The cold stone brims with carefully sculpted life as characters from the bible populate the numerous alcoves of the Nativity Facade. A group of wise men prepare to worship the newborn saviour while elsewhere soldiers put flailing infants to the sword. The curving Gothic arches have mutated into branching stone trees bearing bulbous fruit. Look closely to find the stoic turtles that support the columns or the twisting serpent hiding in the details of this display. On the opposite side of Gaudí's Sagrada Família, the statues of the Passion Facade illustrate the torture and crucifixion of Jesus. The unadorned arches and coarse style of sculpture stand in harsh contrast to the organic flow of the Nativity Facade.
Sagrada Família, Gaudí's Masterpiece
The Basilica of the Sagrada Família has been the most famous landmark in Barcelona for decades even though it is still under construction. Work started in 1882 and optimists are predicting that the finishing touches will be added by 2032, 150 years after the first stone was laid. Antoni Gaudí is credited as the principle architect of the basilica though several others have been involved in continuing the project since Gaudí's death in 1926. His distinctive architectural style combined artistic designs with ingenious pragmatism creating structures that are both beautiful and functional.
Inside the basilica the branching columns are star shaped at the base gently becoming circular towards the top, a design which improves stability whilst retaining a slender look. Their curved capitals feature delicately inscribed oval lamps which complement the natural light that streams through the huge stained glass windows. The elegantly curved balcony that can accommodate a thousand choir singers was strategically placed to maximise the acoustic benefits of the vaulted ceiling above, satisfying Gaudí's belief that singing should prevail over any musical instrument.
To really appreciate the scale and detail of the Sagrada Família, arrive early to beat the queues and secure an audio guide so you can take your time to experience this architectural wonder in progress.
Porter's Lodge, Park Güell
Park Güell: Barcelona's Iconic Park
Although he focused on the Sagrada Família during the last few years of his life, Antoni Gaudí contributed to a number of projects that enliven the streets of Barcelona. Park Güell was initially planned as an exclusive residential development but since the first two properties couldn't be sold, the idea of building more houses within this imaginatively landscaped park was abandoned. The Porter's Lodges that flank the main entrance are the quintessential gingerbread houses offering inspiration for any artisan baker. Their rough stone walls and irregular windows are topped with an icing of glazed white mosaic crenellations and spires enhanced with coloured clay tiles. Inside the main gate, the Dragon Stairway leads guests up towards the centre of the park. This wide flight of steps is adorned with more colourful mosaics, greenery and the large rainbow striped salamander that gives the stairway its name.
At the top of the steps numerous Doric columns support the mosaic ceiling of the Hypostyle Room. This area, initially planned as a covered marketplace for the residential community that never materialised, also collects rainwater and supports the Nature Square above. This wide terrace is bordered by the warped, serpentine bench and marks the centre of Park Güell. Visitors naturally congregate in this area to admire the views over Barcelona or stop for a well deserved break.
A number of street entertainers can be found on the network of paths at the back of the park along with a variety of tat peddlars, their wares laid out on blankets before them. The latter activity is frowned upon by the authorities in Barcelona. These determined salesmen snatch up their blankets, complete with wares, in one fluid motion and make a hasty retreat at the first sign of a police patrol.
Two apartment buildings, Casa Batlló and Casa Milà bear the distinctive signs of Gaudí's influence and are open to the public. Although Casa Milà demonstrates Gaudí's complete disrespect for straight lines, its stony facade is rather monotone, earning it the popular nickname of La Pedrera, 'the Quarry'. The cave like entrance, decorated in blue-green mosaics and leafy plants, is lit by a shaft of light from the central atrium enhancing the rugged natural feel. In keeping with the idea of form and functionality the roof of La Pedrera disguises chimneys, air vents and stairwells inside a jungle of towering sculptures sporting gaping holes, spikes and mosaics.
In contrast to Casa Milà's rather austere look, the facade of Casa Batlló is an explosion of colour and style. Shards of coloured glass and mask-shaped balconies make some think of a carnival being sprayed with confetti. For others the bone-shaped columns and the undulating spine of the scaled roof invoke images of a great sleeping dragon. The cross atop the spire has also connected this dragon to the legend of St. George. Inside, the decor is inspired by the ocean and you could easily imagine captain Nemo feeling right at home in one of these apartments with the swirling nautilus shell effect on the ceiling and the spiral staircase that appears to be made from the vertebrae of a great sea serpent.
Although Barcelona and the Catalan region have a rich artistic legacy that includes household names such as Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali, the works of Antoni Gaudí have left a lasting impression on this city. An impression likely to become even deeper when Gaudí's final project is eventually completed, more than a hundred years after his death.