Casa Batlló, my favourite Gaudi building
When I studied art at college I learned about Antoni Gaudi’s amazing designs and I have wanted to visit Barcelona ever since. It took me many years to live out that dream but it was well worth the wait. Barcelona isn’t just about architecture though, there are about eight miles of beaches, some great designer shops, a vibrant nightlife and they have a pretty good football team too.
Stepping out of the metro into the bright sunlight were were squinting and disoriented. We knew we were in Passeig de Gràcia in the Eixample district but a glance at our map told us that this was a very long avenue running through the centre of the city. It’s a busy thoroughfare packed with people and lined by covered stalls selling books. We walked along slowly, looking around desperately, for a street sign or one of those big maps you see with an arrow saying You Are Here. Before we could find one Commando said, ‘Look at that building. Isn’t it one of the Gaudi ones?’ and sure enough we were standing right outside Casa Batlló. I was so excited by my first view of one of the most impressive of Gaudi’s buildings I almost jumped up and down with glee. The only thing that stopped me was the look I got from Commando that said ‘don’t you dare embarrass me.’
With its façade of coloured tiles, skull shaped balconies, seed pod like windows and bone like frames it is a truly original and outstanding structure. It’s hard to believe that it was built as long ago as 1877 and remodelled in the early 1900’s by Gaudi and Josep Maria Jujol. The Art Nouveau concept was so ahead of its time that it still seems modern and unusual. The local name for it is Casa dels ossos (House of Bones), which is understandable given its skeletal look. I was hoping to get the chance to look inside but, even on a Sunday morning, the queues were almost round the block. We decided to give it a miss and try again later if we had the time. It made perfect sense as we could have spent the whole morning queueing and missed the chance to see so many other things so, reluctantly, I dragged my self away.
Looking down I noticed the tiles that clothe the pavements all along Passeig de Gràcia. The tiles tessellate and make a pattern that looks like a fossil of an ammonite with flowers all around. Unsurprisingly these tiles were designed by Gaudi for Casa Batlló and adapted for these pavements in the 1970’s, another example of the mark this incredible architect made all over the city of Barcelona.
Next door to Casa Batlló is Casa Amatlier built by Puig for Antoni Amatlier the chocolate maker (mmm chocolate). With its geometric tiling, stepped roof and ornate windows and doors, anywhere else it would be remarkable but next to Casa Batlló it does lose some of its glory, although I forgive it on account of the chocolate. This section is often called the block of discord in honour of these two modernist buildings and the third, at the end, Casa Lleó Morera which is now a Loewe store. It was designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner and decorated by sculptor Eusebi Arnau with lions (lleó) and mulberry trees (morera). Many of the original sculptures were destroyed during the Spanish Civil War, luckily some were rescued by a porter and one of these is now in the Dali museum.
By now we were feeling in need of a coffee and a chance to sit down and plan our next move. We found a nice place to sit on the street in the sun outside Café de la Radio just off of Passeig de Gràcia on Carrer de Casp. They spoke English, the coffee was wonderful and we took advantage of the facilities and used the toilets. This is a good idea whenever you stop for food or drink as public toilets are few and far between in Barcelona. In my whole time there I saw two, one a booth afair on the street and the other in the train station at El Prat, the latter was pretty grim and I didn’t use the former.
La Union y el Fenix Building
As we carried on our walk, in the general direction of Segrada Familia there were many impressive non Gaudi buildings. It amazes me how there can be such a number squashed into such a small space. I could write a book about them if I were to mention them all but a few are impossible to ignore. One of these is La Unión y el Fénix Building, a massive edifice, dominating the corner of Calle de la Diputaciom a d Passeig de Gracia it shows undisputed French influence. Built between 1927 and 1931 by architect Eusebius Bona i Puig ans sculptor Saint Marceau i Frederick Mares it is actually half insurance office half residential. Somehow it seems way too grand to be something so mundane, topped with an ornate cupola, dripping with intricately decorated balconies and columns. In Barcelona even the boring buildings are interesting.
Walking toward Sagrada Familia
As we only had two full days in Barcelona we had to make the best use of our time and some of the things we would have liked to see and do had to go by the wayside. At least it gave me a good excuse to return so it’s not all bad. Number one on the ‘must do’ list was Sagrada Familila. It isn’t my favourite Gaudi building but it is the symbol of Barcelona and the biggest project of his life. We pored over our map as we drank our coffee and decided that, rather than take the metro to the Sagrada Familia station, we would walk up Gran Via De Les Corts Catalanes, then turn left at Carrier de Sardenya. Although it was quite a long walk, it was too sunny to be underground and we thought we would see more of the city that way.
I am so glad we decided to walk. For a start we would never have seen the best bit of marketing in the world, a Fiat 500 embedded in the front window of a shop complete with simulated broken glass. A work of genius, I wish I’d thought of it myself. How many adverts get people to stop in the street and take photos, me included? I know I am in danger of sounding like an architectural geek but, even without the Gaudi creations, there are some lovely buildings in Barcelona. One in particular struck me, a big apartment block, unremarkable, except for the huge roof and balcony gardens overflowing with greenery and even quite large trees. It must be wonderful to stand on those balconies and look out over the city.
We stopped for a while at Placa de Tetuán, a kind of roundabout with a park in the middle. In the centre of the park there is a monument to Dr Bartholomew Robert a one-time mayor of Barcelona. The word Tetuán comes from an Arabic word meaning the eyes or the origins. Looking at the map Placa de Tetuán with the network of roads surrounding it really do look like an eye, so perhaps that is where the name came from.
On Carrier de Sardenya we found that even the petrol stations in Barcelona are quirky and different. Like a building with a roof but no front, the driver has to drive off the road and into the ‘building’ to the pumps. Not long after this we crossed Avinguda Diagonal and saw our first glimpse of the spires of Sagrada Familia.