For many people, the architecture of Antoni Gaudí is completely synonymous with the city of Barcelona. It’s absolutely certain that, without the work of its most iconic architect, the Catalan capital would be a very different place indeed – a much duller city, in fact.
There can be few people that have had as large an impact on the appearance of their city as Antoni Plàcid Guillem Gaudí i Cornet had on Barcelona. If you asked visitors about the three most memorable aspects of their time here, the chances are that the responses would be the Camp Nou, Las Ramblas and La Sagrada Família and the other Gaudí works.
So what was it about Gaudí and his designs that so enraptured Barcelona?
Well, initially at least, the inhabitants of the city were far from impressed by the highly individualistic designs of the young Catalan, born and raised in nearby Reus in June, 1852. In fact, his work was routinely ridiculed by many – George Orwell, a little later, was famously dismissive. It was only the unstinting support of the wealthy industrial giant, Eusebi Güell, and Gaudí’s own refusal to compromise his ideals, that enabled the designer to progress.
Gaudí’s work was always heavily influenced by his love of nature and he was always fanatical about incorporating natural shapes into his designs. This means that curved building stones, twisted iron and organic-like structures are characteristic of Gaudí – along with the vibrant use of colour; many of his buildings and sculptures are decorated by fabulously coloured mosaic tiles.
The most famous of Gaudí’s buildings, of course, is the Sagrada Familia, which is the epitome of Art Nouveau architecture and to which Gaudí devoted the latter part of his life – indeed, he became obsessed by it. A devout Catholic, Gaudí envisaged the church as having a Gothic cross inspired ground plan with a 170 metre high central tower and up to 17 others, each of about 100 metres. He was inspired in his towers by the important religious site at Montserrat, just north of the city. For a variety of reasons, the project was left uncompleted by the time in 1926 that the increasingly hermit-like and ragged Gaudí was struck by a tram on the Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes and taken to a nearby paupers’ hospital. He died three days later and was buried in La Sagrada Familia.
Although most of Gaudí’s plans, designs and models were destroyed by anarchists during the Civil War in 1938, work was restarted on the building during the 1950s. Visitors today can always see scaffolding as the work continues – it should, they still estimate, be finished by 2026 – but this does not diminish from the incredible spectacle it provides.
Equally as impressive is the landscaped area known as Parc Güell – an absolute delight for any one with a camera and an eye for the spectacular and bizarre. From the minute you pass the mosaic dragon guarding the entrance, you’ll be amazed, delighted and perhaps even bemused by some of the sights that you’ll encounter.
For more ‘domestic’ examples of Gaudí’s work, you simply must check out both the Casa Milà and Casa Batlló, which are happily quite close to each other.
Casa Milà, or La Pedrera, was built as an office and apartment block but it’s real glory is its roof, with some wonderful sculptures and chimneys. If you’re lucky enough to be in Barcelona during the summer, watch out for evenings when the roof is open to visitors and you can gaze over the city supping cava and listening to classical music.
Casa Batlló, built as a family home, is one of those buildings that will make you smile when you see it and try to ‘deconstruct’ the architect’s grand design – curious wave-shaped balconies and window frames; an uneven tiled roof that looks like the back of a dragon; flecks of coloured tiles all over the exterior – and it’s all supposed to represent St George and the Dragon.
This is what Gaudí is all about!