BARCELONA IS ONE OF THE MOST EXCITING and interesting Cities on the entire Iberian peninsula. Most guidebooks and other publications argue that it is ‘the’ centre of energetic modern Spain. Culturally, intellectually and for its out-and-out joy of life, Barcelona takes the prize. During the Civil War Barcelona was the final outpost of free democracy and battle bruised redoubt of the last democratically elected government Spain had for the next thirty something years. But for the art lover, Barcelona offers another shining historical highlight in the architecture of Antoni Gaudi. He was a Spaniard, born in Catalonia in 1852, and was arguably the most eccentric, brilliant and insightful architect that ever lived. His work has beautified Barcelona for over a century and construction still continues on his ‘Basilica de Segrada Familia’ today.
There are a number of Gaudi buildings in Barcelona, but in this article I’m going to focus on three of the essential ‘must see’ highlights. Firstly, there is ‘The Segrada Familia’ or The Sacred Family. This is the iconic and cultural centre of Barcelona. Secondly ‘Parc Guell’, which is the home of the famous Gaudi wibbly-wobbly mosaic park bench and El Draco. Thirdly, Casa Mila, a block of flats that takes the breath away.
As one approaches The Segrada Familia and the towers come into view the impact on the viewer is jaw-dropping. Nowhere in the world has such a church ever been constructed. This edifice is Gaudi’s fantastical tour-de-force. It was only partially complete when Gaudi died in 1926 and is due for completion in 2020 or thereabouts. Recently consecrated by the Pope it is still a work in progress. Unfortunately Gaudi’s original blueprints were destroyed in the Civil War but nevertheless work has continued in his spirit. Apart from the stunning spires, there are a number of other notable features: The Nativity Façade and The Passion Façade are marvellous works of sculpture and masonry. There is a bizarre contraption in the crypt called the ‘chain or hanging model’. This is composed of chains hung from above and represents the Segrada Familia upside down. It is used to calculate the curve of the spires. The interior of the Church is modernist and beautiful. The capitals on the elegantly high columns are particularly graceful.

Parc Guell

Moving on; Parc Guell is the epitome of what we think of as typical Gaudi. Lovers of art and culture come here to soak up Gaudi at his most playful and absorb the one of best views of Barcelona. The entrance is mosaic taken to the illogical limit. The Dragon, aka El Draco is a huge gecko in mosaic and the portico that confronts one at the entrance gate is magnificent. Make your way to the space above the portico to see Gaudi’s most iconic and fun masterpiece. The mosaic park bench. Every book ever written about Gaudi shows this work of charming eccentricity. There are people from all over the world posing for their photograph on this bench. Look at the view out over the city, look at the ‘gingerbread houses’ nearby with Hobbit style chimneys. This is a place to take your time and get away from the hubbub of the centre, park your backside, sit a while and ‘people watch’. At the right time of year the gardens also provide a subject of interest in their own right. My best advice is to get a taxi as the park is a little way from the centre of town, generally uphill and somewhat difficult to find for the first time tourist.
Finally, for the serious Art Nouveau addict is Casa Mila. Gaudi was of the Art Nouveau period, and indeed he has an Art Nouveau feel to all of his work. However, his was an idiosyncratic style of Art Nouveau and Casa Mila exemplifies this to an extreme degree. It is a fairyland confection of Art Nouveau. The ironwork on the balconies is wonderful and the way the balconies belly out in the most curvaceous and sensuous way is pleasing and satisfying. Looking upwards, the chimneys look like they would not look out-of-place in George Orwell’s 1984. This is as far removed from the grey concrete monstrosities that most town are blighted with as it is possible to get. Built in 1910 and restored to its former glory in 1996 after years of neglect it is now a show-piece for Gaudi and Barcelona.
It’s a wonderful place for those with the eyes to see it.