We had last been in Barcelona fifteen years ago. Oh, what a difference time makes. In that short time one of the key attractions in the city has transformed. We decided to make our first full day a Gaudi day. Antonin Gaudi is the legendary architect who transformed this city a century ago, and whose disciples are finishing his master work: Sagrada Familia. This landmark basilica was first conceived in 1866, but the cornerstone was not laid until 1882. Gaudi was not the lead architect, but an associate, who took over the entire project a few years later. When we last visited, the facades were in place, but the interior columns and towers were still under construction. It was evident that the naturalistic structure would be revolutionary, but we could not see what the final product would be. Today it is possible to see this amazing cathedral will be the standard against which all others will be measured.
The first thing you need to know is that to control crowds, if you go to Sagrada Familia, you will buy tickets to get into the cathedral. The time when you enter may be several hours later than when you buy them, particularly if you don’t buy them first thing in the morning. We arrived late morning, learned that the earliest we could view the structure was near 4:00pm. So we went on to visit other Gaudi projects (Casa Batllo and Parc Guell –see below) which actually helped us better understand how he viewed architecture and specific techniques he used in this project. While the three facades establish the story of Jesus’ birth and death and range from the traditional to the abstract, it is the interior that totally amazes. On this trip we had visited Alhambra in Granada. The intricacy of the Moorish decoration under Mohammed V in the 15th century gave a whole new appreciation for what could be accomplished by artisans, particularly at that point in time. Sagrada Familia will be seen as the high point for architectural excellence in this era.
To fully understand what Gaudi and his followers have accomplished a visit to Casa Batllo (Bat – yo) is important. When we last visited, we walked past this residence in the Barri Gotic disrict, but were not able to enter the building. It has been acquired by a private family that renovated the structure and now makes it a major attraction in this city. The building is conceptualized as a reflection of sea life. Impressions of watery environments and building features that were inspired by fish and other sea creatures are depicted by augmented reality cell phones. The cell phones overlay what you see with the furniture and features of the Batllo family who lived here in the early 20th century. One of the features is the spinal backbone best seen in the attic. The hallways appear to be arches that are narrow at the top and wider at the floor level. We see this same structure in Sagrada Familia. While the ceiling is the peak of the spine, the columns are structured in the same manner where they approach each other at the ceiling and are wider apart at the base. This enables an airiness and a decorative ceiling that conveys the impression of a white forest with a tree covering canopy over your head.
The light in this chamber is filtered through stained glass that on one side of the building reflects colors on the ceiling that transition from green to blue and on the other from blue to orange. One could easily spend hours studying the windows which tell different stories as you move about the floor. At this time the services are held in one section. The final area where services will be held are taking shape and it will soon be complete to enable services to be held as first envisioned more than a century ago. The current timetable for completion of the building is 2026, at the century mark after Gaudi’s death. However, non-structural work will continue after that date.
We also spent time at Parc Guell (pronounced Guay). This park was designed and construction supervised by Gaudi. It opened in 1923, before his death. His home is in the park, and it is now a museum to the famed architect. The park reflects Gaudi’s conceptions of a naturalistic environment reinforced with structural elements including several buildings which now require a ticket to be purchased in advance to view. We did not want to come back at 5:00 for this tour as we were to be at Sagrada Familia at 4:00 and wanted to spend as much time there as possible.
The Park has very interesting structures, throughout that blend into the landscape, augmenting it in unexpected ways. We got our share of exercise, although a word of caution. If you are someone who may need to use a bathroom while at the park, do not believe the signs. They do not lead you to your destination. So the earlier you break down and ask someone, the more comfortable your time in the park will be.
The park has great vistas of the city, the Mediterranean and Sagrada Familia. It is interesting that Gaudi could see the cathedral from his home in the park and it must have served as inspiration for him every day.
We concluded our first day attending a Flamenco show. Several can be found both on the main street (La Rambla) and in the Placa Reial, a square with restaurants all around (La Taranto 17 Placa Reial – shows nightly). Our show was only a half hour, but the dancing was vigorous, the women’ costumes exotic and the music well performed by a guitarist, a drummer and two singers who clapped in perfect rhythm to the other musicians and performers. It was a well spent half hour, providing insight into an important aspect of Spanish culture.
On the second day of our visit we spent two and a half hours including transport getting to and from the train station ( see separate blog: Urban Explorations: The Trains in Spain – Read This First) and then had a taxi drop us at the Picasso Museum. We had visited this museum on our last visit and chose not to do so again with such limited time in town. It is a convenient landmark in the Barri Gotic district, which is the oldest section of the city and a warren of narrow streets with a maze of shops and restaurants to satisfy your every whim. I highly recommend this area for wandering at least for a few hours. It is close by La Rambla, the main concourse through the heart of the city where everyone goes to see and be seen. We walked down La Rambla to the harbor, but having visited here before just got a final view of the Med before we turned north and walked La Rambla all the way up to the Diagonal, the main street that cuts across the city. Our hotel was on this street but on the other side of the city. A block east and one block south we found our destination: A Lladros store that is owned by the factory. It had a much more extensive offering than the other Lladros store we found down near the harbor. They also offered to file the VAT exemptions and ship the figurines back to the US. The shipping costs were less than the VAT exemption so we paid less than the advertised prices. The shipping time was expected to be about five days to the US.
We then took a cab back to our hotel where we met up with the rest of our party and took the recommendation of the hotel staff for dinner. The next morning, after a short 25 minute taxi ride to Estacio Sant, we caught our train to our next stop: Madrid.