Sunday, February 28, 2016

Barcelona: Park Guell

One of the iconic buildings in the park, formerly a porter's lodge.
By far, my favorite Gaudi site in Barcelona is Park Guell, covering 45 acres and located in the hills above the city. I was there on two separate days, hardly enough to get my fill of this amazing park. The park was built between 1900 and 1914 and was officially opened in 1926. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984, along with other works by Gaudi.

The Monumental Zone entrance.

Park Guell  was the idea of Count Eusebi Guell, for whom the park is named. He hired Gaudì to create an estate for well-off families. Guell wanted the area to resemble British residential estates, which explains his use of the English word "Park'' in its name.. The Park's original intention as a housing site proved to be unsuccessful: in fact, only one of the 60 plots was purchased, and the only people who actually lived there were Guell (with his family) and Gaudi (with his father and niece).

Gaudì respected the vegetation that was already growing on the property and when adding new species, he opted for Mediterranean plants that did not need much water. He also designed various systems to collect and store water, based on ideas he learned in the rural setting of his childhood in Reus.

El drac, the mosaic salamander that has become an icon of Barcelona.
Guell and Gaudì, who shared a close friendship, also wanted to create a setting that was strongly influenced by symbolism. As a result, they tried to incorporate many of the political and religious ideals that were shared by both men when creating the common elements of the park.

A view of the terrace above the Hall of 100 Columns.
The two men imagined an estate situated within a natural park. They envisioned an organized grouping of high-quality homes, complete with the latest technology to ensure maximum comfort, and decorated with an artistic touch.

The park's serpentine bench.
When it became clear to Guell that his idea was not going to succeed, he chose to halt the work in 1914. Upon his death in 1918, his heirs offered the park to the Barcelona City Council, which acquired it in 1922, opening it as a public park four years later.

Oddly, it's very comfortable to sit on! Gaudi made sure it was ergonomically suited to the human body.

The Ramp, with helicoidal (spiral) columns.
Park Guell was cleverly designed to create a peaceful, calm space that one would expect from a park. Roadways around the park were designed as structures that jutted out from the hillsides. Some roads were built atop viaducts, with footpaths in the arcades that were formed under those structures. Gaudì used local stone to further integrate them into the landscape. His structures were always created with nature in mind, creating columns like tree trunks with supporting branches under the roadways.

The Hall of 100 Columns
Drawing on the myths associated with the Temple of Delphi, Gaudì designed a "temple", complete with nearly one hundred Doric columns. (Actually, there are only 86.) It is also called la Sala Hipostila (a hall with many columns.) The space was originally intended as a marketplace for the residents.
The ceiling is completely covered in intricate mosaics. 

A closeup of one of the mosaics on the ceiling.
The intricate mosaics on the ceiling were designed and decorated by one of Gaudi's collaborators, Josep Maria Jujol. The terrace above the Sala Hipostila is bordered by what might be the world's longest bench, also done by Jujol. The unique shape of the bench enables people to converse with each other in private, even though the terrace is large.

More curves.
Curves and trees.

The serpentine bench was created using the trencadis style of mosaic, which uses small pieces of broken tiles, often taken from demolition materials and disused objects. This style of mosaics was popular in Catalan modernism, and Jujol found a good supply of broken tiles at a nearby factory.

This bench was one of the main reasons I wanted to visit Barcelona and Park Guell. as I'm mesmerized by the mosaics. I spent more time on the terrace than in any other part of the park, and took over 150 photos. Even so, I wish I'd taken more. The pristine appearance of the bench is impressive: it's hard to believe it was made more than 100 years ago. The Spanish do an incredible job of maintaining all of the Gaudi sites I visited. 
I can't get enough!
For anyone who plans to visit Park Guell, there's a need to plan ahead. The first day that we visited, we discovered there would be a three-hour wait to get into the Monumental Zone, where the main attractions are. Though most of the park is free, they limit the number of people in the zone at one time, and you need a ticket with a specific time and date to be admitted. We had plans to be in another town that afternoon, so were unable to wait, which was a huge disappointment. However, I was coming back to Barcelona on my own, and bought a ticket for a return visit that weekend. Just keep in mind that Barcelona is crowded with tourists, spring, summer and fall, so getting tickets in advance is a must for many Gaudì sites.

One of the unusual collonaded pathways in the park, in the Portico of the Washerwoman
Another consideration when visiting the park is the location. On our first visit to the park, we took a taxi from Sagrada Familia to the park, which cost about 8 euros. It might cost more from the city center. However, there's a bus from Placa Catalunya that only costs 2 euros and goes right to the park. It's much too far to walk to the park from the city center, so plan on finding transportation to get you there.

Another unusual viaduct, inspired by bird nests. 
I ended up spending nearly 5 hours total during my two visits to the park, and I wish I'd spent more. There was much more of the park to see, and I whizzed by some parts of the park that were worthy of more attention. There are two museums at the Park that I bypassed, as I simply couldn't bear going indoors. I also skipped the souvenir shop. There were many footpaths and levels of the park that bear further scrutiny. Earlier in the day, I'd noticed locals using the park paths on their morning run.  It seems another visit to Barcelona and Park Guell is in order!

The gift shop: quaint and adorable.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Barcelona: la Sagrada Familia

The Basilica de la Sagrada Familia (Basilica of the Holy Family) is often considered to be Gaudi's greatest masterpiece, even though it is still unfinished, more than a 130 years after its beginnings. Plans for a 2026 completion date have been established, to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of Gaudi's death. The building is now in it's 133rd year and is approximately 70 per cent finished.

The Passion Facade.
Like Gaudi's other sites in Barcelona, the Sagrada Familia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (1984), and was consecrated as a Basilica by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010.

The Nativity Facade.
Once complete, the church will feature 18 spires, dedicated to religious figures, including the Virgin Mary, the twelve apostles and the four evangelists, of varying heights to reflect their hierarchy. As of this date, only eight spires have been completed. And in the middle of it all will be the Tower of Jesus Christ, which will measure over 172 metres (564 feet) and make the Sagrada Familia the tallest religious building in Europe.

Closeup of one of the spires.
Work started on the church in 1882, and Gaudi took over the following year, radically changing the original design. He worked on the church until his death in 1926, when it was only about 20% complete. Parts of the church, along with Gaudi's models and workshop were destroyed during the Spanish Civil War by Catalan anarchists. The current design is based on reconstructed versions of Gaudi's plans, along with modern adaptations. In addition, computer-aided design technology has been used to accelerate construction.

Closeup of Nativity Facade.
The Nativity facade was built before work was interrupted in 1935 by the Spanish Civil War, and it bears the most direct Gaudi influence, as shown in the photo above.

Interior of the church.
Intricately carved, tree-like columns support the tall ceilings. Gaudi took his inspiration from nature, so that the columns are intended to look like tree trunks and branches.

View of Gaudi's tree-inspired columns. 
As at other Gaudi sites in Barcelona, an audioguide is included in the admission price. However, we found it to be confusing and hard to follow.

View of the front of the church, with the altar.
When viewing the interior of the church, you will be craning your neck much of the time, in an effort to take in all the interesting, unusual and beautiful elements. The church is rich with symbology, and everything has a meaning.

Closer view of the crucifix above the altar.
Now that the naves have been closed, the interior of the church measures 4500 square meters where 8000 people can worship.

Blue and green stained glass windows on one side of church.
Gaudi's stained glass windows are truly majestic, with a separation of colors for more dramatic effect. It was a real challenge to take enough photos to capture the majesty of the interior.

Red and orange stained glass on opposite side of church. 
Closeup of Passion facade sculptures.
Construction for the Passion facade began in 1954, then in 1987, the sculptor Josep Maria Subirach began to create the sculptures. They were carved with harsh straight lines to resemble the bones of a skeleton, as Gaudi intended for this facade to strike fear into the onlooker. However, I found some aspects of it to be quite lovely, including this image of Jesus tied to a pillar during his scourging.

The Glory facade, which is still under construction, will be the largest and most monumental of the three and will be dedicated to the glory of Jesus. Elements of Judgement Day, Purgartory, and Hell will be included, along with the Ascension into Heaven.

View of Sagrada Familia and Barcelona from Montjuic.
If you plan to visit Barcelona, make sure you take time to see la Sagrada Familia. I booked our tickets online in advance, making an appointment for the day and time we wanted to visit. Like other Gaudi sites, there is constant tourist traffic, and planning ahead is imperative.

Related movie: Animation shows completion of Antoni Gaudí's Sagrada Família

Friday, February 26, 2016

Barcelona: Casa Mila

One of the most popular sites to see in Barcelona is Gaudi's Casa Mila, or as the locals call it, La Perdrera (the Quarry), due to the odd exterior. Gaudi was selected to design and build a home for the flamboyant developer Pere Milà. Casa Mila was constructed between 1906 and 1910, and was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984 for its uniqueness, its artistry and exceptional universal value.

Casa Mila
Now the headquarters of a  Catalan Foundation, Casa Mila houses a cultural center for exhibitions, lectures and other activities that are held at the site. The architecture is considered structurally innovative, with a self-supporting stone front, and floors that are free of load bearing walls. 

The Courtyard entrance, with car access to an underground garage.
Each admission comes with a free audioguide, and people are directed first to the courtyard, which gives an idea of how many offices and rooms there are in the still pristine building.

The Courtyard
Since most of the building is now used as offices, only two floors are open to visitors: the ground floor entrance and the fourth floor. After visiting the courtyard, visitors are then directed to the roof, filled with many unusual chimneys that Gaudi designed. Once covered in  fragments of broken glass, tiles and marble, they have been restored and now present a more pristine appearance. 

The 28 chimneys are often referred to as espanta bruixes, or witch scarers. As I've shown photos of them to others, many comment that George Lucas must have been inspired by Gaudi in the design of his Star Wars characters and scenes. 

Hard to believe these were designed more than 100 years ago!
After a thorough examination of the roof and chimneys, we were allowed to return to the fourth floor, which is furnished in the style of the early 1900s, when the Mila family lived there. I was disappointed to learn that most of the furniture that Gaudi designed had been removed from Casa Mila. However, it was still interesting to see what it would have looked like in 1912.    

One of the few rooms with furniture designed by Gaudi.
Bathroom: marble fixtures!
After visiting the fourth floor, we left the building through the courtyard, which has vividly colorful ceiling and walls as shown below. 

Swirls of beauty on the ceiling.
Though I enjoyed the unique artistry and architecture of Casa Mila, I was in for a greater surprise when visiting other Gaudi sites in Barcelona.