It’s a long haul flight from the Southern to the Northern hemisphere, a journey that I have completed many, many times. Each time, I am reminded that “without new experiences, something inside of us sleeps. The sleeper must awaken.” Frank Herbert
Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain, after Madrid, with approx. 1.7 million people living in the Barcelona metropolitan area. This vibrant and colourful city is also ranked the sixth most populous urban area in the European Union after Paris, London, the Ruhr, Madrid and Milan. It is also the largest metropolis on the Mediterranean Sea, located on the Mediterranean coast between the river mouths of Llobregat and Besòs.
Founded as a Roman city, Barcelona became the capital of the County of Barcelona, after merging with the Kingdom of Aragon, becoming one of the most important cities of the Crown of Aragon. Besieged several times during its history, the city has a rich cultural heritage and is today an important cultural centre and a major tourist destination. Renowned for its colourful architectural works by Antoni Gaudí and Lluís Domènech i Montaner, which have been designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
My short stay in the L’Eixample district, meaning ‘expansion; or ‘Expansion District, was formed as the city’s population grew and the medieval walls where knocked down. By 1856, work began to merge the old city with several smaller towns and fill the country that lay between the old city and Gracia, with construction continuing into the early 20th century. The area is charaterised by wide avenues and square blocks intersected by long straight streets; a visionary and pioneering design that considered local traffic, along with sun filled streets creating natural ventilation.
Many of the eloquently dotted terraced housing, ground floor street level in the area are home to various shops, including delicatessens that were the original market stores selling local produce. A popular local product, Jamón serrano – dry cured ham, is readily available. Fresh hams are trimmed and cleaned, then stacked and covered with salt for approx. two weeks in order to draw off excess moisture and preserve the meat from spoiling. The salt is then washed off and the hams are hung to dry for about six months, before finally being hung in a cool, dry place for six to eighteen months.
The area was also influenced by modernista architects, the most well-known was Antoni Gaudí works, including Casa Milà located on Carrier de Provença and Casa Batlló, located along the wide avenue Passeg de Gracia. As well as Gaudí deigned landmark; the Basilíca i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família – Basilica and Expiatory Church of the Holy Family, known as La Sagrada Familia.
Gaudí‘s work on the building is part of a UNESCO World Heritage site. Following much controversy amongst locals, in November 2006, the building was consecrated as a minor basilica as distinct from a cathedral.
Construction of La Sagrada Familia began in 1882, with Gaudí taking on the role of chief architect in 1883, however wasn’t officially appointed to the role until 1884. The original design was based on Basilica della Santa Casa, a popular pilgrim site in the small Italian town of Loreto, in the province of Ancona. Gaudí transformed the project with his personal architectural and engineering style, combing Gothic and art nouveau. His contribution is described as “the most extraordinary personal interpretation of Gothic architecture since the middle ages”. Paul Goldberger, Pulitzer Prize winning architectural critic.
Gaudí planned three grand façades: one dedicated to the Nativity (and largely completed in his lifetime); the Passion (finished in 1976) and the Glory, currently still under construction and due for completion by 2026. Each is to be crowned by four towers, representing the 12 Apostles.
The façade of the Nativity cave was completed in 1935, nine years after Gaudí‘s death and tells the story of Christ’s birth and represents the virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity.
The Passion façade was completed in 1976 and is characterised by bold, angular and highly controversial decorative work depicting the passion and death of Christ.
Spending a morning taking in the majesty and history of La Sagrada Familia, before finding myself passing by Carrier de Provença, 261-265 and the home of Casa Milà nicknamed La Pedrera – stone quarry, that was the last private residence designed by Gaudí. Built between 1906 – 1912 for the then newly married Per Milà and Roser Segimon. This building also presented controversy at the time, due to the undulating stone façade and twisting wrought iron balconies. Along with the innovative structural designs of a self-supporting stone façade, a free-plan floor, underground garage and an impressive roof top terrace.
Then turning into Passeig de Gràcia, one of the most famous and luxurious streets in the city where the elite of the Catalan bourgeoisie lived during the golden age of Art Nouveau. The 1.5 km long avenue is home to the city’s finest designed terrace homes with splendid and whimsical façades by three leading architects of that time who competed to see which of their buildings was the most beautiful, including more of Gaudí ‘s creative and colourful work.
The city block formed by Passeig de Gràcia between carrers Consell de Cent and Arago is known as “The Block of Discord”, a name that was given to the three different styles of architecture by three of Barcelona’s leading modernism architects; Gaudí, Puig i Cadafalch and Domenech i Monyaner. All three are regarded for their work, however, are also known and regarded for the very different styles. These buildings form the most important modernist group in the city.
Passeig de Gràcia, 75 Casa Enric Barlló – is the work of architect Josep Vilaseca i Casanovas, redesigned between 1904 – 1906 is now the Hotel Condes de Barcelona.
Passeig de Gràcia, 43 is considered to be Gaudí’s masterpiece. Casa Batlló is one of three important buildings that comprise the Iiia de la Discordia – Block of Discord The original building on the site of Casa Batlló was constructed in 1877. The premises was bought by Joseph Batlló, textile industrialist in 1900 and he and his wife wanted an architect that would design a house that was like no other and stood out as being audacious and creative. Commissioning Gaudí, they choose to be open to anything and deciding not to limit Gaudí’s creativeness resulting in the buildings redesign in 1904. Locally known as Casa dels ossos – House of Bones, and Casa delos dra – House of dragons, for its skeletal style qualities. There are few straight lines due to the irregular oval windows and flowing sculpted stone work. Much of the façade is decorated with colorful mosaic made of broken ceramic tiles. The roof design is arched and was described as a dragon’s back. Leaving many with a common theory that the rounded feature to the left centre, terminating at the top in the form of a turret and cross, represents the lance of Saint George (the patron saint of Catalonia), plunging the back of the dragon.
Passeig de Gràcia, 41 Casa Àmatller by Josep Puig i Casafalch is one of the architects finest creations. The design was inspired by the 17th century Dutch townhouses, with a distinctive stepped Flemish classical architecture covered in shiny ceramics. The lower façade and doorway are decorated with lively sculptures of chocolatiers at work, almond trees and blossoms by Eusebi Arau, in reference to the Catalan chocolate maker Antonio Amatller who commissioned the building. Constructed between 1898 – 1900, the modernist style is considered a blend of Catalan and Flemism Gothic, and was declared an artistic historical monument in 1976 and the second of three important buildings that comprise the Block of Discord.
Passeig de Gràcia, 39 Casa Bonet by Marcel.lia Coquillat. The home was originally known as Torruella and was built in 1887 by Jaume Brossa. In 1915, Josefina Bonet commissioned a rebuild and reformed the façade.
Passeig de Gràcia, 37 Casa Mulleras by Enric Sagnier was built with an eclectic style. Commissioned in 1898 and completed in 1906 to redesign the former Ramon Comas House built in 1868. This architect is also known for designing several other buildings in Barcelona including, the Temple del Tibidabo and the headquarters of the Caia de Pensiones savings bank.
Passeig de Gràcia, 35 Casa Lleo Morera by Lluis Domènech i Montaner, was a refurbishment of the old 1864 Rocamora house. In 1902 Francesca Morera commissioned the rebuild and work was carried out between 1902 – 1906. Francesca died in 1904 leaving the building to be named after her son, Albery Lleó i Morera. This beautiful building is the first of three important buildings that comprise the Block of Discord, and is the first and only building in the Block of Discord to be awarded Barcelona’s Concurso anual de edificios artísticos – town council’s Arts Building Annual Award in 1906.
Walking down Passeig de Gràcia is a magical experience with many interesting, impressive and imaginative buildings. As are the lampposts. There are a total of 32 beautifully designed lampposts that are the work of architect Pere Falqués i Urpi designed in 1906.
The modernist buildings have been beautifully restored and the ground floors are home to an array of choice; choice of restaurants, cafes, coffee shops, jewellery stores and leading fashion houses including Louis Vuitton, Armani, Cartier, Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent. Time for a late lunch.
Passeig de Gràcia, 27 Casa Malagrida by Joaquim Codina i Matalí, was commissioned for the tobacco industrialist Manuel Malagridia i Fontanet and is a beautiful modernist building redesigned between 1905 – 1908.
Passeig de Gràcia, 21 Unión y el Fénix building by architect Eusebi Bona Pu ig and sculptor Frederic Marés. The monumentalist style and French influence building was built between 1927 – 1931 to house the headquarters of the insurance company La Unión y el Fénix, founded in 1897. The building is distinguishable by its magnificent ornamental dome adorned with the figure of Ganimedes, who in Greek mythology was a young hero of the royal lineage of Troy, proudly sitting atop a phoenix on the domed top. Representing the hallmark of the company.
It’s been a colourful day admiring the beauty and creative works by Barcelona’s Art Nouveau architects and learning the history behind the impressive and elegant buildings.
Tomorrow brings the opportunity to experience and explore more of the colourful city landmarks and sights, both historic and modern. And, there is much to see. Given I am a lover of history, architecture, the sea and nature I sketched out a number of highlights and decided that my best option is to use the Barcelona ‘hop on hop off bus service‘ to stop at and enjoy some of the highlights and taking time out to be.
I am staying a short walk from Barcelona’s contemporary landmark; the spectacular cucumber shaped multi-coloured tower, Torre Glóries, formerly known as Torre Agbar. The building was designed by Jean Novel and completed in 2005, consisting of bio climatic architecture functionality and design, merging with environmentally friendly building materials and elements that achieve significant reduction in energy consumption. The design awarded the building the European Commission’s Green Building award in 2012 for its energy efficiency and low CO² emissions.
I catch a local bus service to Parc Güell that was originally part of a commercially unsuccessful housing site started in 1900, as the dream of a Barcelona magnate, Eusebi Güell. Whom the park is named after, and was inspired by the English-style ‘garden city. Created for the upper class, however became an enchanting space for the public.
Güell gave up on the original project and commissioned his friend and protégé Antoni Gaudí with the development of the project. Gaudí worked on the garden village until 1914 when it was clear the project was a commercial failure.
At the main entrance on Carrer d’Olot, stands the two Hansel and Gretel style gingerbread houses of soft brown, topped by curvaceous creamy looking roofs decorated in trencadis – broken ceramics.
The focal point of the park is the main terrace, surrounded by a long bench in the form of a sea serpent, enabling the people sitting to converse in private. An interesting Gaudí design feature are the small bumps that allowed water to dry up quickly after it rains, preventing people from sitting on a wet bench. A delightful place to rest and appreciate the surroundings.
Gaudí purchased one of only two homes that were constructed on the park site in 1906 and he and his family lived there until 1926. In 1963 the home became the Casa Museu Gaudí – Gaudí House Museum, and was declared a historical artistic monument of interest in 1969.
Making my way back to the city centre and a visit to La Sue Cathedral – the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia, also known as the Barcelona Cathedral. A majestic Gothic church located in front of Plaça de la Seu, in the charming Barri Gòtic – Gothic Quarter, in the heart of Barcelona.
Constructed in the 15th century on the former site of a Visigoth chapel that was constructed in the 11th century on the foundations of a basilica destroyed by the Moors in 985. The cathedral is dedicated to the city’s co-patron saint Eulalia of Barcelona; a young virgin who lost her life aged 13 during the Roman periods, after refusing to dismiss Jesus as the son of God. The crypt below the Capella Major – chancel, houses the tomb of Santa Eulalia and the enclosure for the church choir is decorated with reliefs that narrate her young life. Today, the church’s secluded cloister still keeps 13 white geese in her honour.
The cathedral’s interior also consists of 61, 15th century stained-glass window, that when captured by the natural light displays the intrinsic details of each piece.
I step outside and decide to eat in the first restaurant that catches my eye; the La Taverna de Barcelona. A warm welcome greets me along with a mid-twentieth century charming atmosphere. Lamb chops, chillis and potatoes, and a glass of tinto.
A stroll around Plaça de Catalunya – Catalonia Square, that is also known as Plaza de Cataluña, a central meeting place where the historic old city and the 19th century built L’Eixample meet.
Together with the starting point of the 1.2 km tree lined street, La Rambla connecting the old city centre heart with the Christopher Columbus Monument at Port Vell. There is much to see and time is escaping me. Back on the bus to travel to Montjuïc.
The hill known as Montjuïc provides a spectacular view across the city and the old harbour, Port Vell. Several thousand years earlier, the Iberian Celts settled on the 213 meter high hill, that was later used by the Romans as a ceremonial place.
The monumental cast iron column set on a stone pedestal and topped by the statue of Christoffel – Christopher Columbus, standing 60 meters / 197 ft high, also known as the Monument of Colom stands boldly facing and pointing out to sea. Constructed between 1882 – 1888, at the site where Columbus arrived in 493 after travelling and reaching America the year before.
Columbus was born in Genoa, Italy, and first moved to Portugal and later settled in Spain. However, in the 19th century, he was considered a Catalan and therefore, honoured by the people of Barcelona for his journey’s across the seas.
From the Miramar viewpoint on Montjuïc, I can see the beautiful historic Old Customs House – Aduana Vieja building, constructed in 1902. This neo-classical building in the Plaça del Porta Square – Square of the Gate of Peace at Port Vell is decorated with ionic columns, detailed moldings’ and ornate windows.
Again time is escaping me…back on the bus to see the Olympic Village. Originally constructed in 1929, the site underwent significant renovations in 1989 to host the 1992 Olympics.
A brief stop at Plaça d’Espanya – Plaza de Espana, one of the city’s most important squares, at the foot of Montjuïc. For centuries the the square was used for public hangings until the gallows were moved following the construction of the now demolished Ciutadella fortress in 1715. Today the eloquently designed square is home to the former Palau National, a majestic National Palace built in neo-Baroque. The building is home to the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya – National Art Museum of Catalonia.
The squares central feature is the monumental fountain, a 33 meter high neo-classical fountain designed by Jospe Maria Hujol and represents Spain’s three most important rivers; Ebro, Guadalquivir and Tajo.
The two 47 meter high red brink Venetian Towers, that were inspired by the bell-tower of St Marks’ Basilica in Venice, stand tall and connect with Plaça d’Espanya.
The Las Arenas, also known as Plaça de Torros de les Arenes, the old classic bull fighting ring built in neo-Mudejar (Moorish) style red brickwork also adjoins Plaça d’Espanya. Inaugurated in 1900, Las Arenas saw its last bullfight in 1977, with bullfighting being no longer legal in Catalunya and banned since 1 January, 2012. Today, the bullring has been converted into a shopping mall.
It’s been another full day and there is still much to see…I will need to return.
Tomorrow I take a three and a half hour fast train to Pomplona, then taxi to Roncevellas to began my journey walking the Camino de Santiago the following day.