Sunday, August 14, 2016

Spain: Figueres, Dalí Theater and Museum

Teatre Museu Dalì
I ended up spending another week in Barcelona on my own, and arranged to take an organized day trip/tour to visit the Dalì museum in Figueres and his home in Cadaques. First, our small group was driven by mini coach east along the Costa Brava to Figueres, where the Dalì Museum is located. Our tour guide, a lively young woman from Salou, kept us entertained with informative stories throughout the two hour ride from Barcelona.

A closeup of one of the bread loaves.
The outside of the iconic building is topped by a series of giant eggs, and the walls are covered with small ceramic loaves of bread, a tribute to Dalì's wife Gala, as bread was her favorite food.

The heart of the museum is the building that once housed the town's theater when Dali was a child. It was also the site of one of his first public exhibitions. The old theater was burned during the Spanish Civil War and was in ruin for several decades. Then, in 1960 Dali and the town's mayor decided to rebuild the theater and use it as a museum dedicated to Dali's creations. A glass dome cupola crowns the stage of the old theater, and Dali is buried in a crypt beneath the stage floor.

A reconstruction of Dali's creation The Rainy Taxi (1938), that "rains" inside the car.
Dali was inspired by an article in Scientific American about the minimum number of pixels needed to describe a unique human face. He used 121 pixels to complete Lincoln's face in the portrait below. On closer look, one sees the nude Gala in the middle of Lincoln's face.

"Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea
Which at Twenty Meters Becomes the
Portrait of Abraham Lincoln."

Another highlight of the museum is a 3D living room installation that when viewed from a certain spot, looks like the face of Mae West. Dali used paintings for the eyes, a fireplace for the nose and a sofa for the lips. The hair is draped over an arch atop a staircase, which allows one to view the illusion from a distance.

The museum continues through many levels and rooms, and visitors are urged to tour the space is no particular order, as the rooms have not been laid out in any systematic or chronological order, according to Dalì's wishes. The museum was a wonderful romp through the clever,  magical, often bizarre mind and talent of Dalì.

Retrospective Bust of a Woman.....with bread on her head and neck!
However, my very favorite part of the museum was in a separate building, which housed Dali's jewelry creations. I was unaware of this aspect of his art, and was impressed by the designs and craftsmanship of these items.


The trip to Figueres and the Dali Museum was well worth the effort and expense of the tour I'd arranged in Barcelona. The second part of the trip took us to Dali's home in Cadaques.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Spain: Tarragona

A picturesque view of Tarragona. 
The most interesting village we visited while in Salou was the town of Tarragona, rich with Roman history. Many ancient ruins remain from its time as Tarraco, while under Roman rule, and they have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Cathedral in Tarragona
The cathedral stands majestically above the village. The church dates from the 12th century and combines both Romanesque and Gothic architecture.

A view of the Roman ruins in Tarragona
In the Roman Circus area, you can enter the vaults where chariots and other materials were stored. Within the vaults is a museum of sorts, explaining the activities of the chariot races and the men who drove the chariots.

Walking through one of the vaults in the Roman Circus area.
Various statues and tombstones from Roman times are also included in the vaults.

 A section of the arena for chariot races during Roman times.
The Roman circus, used mainly for chariot races, was built at the end of the 1st Century AD and was probably used until the end of the the 4th century AD. It was 450 meters long and one end has a semi-circular bend. You can see portions of the circus along the streets as you walk through the town. It is considered to be one of the most well-preserved circuses in Western Europe.

Village streets: Celebrating thirty years of something?
We visited Tarragona on a Sunday, and the streets were virtually empty. There were several museums of merit that we did not take time to visit, including the National Archaeological Museum of Tarragona. Numerous churches are located throughout the village, including the remains of a church called Santa Maria del Miracle, which belonged to the Knights Templar and was demolished in 1915. It can be found near the seaside amphitheater.

Roman marketplace....still in use today for that purpose.
When we stopped for an espresso break near one of the churches, we noticed the ancient Roman marketplace, shown in the photo above. During the week, vendors sell their wares in the same space that Romans did in ancient times.

A view of the seaside Roman amphitheater. 
Tarragona is well worth a visit, and I wish we'd had more time to explore all that it has to offer. For more information, check out this link:

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Spain: Salou and Reus

Beach in Salou, Spain
While in Spain, we spent part of the time at a timeshare my brother had arranged in Salou, a small village along the coast, 112 km west of Barcelona. It has an interesting and varied history, as it was used as a port by the Greeks and Romans and later became a haven for pirates before evolving into a fishing village. The railway opened Salou up to development in the late 1800s, and since 1965, it has benefited from a tourist boom.

Palm trees in Salou
A nearby theme park has contributed to Salou's reputation as a family-friendly beach resort, and is crowded with tourists during the summer months. But since we were there in October, the town was peaceful, and a welcome contrast to the crowds and chaos of Barcelona.

One of the restaurants we frequented in downtown Salou.

The main placa in Reus.

Esglesia Prioral de Sant Pere, Reus
While in Salou, we visited several nearby villages. One of them was Gaudi's birthplace, Reus.  

There's not much to see in Reus, and we spent most of our time there visiting a museum devoted to Gaudi's life and art, which provided an interesting background to the Gaudi sites that we later visited in Barcelona.        

A sculpture in tribute to the fishermen of Salou.

Sunset on the beach in Salou.
I really enjoyed the tranquil setting in Salou and would love to return there in the future for a longer stay, just to hang out and enjoy the beach.

Barcelona: Montjuic

A view of Barcelona from Montjuic
It's been a busy year, and I still have several posts to write about my trip to Barcelona last fall. So here goes:

Montjuic is a majestic hill in Barcelona. It has been inhabited, exploited and transformed over a period of some 10,000 years and its name is derived from the Jewish cemetery that was once located there. The hill was once covered in trees and the slopes were used for grazing animals and farmland. The forests were partially cleared in the 1890s, when parklands were developed. Large scale construction was first initiated in 1929, when Barcelona was the site of the 1929 World's Fair.

Outside Montjuic Castle
On a cloudy afternoon, we parked the car halfway up the hill and trekked up to the Castle, or Fortress located at the top of Montjuic. Used at various times as a lighthouse, a fort and a prison, the Castle now houses a Visitor's Center with an exhibition that presents a journey through the history of the fortress. However, there are many more sights to see on this grand hill.

One of the most impressive buildings, the Palau Nacional, houses The Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, or MNAC, the national museum of Catalan visual art.

The National Palace, home of The National Art Museum of Catalonia (MNAC)
One of the most outstanding exhibits in the museum  is the Museu Nacional Romanesque Collection, which is unmatched by any other museum in the world. Many of the works contained in this part of the museum were originally found in rural churches in the Pyrenees and other areas of Old Catalonia. 29 frescoes were dismantled and transferred to the museum as a way of protecting them from destruction, particularly during the Spanish Civil War. Each fresco has its own space. This short video gives an idea of the collection:

Romanesque art rooms

My favorite part of the museum was the Modern Art collection, and I spent most of my time there. The museum has such a vast art collection that it deserves more than the scant hour or so that we had to explore it.

Woman from Granada, Hermen Anglada-Camarasa, 1914
Another area of Montjuic houses the Olympic Village, Museum and Stadium, from 1992, when Barcelona was selected as the site for several venues of the Summer Olympics. We didn't have time to explore this area, as we were more interested in seeing the art museums and natural resources on Montjuic.

Olympic Village and Stadium
We also had the chance to visit the Fundació Joan Miró, an art museum with a large and impressive collection of the works of Joan Miró.

Fundació Joan Miró
There is also a Botanical Garden located on Montjuic, though we didn't have time to visit it. Since we had a car, we were happy to find ample parking at the various sites on the hill. Another way to reach the top of the hill is by taking the funicular from a metro stop in downtown Barcelona. Sounds like fun! All in all, Montjuic has a lot to offer and one could easily spend several days perusing its sights.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Barcelona: Casa Batló, Part 2

Going up the stairwell.
The stairwell in Casa Batló is impressive and still pristine, 100 years after its creation, Gaudi covered the walls in glazed tiles of varying shades of blue, which are lighter in color at the bottom of the well and darker towards the top, creating an even distribution of light.

Stairwell, upper floor

Stairwell, lower floor

In addition, the windows are smaller towards the top, where more natural light can enter, and are larger as one moves down the stairwell. An elevator is situated in the middle of the stairwell: its fine original wooden cabin is still in use today.

Stairwell below the skylight.

In the attic, the catenary arch that Gaudi often employed.
The attic was originally designed as a service area, to use as storage and laundry rooms. And yet, the elegance of form is obvious, characterized by Gaudi's use of the catenary arch. Catenary refers to the idealized curve shape that a hanging chain assumes, as shown below. Gaudi often used an inverted form of this curve in his architecture.

In the attic: a model of the catenary arch.

The roof is shaped in the form of a dragon's back, covered with large iridescent scales. The spine that forms the ornamental top has large pieces of masonry that change colors as you walk from side to side on the roof.

Along the dragon's back.

A bulb-like cross atop the tower.

The spine of the dragon's back.

Watching you!
On the other side of the roof are four groups of curved chimneys, covered with the same type of trencadis glazed mosaics that are on the facade of the house.

Curved chimneys.
Another grouping of chimneys.

Detail of the bulbous tower

The cross atop the tower signals the four directions and the bulbous root-like shape of the tower evokes plant life, a constant inspiration in Gaudi's work. Though the tower was broken while en route for delivery, Gaudi liked the effect of the broken masonry and left it broken.

Casa Batló and Guell Park were my favorite Gaudi sites and both are must-sees when in Barcelona.

For more info and fabulous photos of Casa Batló, check out this site:   Casa Batló

For anyone going to Barcelona this month (April, 2016), there will be a special celebration on April 23rd, the feast of St. George (San Jordi) at Casa Batló and throughout Barcelona.

For more information:

Friday, March 4, 2016

Barcelona: Casa Batló, Part 1

After Guell Park, Casa Batló is my second favorite Gaudi site. There is so much to share about this house that I'll do it in several posts. Located on Passeig de Gracia, a prestigious area of Barcelona, this structure was redesigned by Gaudi between 1904-06. Its original appearance was unattractive to the Batló family, but as they liked the location, Gaudi was hired to remodel it. Also known locally as Casa dels ossos (House of Bones), because of the skeletal aspects on the facade, it has many other distinctive features. In 2005, Casa Batló was named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Front facade of Casa Mila.
As you can see, the balconies appear to be ghoulish masks, while several large windows are girded by what appear to be bones.

Closer look at the facade and distinctive roof. 
Depending on the time of day, the season or the weather, Casa Batló can appear grey and gruesome or magically alive with color and whimsy.

An even closer look, showing the mosaic overlay.

Pieces of colored glass and ceramic mosaics on the surface of the facade create an undulating effect, as in Monet's water lily paintings, or like ripples on a lake. The large glass discs were made by Gaudi and his collaborator Jujol during their sojourns in Mallorca. The house is awash with curves, swirls and colors that clearly reflect how Gaudi was inspired by his love of nature and the sea. The wooden staircases and doors are nearly all unique and fashioned with exquisite craftsmanship.

Entering the ground floor. 
As at other Gaudi sites, an audioguide is included in the price of admission, giving visitors free rein to spend as much time as they like wandering through the building. Most of the building is used for apartments and offices, but the piano nobile, or main floor, can be viewed, as well as the attic and the roof. Gaudi was inspired by nature, favoring curves to straight lines and the house has an overall organic effect. 

Curved doorways

Curving wood banisters.
Mushroom-shaped fireplace.
Though Casa Mila seems to be more popular with tourists, I found Casa Batló to be far superior and interesting, as it gives a better sense of Gaudi's design style and use of space. It's a wonderland, and every part of it was designed by Gaudì.

Curvy doors.
Swirls on the ceiling evoke ocean waves. 

The shapes of the door handles, banisters and even the skylights were all ergonomically designed.  Gaudi shaped door handles by gripping pieces of clay and then having them cast in metal to fit comfortably in one's hand. 

Curved entrances to all rooms.
The building has a ground floor, a main floor with a terrace/courtyard, four upper floors, an attic and a roof terrace. The stairwell, which goes from the ground floor up to the roof, is a work of art in its own right and will be covered in the next post, along with the attic and roof.

Window in main room, facing Passeig de Gracia.

Dining room, leading to the terrace. 
On the terrace.

Trencadis mosaic on terrace.

More trencadis mosaics.