The best Gaudí buildings in Barcelona
The best Gaudí buildings you could see in Barcelona
To talk of Barcelona is to talk of the Mediterranean Sea, of one of its football teams – Barcelona Football Club (Barça) – and, inevitably, of Antoni Gaudí.
Who would have thought that that sickly child from a family of pot makers, born in a small town near Reus, would become one of the world’s most recognised and famous architects?
In fact, Gaudí is known as an architect, but it may be said that he was an all-round artist who dominated not only architecture but also the design of furniture and small items such as doorknobs or a simple corner cupboard for books. And it was the peculiar way in which he understood architecture as a reflection of nature which led to him becoming the utmost representative of modernism.
Little is known of the personal and intimate Gaudí, but we are lucky enough to have a great number of his works here in Catalonia. Among the best works of Gaudí in Barcelona are the following buildings, each of them with special features which make them unique:
Casa Batlló (1904-1906)
Josep Batlló commissioned Antoni Gaudí to remodel an old building with complete freedom – and did he change it…
Considered Antoni Gaudí’s fullest and most mature work, this jewel of modernism is situated right in the Paseo de Gracia, the golden mile of Barcelona.
The colours of this house break with the general aesthetics of the other buildings and the most captivating detail, which not everybody knows about, is the depiction of The Legend of Sant Jordi, hidden in its façade, its roof and interior.
But it is not only the exterior that is spectacular – its interior must be seen by anyone who wants to know the essential Gaudí. The inner courtyards are a perfect sample of the dominion which Gaudí had of light and take you to the depths of the sea. This handling of light and colour, resources and details which he used for the ventilation systems, as well as work with different materials (glass, wood, iron, etc.), make this work one of the most important buildings of Gaudí and of Barcelona. In fact, although it was a work which caused great controversy with the municipal authorities of the time and was criticised by the inhabitants of the Barcelona themselves, it was classed as a Cultural Item of National Interest and World Heritage by UNESCO.
By way of curiosity, do not forget to look out through the dragon’s eye when you go up to the terrace roof – you will be able to see the Sagrada Familia in the distance.
The Basilica and Expiatory Church of the Sagrada Família (1883 – 2026?)
Was possibly Gaudí’s big project and his great obsession. To enter the Sagrada Familia is to submerge oneself in a forest of spectacular columns full of colour.
But did you know that Gaudí was not the Basilica’s first architect? He took on the Sagrada Familia in 1883, a year after the architect Francisco de Paula had made the first plans of the Basilica. Nevertheless, practically nothing is left of that first phase because when Gaudí took on the project he redesigned it and made it his completely, reflecting all his talen and creativity.
Fpr the first few years he combined building the Sagrada Familia with other projects and it was not until 1910 when he finished the Casa Milá that he devoted himself wholeheartedly to this project. The unexpected death of the architect in 1926 and the loss of most of the plans and mock-ups during the Civil War left the work unfinished. It passed through the hands of different architects until our time and is still under construction, culmination of which is scheduled for 2026 when the façade of the Gloria and the set of 18 towers (12 dedicated to the apostles, 4 to the evangelists, the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ) are finished.
This has generated a series of controversies because it is feared that the result is not the architect’s initial idea but is, instead, the result of different interpretations which have nothing to do with Gaudí.
Park Güell (1900-1914)
Did not actually begin life as a park but as a de luxe residential area. In fact, in the original design a set of 60 residences, including one for the Güell family and another for the architect, was proposed. But this project failed when just a few parts had been done (among them, housing for Eusebi Güell and the house to which Gaudí moved with his niece) and it ended up becoming an original public park in which there is not a single straight line.
There are several curious features regarding this project; one of them is connected with its very name. Güell was fascinated by British residential parks and Gaudí wanted to recognise this by calling it “Güell Park”, in English.
Another similar curiosity is connected with Eusebi Güell’s interest in the Greek City of Delphi. This drove the architect to become inspired by certain elements of the Greek city to create some parts of the park, such as, for example, the Temple of Apollo represented in the Hall of the One Hundred Columns (there are 86…) or the dragon that was on the steps of this Temple, reflected in the famous salamander on the access steps.
Nowadays it is the most famous park in Barcelona and has been the setting for several films, TV series, photo sessions, etc. For some time, you have had to pay to get into the park and you can buy tickets online.
Palau Güell (1886-1890)
Was Gaudí’s first work of any significance and all thanks to a display cabinet.
That is to say, before Gaudí enjoyed the slightest reputation, he had designed a display cabinet for gloves so that the owner of a luxury glove shop on the calle Avinyó could take it to the 1878 Paris Universal Exhibition. Eusebi Güell was there and immediately became interested in its creator and thus began a close relationship between one of the most powerful families in Catalonia and a then very young Antoni Gaudí.
At first, Güell commissioned the design of several pieces of furniture and decorative objects from him but it was not long before he became his patron and commissioned him to build his residence in the centre of Barcelona.
Eusebi Güell wantedall that was new in culture in Catalonia to come from his palace. Gaudí put forward up to 25 drafts and managed to transform the old palace into an incredible edifice inspired by oriental art but in accordance with the structure of Italian Renaissance palaces. What most attracts attention is the contrast between the austerity of the façade and the grandeur of the entrance doors, devised so that guests passed through them on their horses – a complete innovation as they reached the stables via a ramp.
Another innovative element that had not been known of until then was the chimneys of the palace, on which Gaudí experimented for the first time with the trencadís technique until he got the spectacular effect achieved in Casa Batlló or in La Pedrera.
Torre Bellesguardor Casa Figueras (1900-1909)
This strange building was erected on the ruins of the old castle of king Martin I the Humane and breaks completely with Gaudí’s typical aesthetics as he used neo-Gothic elements while developing his modernist style.
The house imitates an imposing castle with an unyielding ground plan, with its elongated windows and the original battlements, but above all, the tiles which decorate it, the forged iron and the four-branched cross stand out. They say that it is Gaudí’s most historic and personal work and that in it is reflected his unmistakable patriotism for although the building is constructed with stone and bricks, in the great tower that crowns the whole work and which bears the four-branched cross the four red and yellow bars of the Catalan flag, the señera, can be seen as an architectural tribute to the medieval past of Catalonia.
By way of curiosity, the name Bellesguard (beautiful view, in English) refers to the fantastic view from the house, as the work is at the foot of mount Tibidabo, a unique location
Pedrera – Casa Milà (1906-1910)
Señora Milà never liked the building that would become her home and, in fact, the inhabitants of the city gave it the derogatory nickname “Pedrera” (stonemason in English). This is because fthere were few people in those days, among them Salvador Dalí and Le Corbusier, whio appreciated the architectural jewel that Antoni Gaudí presented to the Milàs.
It was commissioned by the textile industrialist Pere Milà, who made Gaudí’s acquaintance after visiting Casa Batlló, where his father’s partner, Josep Batlló, lived. And maybe it was because of his desire to stand out and attract attention that he decided that he too would live in the Paseo de Gracia and in a building constructed by the architect in fashion at that time: Antoni Gaudí.
Unlike all his previous work, Gaudí decided to knock down the previous building and build it from scratch. The Milà family wanted a big building where they would occupy the first floor, as a good bourgeois family of the period, and rent out the other floors. Being right on the corner of Paseo de Gracia and calle Provença, its twin façade seems to ondulate like in a natural landscape. It does not matter from whatever angle we look at it, we cannot avoid seeing a rough sea reflected in it and some experts even compare it with the dunes of a desert. This was what unleashed all sorts of negative comments among the people of Barcelona of the time; its construction did not follow any rules and it implied both a break with the aesthetics of the period and with the technical innovations of other architects. A real challenge. Some media of the time even compared it with a hangar for Zeppelins:
It is a building packed with details and symbols but the most striking area is the terrace roof where there is an army of chimneys in the shape of warriors. Another curious detail that we would emphasise is that, just as in Casa Batlló, the Basilica of the Sagrada Familia can be seen through one of its arches, yet more proof of the architect’s obsession with the church.
Casa Vicens (1883-1888)
At barely 26, Antoni Gaudí, who had practically just finished his studies, built this summer house as a residence for Manuel Vicens (a brick and tile manufacturer)
His youth is made clear by the way the structure of his first house is presented, a lot simpler than his later work, but we can already appreciate its gaudy, colourful decoration which make this first house a clear precursor of the modernist movement.
It is undergoing restoration at present and is scheduled to open to the public in October 2017.
Finca Güell (1884-1887)
The building itself was not designed by Gaudí but instead was the work of Joan Martorell who was the architect up to the time of the big building work in Barcelona and, in fact, Antoni Gaudí worked for him as a draughtsman.
Nevertheless, in 1884 Gaudí was commissioned to do some remodelling, most of which has been lost. His most important work here was the monumental gateway with two joint lodges: the porter’s house and the stables.
The most outstanding thing? Undoubtedly, the wrought iron door with a spectacular dragon with its mouth open and the wings of a bat. Formerly, the dragon had glass eyes, was of different colours and had a mechanism which made its wings, legs and mouth move and so made it look fairly real, which was definitely not lost on any passers-by.
There are two interpretations concerning this dragon. One of them refers to Ladon, the guardian of the Garden of the Hesperides in the Hercules Myth, whereas the other maintains that Gaudí was inspired by L’Atlantis, a poem by the Catalan writer Jacint Verdaguer.
Colegio de las Teresianas (1888-1890)
This is still a school to this day although entry is very limited. This was a commission which Gaudí got when it had already started and, in fact, he respected most of this first phase. We suppose that this, together with him having to adhere to the scant budget which his work had, made this building really austere and sober, something very compatible, furthermore, being a religious school belonging the order of Saint Teresa.
It is not that Gaudí needed many reasons for including religious items in his works, for his strong religious beliefs were common knowledge, and, for example, this building, where a lot of these can be seen: Anagrams of Jesus Christ, Carmelite shields carmelitas and the four-branched crosses so characteristic of Gaudí.
It is logical that with so many unique buildings, the majority of them World Heritage sites, thousands of people come half way across the world to visit Barcelona to see them in person.