Who Is Antoni Gaudi?

The city of Barcelona, Spain, was forever changed, once architect Antoni Gaudi left this mark.

What would Barcelona be without the one-of-a-kind creations of Gaudi? Next to the 1992 Olympic Games, the architectural high jinks of Antonio Gaudi have put his Spanish city squarely on the map.

It would be nearly impossible to visit Barcelona and not take notice of Antonio Gaudi, even if like me, you know nothing of architecture. Pick up any book on the subject at the local bookstore and you likely find him listed. Before I left for Spain, he was just a another name in the guidebook, but now I feel enriched for having seen his creations.

The gentleman was born of humble origins in Reus, in June of 1852. The true power of Gaudi lay in his prolific invention of forms. Gaudi was not fully appreciated in his own time, but generations since have come to admire his unabashed originality.

Sagrada Familia

Although unfinished, the Sagrada Familia (translates: Holy Family) is Gaudi's magnum opus. He devoted decades of his life to the project, from the mid-1880's until his death.

At first glance it's difficult to decide if you really like it or not. The structure overwhelms you for a moment, like the first time you taste a strong margarita. You want to like it, but you're just not sure until the second or third taste.

After a second or third taste of the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi's peculiar concepts and complicated designs begin to appeal. His plans for the Sagrada Familia are said to "elude conventional stylistic nomenclature."

The architect envisioned the Church of the Sagrada Familia emerging from the skyline of Barcelona in dramatic verticality and he certainly achieved his goal. Tour brochures entice visitors with it, more than any other attraction in the city. The facade has become Barcelona's Eiffel Tower, to be sketched and photographed ad infinitum.

Tragically, Gaudi was hit by a tram as he was leaving the Sagrada Familia in June of 1926. He died three days later, but not before he'd left his indelible mark upon Spain and the world.

Decades after his accidental death, work continues slowly on the Sagrada Familia, as hundreds of tourists gaze in wonder, silently pondering "what was that man thinking?"

Park Guell

Another Gaudi gift to Barcelona is Park Guell, which was initially conceived as a garden city by Gaudi's patron, Eusebio Guell. The wealthy Guell purchased a large expanse of property on the slopes of a mountain with plans to construct sixty houses.

Though Gaudi worked on the commission for over a decade (1900-14) this forerunner of the subdivision was not destined to become a reality. Only two houses were ever finished, one of which now contains a Gaudi museum.

Gaudi's intention was to be bizarre and playful on one hand and on the other produce a design that was a compliment to nature. Here again, his wish was at least partly fulfilled. However, after the death of Eusebio in 1922, the city of Barcelona acquired the area and chose to transform it into a public park. Any in-depth look at the city should include an hour for Park Guell.

The two pavilions at the main entrance are right out of Doctor Seuss. Their oval ground plans and whimsical roofs are enough to make even a novice photographer itch to hit the shutter. They are, in a word, fanciful. One can surmise prospective home owners in the garden city had second thoughts after seeing those outlandish pavilions.

The upper plaza, called the Greek Theater, is surrounded by a snake-like bench done in a multicolored mosaic. Strangely enough, a great deal has been written about this park bench. In fact, one artist studied it for over three years, in an effort to "interpret" the work. Was Gaudi making a statement or is the bench just intended to be decorative as well as functional? We'll probably never know.

In the interests of economy, the architect acquired tile, factory remnants and unusable tag ends either whole or broken, then arranged them in pleasing formations. The result is a bench unlike any other you'll ever see.

The snake and lizard fountains at the park entrance are photo spots extraordinaire. A steady onslaught of tourists, myself included, jostled to have their picture taken by the mosaic dragon. Gaudi often used dragon motifs in his designs.

Other Gaudi Sites

The urban landscape of Barcelona has an unsuspected wealth of ornament, thanks in part to Gaudi and his peers. Visitors in their rush to see the tourist sites often miss this dramatic aspect of the city.

Gaudi was the primary architect for several apartment buildings along the street called Passeig de Gracia. He had a rare knack for making conventional things look decidedly unconventional. Some of his chimneys for example, on the Casa Mila look like strange human faces, wearing masks. His rooftops soar with odd shaped designs and sensational spires.

All during my visit I kept wondering what the average citizens of Barcelona thought about Gaudi's unorthodox buildings at the turn of the century. Nevertheless, he's considered a genius now.

If You Go

Of course, there's much more to Barcelona than Gaudi, but that's another day and another tale. One can easily find enough attractions and museums to keep busy for an entire week. In particular, the Picasso Museum and the Maritime Museum are prominent.

Using public transportation is a good bet. It's simple to use, inexpensive and safe. The subway lines are color-coded as well as numbered. I found it helped my self-confidence level to study the subway map before leaving home.

© High Speed Ventures 2011