The motto that adorns the football stadium Camp Nou, home of Barcelona FC, is “more than a club”. The same could be said of the city which Messi, Xavi and the other superstars call home. Barcelona is more than just a city; it is thriving; captivating; cultured; alive. The energy and vibrancy of Barcelona is, in no small part, thanks to one of its favourite sons: Antoni Gaudí.
World-famous architect and proponent of Catalan Modernism, Gaudí’s flowing curves and colourful mosaics have become synonymous with Barcelona due to the skilful execution and thorough eye-for-detail that has gone into every single one of his multitudinous works. Visitors to Barcelona will not want to miss out on a trip to Park Güell, named after the entrepreneurial benefactor of many of Gaudí’s works.
Originally designed as a housing project, Güell commissioned Gaudí to transform the failed scheme into one of the most enchanting parks in the world with his typically wavy construction lines and fragmented-mosaic ornamentation. These days the majority of the park is accessible free of charge, but to enter the Monumental Zone – which is where all of Gaudí’s influence is centred and where all of its interest is located – costs a small fee of €7 (US $10). The slivery-serpentine structure of the long bench which tops the park offers intimate spaces for couples to grab a clandestine kiss whilst looking out over the city, and the whole environ exudes an atmosphere of calm and playfulness.
A similar playfulness can be seen in one of Gaudí’s masterpieces, Casa Batlló, which these days houses a museum dedicated to the Catalan located right in the centre of the city. Self-guided audio tours will walk you through the curvaceous interior of the building, which Gaudí seems to have designed using a complete aversion to sharp edges and straight lines. As with Park Güell, dramatic curves dominate the inner architecture, while from the outside, the roof of the building resembles the arched back of a dragon, complete with spiny tiles.
But while Park Güell and Casa Batlló are impressive, Gaudí’s real achievement has to be his labour of love, La Sagrada Familia. This consecrated basilica was only one quarter completed at the time of Gaudí’s death in 1926 and still today remains unfinished. It is a towering behemoth of conical spires, light-manipulating windows and intricate religious symbolism, and well worth the price of entry (just under €20 at the time of writing). For a small extra fee, it is possible to ascend the towers and look out over Barcelona. The slightly vertigo-inducing view is complimented by a staggering descent down a seemingly interminable spiral staircase, completing an experience that will leave you speechless and reeling.
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The church has drawn all sorts of effusive praise from art critics and fellow architects alike, and one thing is for sure; you’re unlikely ever to see another church building – or indeed, any building – quite like it in your lifetime. The fact that it remains unfinished only accentuates the audacious ambition of the architect.
Though there are many pretenders and imitators of Gaudí’s distinctive style, no-one has ever come close to replicating his truly unique brand of architectural art. No visit to Barcelona is complete without enveloping yourself in the curves and colours of this man’s genius.