Antonio Gaudi, the architect who left his mark on Barcelona through a series of magnificently eccentric buildings, had a vision. He imagined a building so massive, so impressive and so breathtakingly beautiful that the world would come to this town to marvel at his creation. People called him ‘loco’—Spanish for crazy. Gaudi never lived to see his gigantic creation—the Sagrada Familia of Barcelona. But the city has been immortalised, thanks to this architect and designer who spearheaded the Modernist movement. Sagrada Familia is the unmistakable symbol of Spain’s buzzing arts and culture capital.
Casa Battló: My Gaudi trail began at the Casa Battló. This colourful and decidedly modernist building sits proudly in the middle of an elegant row of conservative European buildings. The stunning façade showcases organic motifs while the roof bears a cross (a witness to Gaudi’s strong religious identity) and evokes the scaly skin of a dragon. The façade seemed to me like the architectural version of an impressionist painting: unusual organic bone-like shapes and tiny glazed ceramic pieces for colour. In its place, there used to be a sober building that belonged to famed industrialist Josep Battló. In 1904, he commissioned Gaudi to rework the building by adding an extra storey and dramatically alter the exterior and interior. Gaudi created it, basing its form on shapes that he had witnessed in nature. The original walls were embellished with stone, ceramic and glass.
Casa Mila: As Gaudi’s career progressed, he rose to fame for the homes he designed for Barcelona’s most powerful industrialists. Pere Mila decided to commission Gaudi to build his new home in the Passeig de Gràcia and Carrer de Provença. Initially considered inappropriate, the Casa Mila is now one of Barcelona’s most famous landmarks. Lovingly referred to as La Pedrera (Catalan for quarry) owing to its wavy stone façade that perfectly complements the wrought iron balconies, La Pedrera is imposing and is considered to be one of Gaudi’s favourite residential buildings. Gaudi designed the façade separately from the rest of the building, a bold and innovative step at the time.
Park Güell: Gaudi and his loyal patron Eusebi Güell wanted to create a haven of tranquillity away from the chaos of central Barcelona. Each owner could construct a house in their plot, within the picturesque park and enjoy a network of paths, a new marketplace and a panoramic terrace. What was intended to be the gardener’s house and an administrative office now resemble dreamlike ‘gingerbread houses’, perfectly contrasting the sombre surroundings. The project did not find success in Gaudi’s time but is now declared a Unesco World Heritage Site.
La Sagrada Familia: What I was about to experience would change me forever. The construction of this magnificent Basilica began in 1882 and Gaudi died in 1926; but it is still under construction, well into the 21st century. The exteriors invoke shock, awe and admiration, all at once. From a distance, the almost surreal structure, shrouded in scaffolding and cranes, towers over the horizon with its mammoth proportions. Only eight of the 18 towers have been completed. The interiors completely shatter every notion of a church or basilica—they can house over 14,000 worshippers and 1,200 singers in a spectacular nave that features tree-like columns and countless fascinating vaults shaped like palm leaves. The overall effect of the colours, structure, motifs and the textures is enough to overwhelm the most indifferent of us.