“So let’s pretend we’re dancing in the street
We’ll dance around la Sagrada Familia, Barcelona
Mi nina, te amo mi carino, Barcelona.”
If you found yourself singing while reading these lyrics, then you’re probably an Ed Sheeran fan, like half the world is, me included. With this song blasting in my headphones and a backpack full of summer clothes and a couple of books, the beginning of my journey to the psychedelic realm of Catalonia seemed pretty exciting. And so it started…
I have read a lot about Gaudi (which I encourage you to do), but I couldn’t quite picture the (sur)reality of his works until the second I found myself marveling at them on the streets of Barcelona.
Who is Gaudi?
As a very quick introduction, Antoni Gaudi is known as the greatest proto-surrealist architect, the father of Catalan Modernism and the creator of dream-like buildings such as Casa Mila, Casa Batlló, Park Guell, Palau Guell and of course La Sagrada Familia. One of his biggest admirers was, of course, the other eccentric Catalan genius, Salvador Dali, but you don’t have to be Dali to unconditionally and irrevocably fall in love with Gaudi and his creations.
La Sagrada Familia and why it has a Christmas tree on top of it
Alright… so if you have travelled across Europe, you are very familiar with churches, monasteries and cathedrals in all shapes and sizes and even if one in particular may have stricken you as unique, I guarantee you it does not compare to what you will feel the moment you see La Sagrada Familiar.
You don’t even have to be religious or anything to feel the depths of your soul shaking a little bit. This building is absolutely stunning. From the outside it looks like a giant sandcastle and from the inside like a psychedelic spaceship. People have been working towards its completion for more than a century and it is still not done. Although initially he was not involved in the project, Gaudi took over after the original architect resigned. He has completely changed the plans and turned this basilica into the masterpiece of his life.
As one of the most studied buildings in the world, there are lots and lots of details to focus on when you get there, but I will present you the main ones you don’t want to miss. First things first, take a look at the facades. There are three of them and they accurately incorporate Gaudi’s religious views and beliefs: the façade of Birth or the Nativity Façade which has three portals called Hope, Mercy and Faith and elements representing the constant change happening in nature. And yes, there are chameleons carved here; the façade of Passion which reproduces scenes like the Death and Resurrection of Christ through insanely dramatic sharp angled sculptures made by Josep Maria Subirachs.
One particular symbol that attracted my attention was a magic square. The series of numbers in its grid is placed so that any row, column or diagonal line adds up to the same number – 33, the age Jesus died. The third façade, the façade of Glory symbolizes the eternal glory of God, and it has the tallest towers. Gaudi’s obsession with heights is representative of the hierarchical relationship between God and people; Humans should never seek out to outshine and surpass divinity.
Speaking of the Christmas tree I mentioned in the title, there is no such thing on the roof. However, there is one Tree of Life on the Nativity façade which to me seemed like a genuine Christmas tree. My remark made my Catalan friends laugh a little since I was visiting their city in the middle of the summer. Disclaimer: I wear glasses now.
The interior of La Sagrada Familia, a five naved basilica, is out of this world. If you are a Doctor Who fan, this is your Tardis. As Gaudi wanted to mimic nature and bring it to life in his constructions, there are no straight lines here, only curved ones and the effect is mind-bending.
Last, but not least, do not forget to go into the crypt and contemplate for a few minutes over Gaudi’s grave. Maybe light a candle, say a prayer or buy (as in donate for the construction of La Sagrada Familia) one of the little guides on his life and creative genius.
Gaudi’s Park Güell
Commissioned by a Spanish entrepreneur, Eusebi Guell, Park Guell is another fascinating place wearing Gaudi’s signature. Intended as a residential neighbourhood, the land is now a public park and a must-visit attraction containing Casa-Museo Gaudi, where he lived for almost two decades. Everything here is just as wacky and eccentric as you could imagine. This is not your average big city park.
There are wavy shaped icicle-like columns, weird caves and some more columns in the shape of falling trees anywhere you look. With ceramic and coloured glass all over, Gaudi turns your surroundings into a planet from a Galaxy far, far away or into a fairy tale land depending on your imagination. The park also offers an incredible view over the city of Barcelona and the chance to take a photo with the world’s most famous salamander, El Drac.
Gaudi’s Casa Batlló
Among the stars of Gaudi’s architectural show, there are two buildings that have the potential to blow your mind and reassemble the circuits in your brain.
The first one, Casa Batlló (or the House of Bones, as named by the locals) is the incarnation of the legend of Saint George, the patron saint of Catalonia and all its elements (the façade, the towers, the windows) are part of the story of the battle between St George and the Dragon. The interior features no straight lines (obviously) and it carries a marine theme, making you feel as if you are exploring the inside of a sea creature.
Gaudi’s La Pedrera (Casa Mila)
The second one, Casa Mila or La Pedrera (meaning stone quarry) is once again a testament to Gaudi’s love for breaking the rules of any conventional architectural style. Gaudi’s last work of civic architecture, the building, which is meant to be a spiritual symbol, became part of a World Heritage Site in 1984 – the year, not the book.
These are the main four Gaudi creations that you must not miss, but the list goes on with many more you may wish to visit, so plan ahead. As a pro-tip, after you finish your Gaudi tour, there’s nothing better than a Pinchos Bar tour on Calle Blai. You’ll thank me later.
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