I recently travelled to Barcelona for a few days with two very wonderful friends, who put up with my ravings about Gaudí and Picasso and all the other amazing works of art the city had to offer. This is a round-up of the attractions I visited, there are many more I hope to see on another trip to this beautiful city!
Sagrada Familia – Antoni Gaudí
The Sagrada Familia is arguably Barcelona’s most iconic building. Begun in 1883 by Gaudí, an architect whose modern buildings are among the best of what Barcelona has to offer, it is estimated that it will be completed in 2026 or 2028. Work was going on when I was in the church, which was an interesting experience. Before I visited, I was unsure about the idea of completing the church, rather than leaving it at the stage Gaudí had brought it to. My experience there made it clear that Gaudí intended the work to be continued by the next generations of sculptors, architects and artists, and I am excited to see the church when it is finished.
You may have to queue up a while for this one (I waited 50 minutes) but it is well worth it, as is getting the audio guide. But when you’re waiting outside, take a good look at the exterior. It’s wonderfully detailed. I spotted some snakes and lizards on the side, as well as some star-shaped openings, horseshoes and organic mouldings. There’s so much to see! But of course there’s also the spires, and the richly sculpted facades. So far the Nativity facade is complete, and work is continuing on the Passion facade. What really surprised me, was that the main facade (the Glory facade) hasn’t even been started yet! Judging by what’s already there, it should be stunning.
Presently, you enter the church through the Passion portal. The sloping columns and blocky sculpture are really modern, as are the metal doors by Josep M Subirachs which are decorated with the gospels of St Mark and John in blocky letters, reminiscent of a printing press, telling of Jesus’ last days.
The stained glass inside is really luminious, the colours are dazzling. Gaudí was very specific about the light, and how important it was that it be just right. Too much or too little light would blind the viewer. At the Passion entrance, the stained glass windows have themes of water and light. Joan Vila Grau was responsible for the windows, closely following Gaudí’s instructions.
The columns are really interesting, they’re like tree trunks that then branch out into a ceiling which is like a cover of leaves. The columns are encrusted with medallions, of glass and gems, some with evangelist symbols. The medallions are like knots in the trees.
The Nativity facade is more traditional in terms of sculpture, not as blocky as the Passion facade. This is more naturalistic, but also extremely rich and symbolic. It is packed with sculpture – I loved the figure playing the harp, who can be seen on the right of the image below.
I’m so glad I went into this building, it was absolutely stunning. I’m definitely going back to see it when it’s completed!
Park Guell – Antoni Gaudí
This is a great place to spend the day, wander around and relax in the sun. It’s free in, and there are many exciting things to see. The main entrance is flanked by buildings that have been described as ‘gingerbread pavilions’, and they really are like something out of a fairytale.
Up the sweeping staircase is the market or the Hall of 100 Columns (which actually has 86 columns). Inspired by classical temple architecture, it uses an abstracted version of the Doric. The ceiling is beautifully decorated with shimmering medallions. Also – there are great views from the roof, and a lovely bench (see below).
The frieze is really interesting – I love the teardrop shapes. These water droplets echo the function of the columns in collecting rainwater.
There’s a cave, with wonderful bugnated columns, and this caryathid. This is the only human figure in the sculpture in the Park.
The Park Guell has many examples of Gaudí’s trencadis or mosaic technique – including the famous dragon, another iconic aspect of his work. The long serpentine bench on the roof of the market has lots of colourful mosaics, and again some great views.
Casa Batló – Antoni Gaudí
I didn’t get into this house, but the exterior is amazing. It is designed to look like a dragon, echoing the legend of St George (the city’s patron saint). Take a look at the windows in the picture here, the columns are like bones. And the surface of the walls are beautiful, they shine like scales.
This was really interesting as it houses a lot of Picasso’s early work. It was fascinating to see how his work developed, from studies in art school, to the influences of movements such as Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, to the consolidation of his own style. I was surprised to see a Pointillist influence in a few of the works, and overall I really enjoyed my visit. There was plenty to see, and lots of great information panels. A really interesting insight into the development of one of the most recognisable artistic styles.
Barcelona Pavlion – Mies van der Rohe
I studied this building during my first year of college, so I was really excited to see it in person! What I love about this building is the materials and the continuity. The lines are really crisp, and the colours inside are amazing. The cruciform piloti (columns) are also really interesting, as is the open plan and the minimalist structure.
I really enjoyed my visit, there were lots of students sketching and I got talking to some architects from Hong Kong. There was a real sense of wonder and enjoyment, it’s a very special building and as the pictures show the bright day enhanced the experience. The glass allows a lot of light in, and the onyx and marble really gleamed.
Calder Sculpture (outside the Fundacio de Joan Miró)
I didn’t go in to the Miró museum, but I did spot this great Calder sculpture outside! His work is quite distinctive, but I was still proud of myself for recognising it. There is a Calder sculpture on the campus of the university I attend (Trinity College Dublin) , and I have also seen his sculpture (and his mobiles) at the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice. Has anyone else spotted his sculptures? I’d love to see more, I love the curving lines, and the bright colours, and how recognisable they are.
It was a great trip; plenty of art, architecture and sun. Barcelona is a fascinating city, and one I would definitely recommend visiting!