Barcelona and Gaudí’s legacy

Barcelona seen from a different perspective – a view from the roof of La Pedrera.

What would Barcelona be without Antoni Gaudí? Perhaps just another pleasant port city on the Mediterranean. Almost no other city has been so shaped by the style of one architect as Barcelona has by Gaudí After all, the work of this distinguished architect and artist has given the Catalonian capital its distinctive flair, tinged with a hint of mysticism.

Who was this man who has become so synonymous with modern Barcelona? The son of a coppersmith and the youngest of five children, Antoni Gaudí was born on June 25, 1852, near the small town of Reus, to the north-west of Tarragona. Gaudí developed rheumatism as a small child, a condition he suffered from for the rest of his life. But his illness didn’t prevent him from pursuing his interest in studying architecture from 1873 to 1875. To enrol in university, Gaudí moved to Barcelona. This marked the start of his lifelong bond with the city.
Gaudí’s architecture is regarded as part of the Modernisme movement, an undercurrent of Catalan Art Nouveau, however his style is really too distinctive and individual to be shoehorned into any specific architectural genre. Gaudí’s works are intrinsically interwoven with the history of Barcelona. At the same time works of art and buildings, Gaudí’s creations meld cultural influences from the Arab and Christian worlds into a symbiosis in the only city such works could ever have been built. It therefore comes as no surprise that the city’s most beautiful and iconic landmarks stem from Gaudí’s creative genius.

La Sagrada Familia

Considered his magnum opus, the Sagrada Familia, with its five-aisled nave, remains unfinished to this day. The slender towers of the basilica stretching into the sky above the city’s rooftops can be seen for miles around. No other building is so closely associated with Gaudí’s life and work as this one. Construction started in 1882. As with all his creations, Gaudí sought inspiration for this sacred space in nature. Round, organic shapes with curved lines and natural forms permeate his architectural style. Visitors who let their eyes lead them through this building will find themselves a constant state of amazement. Gaudí left nothing to chance. He personally saw to it that every small detail was implemented exactly the way he had planned. Towards the end of his life, he even lived on the building site – right up to his unexpected death in 1926. The circumstances of Gaudí’s tragic passing were as extraordinary as the man himself. After being badly injured by a tram, he was brought to a hospital for the poor as his shabby clothes led his rescuers to believe he was indigent. Although the famous architect was eventually recognised there, he died from his injuries a few days later. If everything goes according to schedule, construction work on Sagrada Familia will be eventually completed in 2026, exactly 100 years after Gaudí’s death. He is buried in the crypt of Sagrada Familia.

Park Güell

The architect also designed a number of secular projects. Industrialist and friend Eusebi Güell was so excited by Gaudí’s work that he commissioned him to build Park Güell, a residential area for wealthy families. The architect created an extensive park with terraces and several villas. The park now contains three buildings: the former Güell family residence, which is now a school; Gaudí’s former home, which has been turned into a museum; and the house of one of Gaudí’s architect friends, which is still being used as a home Organic forms predominate here as well. The park is well-known for its colourful mosaics made of shards of tile and pottery from a nearby ceramic factory and the serpentine bench that serves as a great location for sweeping views of Barcelona.

Casa Batlló

Another building on the to-do list for most Barcelona visitors, and definitely one of his most interesting works, is Casa Batlló. Textile industrialist Josep Batlló hired Gaudí to redesign an existing building,. which is now said to be a symbol relating the story of St George slaying the dragon. The roof is arched to suggest the back of a dragon covered with massive scales. Decorated with colourful flowers, the façade features curved balconies with balustrades that resemble skull bones. The columns in the lower portion of the façade likewise bear a resemblance to bones. The building is privately owned, but can still be viewed by visitors.

Casa Milá and La Pedrera

Casa Milá was the final building to be designed by Gaudí before he dedicated all his efforts to Sagrada Familia. Because of the façade’s rough outer appearance, the building is popularly known as La Pedrera (the stone quarry). Thoroughly inspired by nature, there is not one right angle in the entire structure. Gaudí also installed an elaborate system of natural ventilation, making air-conditioning superfluous. It’s worth climbing right to the top of the building. A museum dedicated to Gaudí’s architectural genius fills the attic and the roof itself offers a marvellous view of Barcelona to enjoy. Once you’re there, you can also get a close-up view of the bizarrely shaped chimneys and ventilation shafts.
Anyone traversing Barcelona can’t help but run across the vestiges of Antoni Gaudí. His legacy is apparent wherever you go. Take your own personal tour of the city. Even if you are familiar with Barcelona and Gaudí’s work, you are certain to find something new. For more information, go to Spain’s official tourism portal at www.spain.info.

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