TRAVEL: Gaudi’s architectural genius is all over Barcelona

Community News & Features Dec 22, 2017 at 4:58 pm
Barcelona Cathedral in the Gothic Quarter. Construction started in 1298. Had Gaudi not taken over from the Sagrada Familia’s original architect, the Sagrada might have eventually looked more like this Gothic cathedral.

Barcelona Cathedral in the Gothic Quarter. Construction started in 1298. Had Gaudi not taken over from the Sagrada Familia’s original architect, the Sagrada might have eventually looked more like this Gothic cathedral.

Where walking around is the best way to see this magnificent city

Text and photos by Bruce Gates

BARCELONA, Spain – Whatever you may think about Antoni Gaudi’s architecture, you will admit it’s different. And it’s everywhere in Barcelona, from street lamps and apartment blocks to an unfinished planned community and – most celebrated of all – the Sagrada Familia.

This basilica is Gaudi’s piece de resistance and an international symbol of the city itself. It even has its own subway stop on the Barcelona Metro. The place is so popular among tourists that its 15 euros (C$22.72) entrance fee racks up some serious cash. Some of that money must surely go into its building fund because the Sagrada Familia has been under construction since 1882 and still isn’t complete. The goal is to finish the building by 2026 on the centenary of Gaudi’s death. (He was hit by a streetcar on June 7, 1926, on his way to prayer and died three days later. He’s buried in the Sagrada Familia’s crypt.)

Gaudi wasn’t the project’s original architect, and the initial design was a more traditional Gothic style, perhaps like the Barcelona Cathedral in the city’s Gothic Quarter. But when Gaudi took over the job, he changed everything into a style that has come to be labelled Catalan Modernism. To look at all the unusual shapes of the building’s exterior, from the conical towers to patterns inspired by nature, you would be tempted to say it was gaudy – but no, that word does not come from Gaudi’s name.

Regardless of what you think of it, the place is a masterpiece by an architectural genius. The finished basilica will have 18 spires, all tied into its name, which translates to Sacred Family. The highest of them all, the central spire, will symbolize Jesus Christ and will rise to 560 feet.

The interior is just as impressive, and more colorful, with plenty of stained glass and soaring, tree-like columns. Even the non-religious can’t help but be moved by the majesty of the place. There’s even a Filipino connection to the Sagrada Familia: Along the back wall near one of the entrances is a giant clam shell (Tridacna gigas, or “taklobo”) with a little plaque that reads in Tagalog and Catalan: “Alay ng Sambayanang Filipino. Ofrenda del Pueblo Filipino.” Apparently, Gaudi had intended for a number of these Philippine giant shells to be part of the basilica’s interior, where they will serve as vessels for Holy Water.

Soaring columns  create an awe-inspiring interior.

Soaring columns create an awe-inspiring interior.

As a percentage of Barcelona’s city population of 1.6 million, the Filipino community is small, but there are restaurants and churches catering to the community, which my wife Nida was part of for a few months in the late 1970s before coming to Canada. We even found the street where she lived and worked (Carrer Muntaner).

Another of Gaudi’s unfinished works is Park Guell, which was supposed to have been an exclusive residential subdivision on a height of land overlooking Barcelona’s downtown. In 1900, local industrialist Count Eusebi Guell wanted to build a garden city and commissioned Gaudi to design it. Unfortunately, by 1914, the project was abandoned. Only two houses were built, neither of them designed by Gaudi, but he did live in one of them, which is now a museum to his life and work.

Two buildings near the park entrance have Gaudi’s signature style all over them and remind me of the houses in the Wizard of Oz’s Munchkinland.

Park Guell (7 euros for adults) was our first stop before visiting the Sagrada Familia. We could have taken the Metro there but decided to walk (about a half hour from Park Guell, but at least it’s downhill). What better way to experience this city, which is a magnificent place to walk around. There are plenty of things to see and do, from museums, churches and an old bullfighting ring repurposed as an indoor shopping mall, to stores and the ubiquitous Starbucks — but why go there when there are so many local coffee shops serving excellent brews?

We stopped at a local bakery and picked up some flaky pastries and a chocolate croissant, which I washed down with an Americano coffee bought at a nearby shop, which also served beer, wine and spirits. We relaxed at a sidewalk table while taking in the activity around us.

That’s one thing we noticed here. People seem less rushed, and if they want a beer, why not just buy one at a cafe and sit down at one of its tables to enjoy it? Beer is cheaper here than in Ontario. Just don’t walk down the street drinking it. Barcelona’s liquor laws are more liberal than in Ontari-ari-ario, but they’re not quite that liberal.

 

 

Shell-shaped basin, a gift of the Filipino people to Sagrada Familia.

Shell-shaped basin, a gift of the Filipino people to Sagrada Familia.

Exterior of Sagrada Familia, under construction since 1882 and scheduled to be completed, at last, in 2026.

Exterior of Sagrada Familia, under construction since 1882 and scheduled to be completed, at last, in 2026.

A building in Park Guell, whose architect was Gaudi, the designer of Sagrada Familia.

A building in Park Guell, whose architect was Gaudi, the designer of Sagrada Familia.