8pm and admission costs 8.
If the hustle and bustle of Barcelona's heaving streets gets a bit too much, pack a book and a snack, and set off to Park Guell, a UNESCO World Heritage site located on the outskirts of the city. Dotted with colourful mosaics and awash with stunning views, this is a fantasyland of a park.
At the entrance, Gaudi's mosaic trencadis lizard guards the twin staircases leading up to a big square. Mottled in blue and green tiles, he greets visitors with a jaunty yawn as he basks in the sun. The park was originally commissioned as a garden city by Count Eusebio Guell, after whom it takes its name. The architecture here is bizarre and playful, again drawing on Gaudi's love of nature. Giant decorative lizards drape themselves across stones, serpents slither across a decorative wall, and the tilting Hall of Columns play tricks on the mind's eye. The park pavilions seem to come straight from a fairytale, covered with bright tiles and candy floss spires that look good enough to eat. Admission here is free, just bring along a pair of good shoes and a healthy dose of innate playfulness and your own imagination.
About the author
Guided tours in Barcelona. Book more then 55 tours in Barcelona online with http://www.barcelonacitytours.com