Spain: Tracing Gaudí around Barcelona
Barcelona’s Most Famous Architect: Following Gaudí
By Lola Akinmade
“My client is in no hurry.”…Antonio Gaudi
Roia’s face said it all before hanging up. A weak “I’m sorry” escaped him. “They can’t find it.” I nodded in defeat.
We’d been tracing my luggage for two days so far. Energetic and vivacious, the charismatic Spaniard was working the desk that warm Thursday evening at my hostel in Barrio Gótico.
“Don’t worry. Get some rest. Por favor?!” Smiling back dimly, I poured into the labyrinth of cobble-stoned streets to collect myself.
A Living Museum
Strolling back streets of the district, laughter and loud voices permeated thin air. People walked, arms linked, young and old, with a certain vibrancy to their step.
Lost luggage instantly became trivial, if not ridiculous, compared to the sheer beauty of life pulsating within Barcelona, well worth the airfare to Spain.
Friday morning, I set about my mission, finding Gaudi’s work, in two-day-old clothes.
While many artists remain content displaying their masterpieces in galleries and museums, one of Spain’s most prolific and world-renowned artists, Antonio Gaudí, made the entire city of Barcelona his living, breathing museum with instantly recognizable landmarks – series of twisting structures, colorful tiles and mosaics, and undulating patterns.
Emerging from Diagonal Metro and strolling down Passeig de Gracia towards Casa Milà and Casa Batlló, dry summer heat smoked me. Barcelonans strolled by unfazed with the same vigor I’d seen last night in Barrio Gótico.
Reaching Casa Milà, I face a long line of Gaudi enthusiasts and curious gawkers alike, wrapping around the block. Large, dark, and eerie cave-like windows bore down on us. My spirit felt unsettled.
“Tortures of the imagination, fetuses in stone, bulbous obscenities!” one harsh critic of Gaudi’s was recorded as saying in the 1950s. Gaudi had initially been received with disdain throughout Barcelona amongst his peers and other artists.
Casa Milà earned the moniker, “La Pedrera”, because its series of curvy, cave-like balconies looked like a stone quarry. Complete with peculiar-looking chimneys, it was opened in 1910 to the dismay of local residents who were unsettled by its unconventional design.
Too Much for Picasso
Initially intended to be erected as a dedication to the Virgin Mary, Casa Milà’s owner Pere Milà i Camps, decided its religious references could incite resistance within the city after religious violence during 1909.
“Send Gaudi and the Sagrada Familia to Hell,” Pablo Picasso once wrote in a letter to a friend at the turn of the twentieth century. The profound artist was said to have disliked Gaudi’s work.
I wondered what could have incited such strong emotions from Picasso. Both artists represented an era where evocative work and raw creativity ruled the day. They paved trails for eccentrics yet disgust for each other’s work was mutually shared.
Glaring at eerie La Pedrera was a tough pill to swallow. Perhaps Gaudi’s vision had been too much for Picasso to bear. Perhaps Barcelona had not been ready for him.
Crossing the street over to a cluster of buildings know as “manzana de la discordia,” I arrive at Passeig de Gràcia 43. Decorated mostly using ceramic and colorful mosaic tiles morphed into wavy skeletal and gothic shapes, Casa Batlló was redesigned by Gaudí between 1904 and 1906 for owner Mr. Josep Batlló who initially wanted it torn down.
Scenes From a Nightmare
The uneasy feeling which began within me at La Pedrera continued through the halls of Casa Batlló. Curvy balconies, asymmetrical columns, sinuous chimneys, and façade scales reminiscent of a dragon made me feel like I’d happened into Gaudi’s dream by mistake.
Salvador Dali loved Gaudi’s work. Another profound artist whose work resembled scenes from a nightmare, it was no wonder Dali was drawn to Gaudi’s surrealist style. Gaudi created in stone what Dali painted on canvas.
Lunch was seafood paella and a refreshingly cool pitcher of sangria at a small side street café, observing Barcelonans scurry by. I found a payphone and called Roia. He’d taken the place of the airline support desk; a role he gladly slipped into.
“Did they call?” I already knew the answer. I hung up, but this time, dejection didn’t envelope me like it did the night before. I was heading over to Sagrada Familia to see what had disturbed Pablo Picasso so to have damned Gaudi to hell.
Emerging from the metro and spinning around, the sight that hit me was otherworldly; emitting a supernatural essence. Arguably Gaudí’s most famous masterpiece, Sagrada Família was built to visually depict historical events in the Bible and chronicle the history of Christianity.
Its sheer size and labyrinth of gothic spires and towers reaching for the heavens instantly transport travelers into another worldly dimension as they approach the landmark.
A staunch Catholic, Gaudí designed Sagrada Familia to have eighteen towers; 12 representing the apostles of Christ, four for the evangelists, one for Mary, mother of Christ and the last for Jesus himself.
Intimidated, I was afraid to approach Sagrada Familia. Had this prolific work of Gaudi intimidated Picasso as well? I pondered.
I was finally staring at one of the most hideous buildings in the world, according to George Orwell.
A winding staircase led me to the top of those spires, and I was humbly treated to a panoramic view of the city which instantly transferred me to a time where Gaudi probably looked out onto the city from the same spot.
All the Time in the World
Construction on the temple began more than 120 years ago and, based on Gaudí’s initial vision, is nowhere near completion.
“My client is in no hurry. God has all the time in the world”, the famous architect was noted as saying.
Marveling at only three of his innumerable works, I was already overwhelmed but had to see one more before heading back to Roia.
Completed in 1900 for industrialist Count Eusebi Güell, Park Güell was intended to provide garden-like solace for the count and support sixty luxury plots for houses, boasting beautiful views of the city.
In the end, only two houses were constructed, and when one was up for sale, Gaudí purchased it and moved in with his family.
Now a city park, at the main entrance to Park Güell is a bench formed as a colorfully tiled sea serpent or dragon. In 2007, the dragon was vandalized by a group of youths but has since been restored.
Colorful mosaics, stone structures, motifs of Catalan culture, as well as mystic elemental designs were integrated into the overall design of the park.
A Woman Possessed
Roia welcomed me with a warm smile when I got back that night. He could see l had just walked out of Gaudi’s nightmare.
Like a woman possessed, I vowed to find more of his work the next day if I could: Casa Calvet, now home to an upscale Mediterranean restaurant, Casa Vicens which remains on sale for 30 million Euros, and Palau Güell whose interiors was currently closed for renovations.
Since his death in 1926, Gaudí’s works remain marvels of gothic design and the man himself is revered as one of the greatest architects that ever lived. In 1984, seven properties designed by Gaudí were inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites under “Works of Antonio Gaudí” as a testament to his contribution to Barcelonan architecture.
My luggage did finally arrive, but I hadn’t missed it. Roia seemed more excited than I was…..
Visiting Gaudí Landmarks
Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família (Sagrada Família) – Open daily from 9am to 6 pm (Oct-Mar) or 8pm (Apr-Sep) and located at Placa de la Sagrada Família Travelers can climb up its towers, wander its interiors and crypt, and also visit its museum, which exhibits models of the final vision of Sagrada Familia.
Casa Milà (La Pedrera) – Located at Passeig de Gracia 92, it is open daily from 10am-8pm. Its rooftop terrace and attic, known as Espai Gaudí – “Gaudí’s Space” – is publicly accessible, and provides information about his life, work projects all over Spain, and overall vision.
Casa Batlló – Located at Passeig de Gràcia 43, it is open daily to visitors from 9am – 10pm.
Casa Calvet – Located at Calle Caspe de 48 Today, Casa Calvet is home to an upscale Mediterranean restaurant.
Casa Vicens – Casa Vicens is located at Carrer de les Carolines 24.
Palau Güell – Situated at Carrer Nou de la Rambla 3-5, the Palace is currently closed for renovations to the public and is expected to reopen January 2009.
Park Güell – Admission to the park, located at Carrer d`Olot, is free, but an entrance fee is required to view La Torre Rosa, Gaudí’s house, interiorly designed by the architect.
Lola Akinmade Åkerström is an award-winning Nigerian photographer and travel writer based in Stockholm, Sweden. She is the editor-in-chief for Slow Travel Stockholm. Her works have been featured in the National Geographic Traveler, BBC, GoNOMAD and CNN, among other publications.