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.

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