Wednesday, September 28, 2011

(Antoni Gaudi, Pride of Barcelona)

The Sagrada Familia, Gaudi's Magnum Opus

Upon returning from Barcelona, I realized that I had come home with so much more than just a tan. I had a sense of travelling parts of the world that I had never been before, and I came away from it all with a new obsession: Antoni Gaudi. My heart aches daily with the yearning to go back to Barcelona, and I truly don't believe that my experience in this amazing city would be the same without being touched by Gaudi's genius.

Casa Batlló 

Born in 1852, Gaudi truly had an architectural style all his own. He introduced new techniques and materials, and was well known for his work done with mosaics. Trencadis, his most famous of methods, is a type of mosaic made with discarded pieces of ceramic. This is evident in many of his creations throughout the city.

More of  Casa Batlló 

Casa Batlló, built in 1877, is a prime example of Gaudi's complete aversion to using straight lines. Most of the facade features his trencadis, and most of the building has a rippled, flowing look. The local name for the building is the House of Bones, and I can see why based on the balconies that possess a very skeletal look. The roof of the building has a scaly-looking mosaic, which to me resembles the scales of a fish and to many others resembles the back of a dragon or dinosaur. I regret not having the time to actually explore the building as our visit in Barcelona could never be long enough, and am planning a Gaudi-specific trip for some time in the (perhaps very) distant future. 

Casa Milà

Casa Milà was officially completed in 1912, and has a very tame, Gothic look compared to many of Gaudi's other works. Gaudi had planned for the Casa Milà to be a religious symbol, but his original plans were discarded when it was determined that the height of many of his statues violated the city's building code.  Officials ordered the demolition of aspects exceeding standard building heights for the city, including a large statue of the Virgin Mary. The very-devout Gaudi nearly gave up on the project, but was persuaded not to by a priest. The owners of the building gave Gaudi a lot of trouble during the construction of this building, and in the early 1980s it was in very poor condition. It has since been renovated and looks to be in great condition, as pictured above.

 One of, it not the very favorite part of Barcelona for me is Parc Guell. A garden complex that climbs up and up for miles, evidence of Gaudi's genius is everywhere here. From his amazing work with mosaics to the dripping, Gothic elements and modern whimsicalness, this place is really a feast for the eyes. It's also a workout for your legs, if you choose to walk every single step.

Eusebi Guell, whom the park was named after, originally had intended for it to be a housing site. With only two houses, none of which were designed by Gaudi, it was unsuccessful. The site was very prestigious at the time, but with no one interested in purchasing either house, plans were scrapped. Guell suggested that Gaudi purchase the site, and that is exactly what happened. In 1906, Gaudi used his savings to purchase the site and moved in with his family and father. He lived in the house for 20 years, and turned Parc Guell into what it is today. Gaudi's house is now a museum that can be visited, for a fee, during your visit to the park. Entrance to the park itself is free.

There is much to be seen and explored at Parc Guell, and I urge you to take the time to do it. If you get there early enough in the morning, crowds are very low. This would be a great place to pack a picnic and enjoy it from a place where you can really take in the beautiful views that the hillsides provide. 

My favorite element of Parc Guell is this good-looking guy, pictured above. Gaudi's dragon is made with his famous mosaic work, and it's really a sight to be seen. There were tons of people crowding around it to get a photo, and I can see why - it's pretty famous throughout all of Barcelona. In 2007, some jerk beat the heck out of the poor guy with a crowbar. Why someone would want to destroy such a gorgeous piece of work is beyond me. He was restored of course, and looks better than ever. Take that, vandal. There are replicas of the dragon in every single gift shop, and there was no way I was leaving the city without taking one home with me. It now sits proudly in our new tiny studio apartment, and I wouldn't give it up for anything! 

The Sagrada Familia is truly Gaudi's opus. My breath was taken away the moment I saw it, and the insane height of it ensures it can be seen from many spots in the city. Nothing really compares to being right underneath it though; it just makes you feel so small. What's even more heartbreaking about the structure though, is knowing the story behind it.

Construction of the Sagrada Familia commenced in 1882, but Gaudi took over in 1883. Design of the Roman Catholic church was completely transformed, as only Gaudi could do. The structure is rich with religious symbols; an entire side of the Sagrada Familia is devoted to the Nativity. The facade to the West symbolizes the Passion, while the yet-to-be-completed South facade will represent the Glory. Eighteen spires, representing the twelve apostles, four evangelists, the Virgin Mary, and the tallest of the spires, Jesus Christ, were included in Gaudi's original design. So far, eight of them have been constructed; four apostles on the Nativity Facade, and four apostles on the Passion facade. 

On the fateful day of June 7, 1926, Gaudi was walking along the Gran Via de les Catalanes, when he was hit by a tram. He passed out, and it took a long time for anyone to notice him. He was mistaken for a beggar, with his worn old clothes, and he wasn't carrying any ID. He was finally taken to a hospital, but it was too late. On June 10, Antoni Gaudi was dead. He was aged 76, and at the height of his career. He had spent the last years of his life absolutely devoted to the construction of the Sagrada Familia.

Gaudi never worked with blueprints, and instead preferred the use of three-dimensional scale models when designing his architecture, molding them as ideas came to him. In 1936 during the Spanish Civil War, those models were destroyed by Catalan anarchists. Today's design is based on reconstruction of the models, with the addition of modern design. There are those that are opposed to the post-Gaudi continuation of construction, because they feel that the finished product won't live up to Gaudi's vision. Upon completion which is slated between 2026 and 2028, the Sagrada Familia will be the tallest church building in the world. 

I am confident that I will be returning to Barcelona, because I know I couldn't go my entire life without again being immersed in what I now consider the greatest city on Earth. When we do get back there, I hope to take the time to really explore all of Antoni Gaudi's inspiring works. Until then, this is a great book for more information, and I also found an amazing film on Hulu. Enjoy!

Happy Travelling!

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