Saturday was Barcelona, so of course we did Gaudi things. We went for a trifecta: the Segrada Familia, Park Guell, and Casa Mila. His still-incomplete masterpiece, a failed high-end housing development, and a bankrupt luxury apartment building.
Segrada Familia is a massive church whose construction first began in 1882, or 135 years ago. It is stunning in scale and design, and looks unlike any other church or religious edifice in the world. Gaudi was hired a year after it was begun, and he threw out the original design for a new concept.
We met out guide, Marta, outside and she started our 4-hour Gaudi tour by taking us through the museum beneath the structure and explaining the design and construction concepts. This may sound boring, and I was initially skeptical, but I found it pretty interesting. His insightful use of geometry and mathematics to create insanely complex and pragmatic design elements that were also straightforward to construct was amazing.
There’s way too much to say about the Segrada Familia, so I’ll leave most of it for you to find elsewhere (see Wikipedia, for instance). But I’ll leave you with this thought: construction was creeping along until the Barcelona Olympics, which had the effect of increasing tourist interest in Barcelona generally and the Segrada. The number of visitors had grown such that the funding has dramatically increased from entrance fees. The church is so crowded that mass is only celebrated in the main sanctuary once a month. A cynic might say that this allows for more paid admissions … .
Our next stop was Park Guell. While now a city park, it was originally planned as a high-end gated community in the outskirts of Barcelona. Guell hired Gaudi to design the landscape and public elements of the project. There’s a grand entrance, a house for the concierge to greet visitors, etc. An outdoor market area was built where food and other vendors could set up on market days. Ultimately no one was interested in living that far from the city in the days before motorized transportation.
Only two residences were built in the Park, neither designed by Gaudi. After the project failed, Gaudi bought one of the houses and lived there for the last 20 years of his life.
Casa Mila was commissioned in 1906 by a wealthy Barcelona businessman, Pere Mila, to be his residence and have a number of luxury apartments to provide income for the building. Unfortunately for the later owner, a local bank, the original leases allowed rent-fixed renewals through the grandchildren of the original renters, which ultimately forced the building into bankruptcy. It is currently owned by a foundation, which has turned several of the apartments into a museum.
We had seen the other famous Gaudi-designed private residence, Casa Batllo, when we were in Barcelona two years ago. It was great to see another example of his work this time, but we felt that Batllo was more striking. That being said, this building was extremely controversial when built as it has a number of wonderful and typically Gaudi-esque features.
The fanciful chimneys and air vents are a Gaudi trademark. And he spared no effort in this building.
When Casa Mila was originally built, the attic was subdivided into rooms for the tenants’ household staff to live in, and for laundry and other workrooms. As it has been renovated into a showpiece and museum, the interior walls have been removed. This reveals a set of supporting arches following the same geometry used in Segrada Familia. While the picture doesn’t show it, the arches are quite beautiful. We finished our time in Barcelona with a stroll on La Rambla and lunch. Then, back to the Silver Muse.