spain | barcelona | gaudí

my husband, bob, and i recently visited barcelona, spain.  a city synonymous with the modernisme architecture of antoni gaudí (1852-1926).

during the late 19th century, barcelona was the center of the modernisme art movement, which occurred simultaneously with the renaissance of catalonia.  during this period, catalonia, which succeeded to castilian spain in 1714, began the political process of re-establishing their national identity.  a process that still continues today.


festival (festa) | the national day of catalonia (la diada nacional catalunya) | barcelona, spain | 11 september 2016

photo credit financial times (ft)

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antoni gaudí (1852-1926) | torre bellesguard | 1900-1909

the colors of the red and yellow striped mosaics symbolize the catalonian flag.  the mosaics were painted grey during the franco regime (1939-1978).

photo credit lisa walsh | innerspace

modernisme is the catalonian equivalent of art nouveau, the transitional style that linked the 19th century classic revival styles to 20th century modernism.  the leading modernisme architects, including domenech i montaner (1850-1923), puig i cadalfach (1867-1956), and gaudí, used architecture, the decorative arts, and the applied arts to differentiate the city of barcelona from the rest of spain and the rest of the world.

like art nouveau architecture, modernisme architecture has a curvilinear structure.  with organic, plant, or animal forms.  plus, rich and colorful decoration.  sometimes, the structure, form, or decoration has a subliminal symbolic meaning.


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antoni gaudí (1852-1926) | roof top terrace | casa milà | also known as la pedrera (the quarry) | 1906-1912

for casa milà, gaudí designed a two-wing apartment building with an innovative figure eight shaped floor plan.  even though they share a common facade, each wing has a separate entrance and a separate courtyard that provides light and ventilation.  the stairwells, chimneys, and ventilation towers on the roof top terrace conceal the circulation and mechanical systems.  the building has been restored.  part of it is still used as an apartment building.  the other part is now used as a cultural activities center, exhibition space, and event venue.

photo credits lisa walsh | innerspace

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antoni gaudí (1852-1926) | serpentine bench | park güell | 1900-1914

photo credit lisa walsh | innerspace

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antoni gaudí (1852-1926) | the column room (la sala hipòstila) | park güell | 1900-1914

did you notice that some of the 86 doric inspired columns aren’t perpendicular?

photo credits lisa walsh | innerspace




antoni gaudí (1852-1926) | salamander fountain | park güell | 1900-1914

gaudí was commissioned to design park güell as a garden community of 60 homes.  but, only two of the homes were ever built.  so, the housing development was never completed.  work on the project stopped in 1914.  in 1922, the city of barcelona acquired the property, which opened as a public park in 1926.

photo credits lisa walsh | innerspace







antoni gaudí (1852-1926) | roof top terrace | palau güell | 1886-1890

palau güell was built to extend an adjacent family home.  the palace is noteworthy for the innovative use of materials, space, and light.  particularly, the three story parabolic dome that gaudí designed for the central hall.  the oculus and skylights that illuminate the dome are visible from the roof top terrace, which has 20 chimneys.  ownership of palau güell was transferred to the barcelona provincial council in 1945.  the building has been restored, but remains unaltered, and is now a museum.

photo credits lisa walsh | innerspace

do the roof top terraces seem like the most distinguishing feature of gaudí’s modernisme buildings?  actually, some of the other reoccurring features may seem more surprising.  did you notice the salamander on one of the palau güell chimneys?  another one of the palau güell chimneys has a dragon weathervane.




antoni gaudí (1852-1926) | dragon weathervane | roof top terrace | palau güell | 1886-1890

photo credits lisa walsh | innerspace

and, the pavilions güell have a dragon gate.  the dragon gate is not only an allusion to ladon, the dragon with 100 heads that guarded the golden apples in the garden of the hesperides for the mythological greek goddess hera, but also to l’atlàntida, a catalan poem about the legend of hercules, written in 1877.





antoni gaudí (1852-1926) | dragon gate | pavilions güell | 1884-1887

the pavilions güell were originally the gatehouses to an estate.  presently, they are the headquarters of the gaudí chair of the school of architecture at the polytechnic university of catalonia.

photo credits lisa walsh | innerspace

since i have an asian art background, the dragon gate also seemed like an allusion to ancient china.  especially, since we saw a ming dynasty art exhibition at caixaforum during our visit to barcelona.


imperial yellow dragon brocade fabric | ming dynasty (1368-1644) | ming: the golden empire | caixaforum | barcelona, spain | 15 june-2 october 2016

photo credit lisa walsh | innerspace

you can see the dragon that gaudí incorporated into the architecture of torre bellesgard from the southwest corner of the roof top terrace.  the gables and the dormers are the dragon’s face.  the stone masonry, the scales.  the ridge of the roof, the back.  and, the tower, the tail.

the dragon is an allusion to saint george (sant jordi), the patron saint of catalonia.  according to the golden legend, saint george slew a dragon to free a princess.  the kingdom was so grateful, that the entire population converted to christianity.  saint george is most often depicted as slaying the dragon with a sword while riding a white horse.  so, the tower could also represent saint george’s sword.




antoni gaudí (1852-1926) | torre bellesguard | 1900-1909

gaudí designed the torre bellesgard, a private estate built on the ruins of a medieval castle, in a combination of the gothic revival and the modernisme styles.  the family that currently owns the estate acquired it in 1944.

photo credits lisa walsh | innerspace, lisa walsh | innerspace and trip advisor

casa batlló is also known locally as casa del drac (house of the dragon).  the roof top tower with the four-armed cross represents the hilt of saint george’s sword, which has been plunged into the back of the dragon.  the roof, with scales of ceramic tiles with a metallic glaze in graduated colors, represents the back.  below the roof, the 60 parabolic arches in the loft form the dragon’s ribs.  the eaves of the roof form the spine, which descends through the building as a spiral staircase.





antoni gaudí (1852-1926) | casa batlló | also known as casa del drac (house of the dragon) | 1905-1907

when gaudí renovated the exterior and the interior of casa batlló, which was originally a neoclassical style apartment building built in 1877, he created his most unique, most imaginative, most artistic design.  the building has been restored, and is now used as a cultural center and event venue.

photo credits lisa walsh | innerspace, (c) casa batlló, lisa walsh | innerspace and (c) casa batlló


casa batlló | before and after

photo credit casa batlló


travel tips:

seven gaudí buildings are now unesco world heritage sites.  so, they are crowded with tourists.  following the advice of friends and colleagues who have visited or lived in barcelona, we were able to minimize the amount of time that we spent standing in tourist queues by purchasing timed tickets in advance.  whenever available, we also purchased the ‘fast pass’ that allows you to bypass the queue.  we also planned our itinerary strategically, visiting many of the most popular sites along the modernism route (ruta del modernisme) early in the morning, before the tour groups arrived.

interesting modernisme architecture:

antoni gaudí (1852-1926) | casa vicens | 1883-1888

casa vicens is gaudí’s first residential building, which was recently purchased by mora banc, and is currently undergoing restoration.  the estimated opening date is 2016.

antoni gaudí (1852-1926) | pavilions güell | 1884-1887

antoni gaudí (1852-1926) | palau güell | 1886-1890

josep puig i cadalfach (1867-1956) | casa amatller | 1898-1900

antoni gaudí (1852-1926) | torre bellesguard | 1900-1909

antoni gaudí (1852-1926) | park güell | 1900-1914

we thought that the installation of decorative materials from gaudí buildings in the garden of casa museu gaudí was the most interesting exhibit at the museum.  the museum is located in the show house, which is one of the two houses built in park güell.  gaudí lived in the show house from 1906-1925.  we thought that the museum was interesting, but not as interesting as the buildings that gaudí designed.

lluís domènech i montaner (1850-1923) | casa lleó i morera | 1902-1906

antoni gaudí (1852-1926) | casa batlló | 1905-1907

antoni gaudí (1852-1926) | casa milà (la pedrera) | 1906-1912

our suggestion would be to ride the lift to the roof top terrace.  and then, to walk down the stairs to the lobby.  our suggestion would also be to bypass the visit to the pedrera apartment, because the halls of the apartment are so crowded with tourists.

antoni gaudí (1852-1926) | sagrada familia | 1882-

gaudí designed and built the nativity facade and the crypt of the sagrada familia.  the architecture of the rest of the cathedral is an interpretation of gaudí’s design concept, based on surviving documents and models.  the sagrada familia is still under construction, with an estimated completion date of 2026.

a friend, who recently visited barcelona, suggested not purchasing the supplemental tickets to visit the sagrada familia towers.

a colleague from barcelona recommended watching sagrada: the mystery of creation, a video by stefan haupt.

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