Checklist: Gaudí's Barcelona

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Barcelona is steeped in history and home to many renowned creators, most famously, Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí i Cornet. Some of his most impressive works can be found in and around the city he once called home and his distinctive, modern and colorful style has become Barcelona’s trademark.

Plaça de Catalunya, a large square in Barcelona’s city center that attracts tourists with its large fountains and sculptures, is a great starting point for a tour of Gaudí’s Barcelona.

1. Casa Batlló

From the Plaça de Catalunya, walk up along the Passeig de Gràcia. Luxurious designer shops (Hermés, Chanel, Adolfo Dominguez), an array of cafes, restaurants, bars and several Desigual shops may tempt you to stop for a quick shopping spree but this is the most expensive street in Barcelona, if not Spain. After a 15-minute walk you will reach Gaudí’s Casa Batlló, one of his great masterpieces (pictured above). Textile industrialist Josep Batlló was determined to own a house that stood out from all the rest, so he hired Gaudí to help him accomplish that in the early 1900s. Gaudí seems to have omitted the use of straight lines, giving the structure of the house an organic, skeletal quality, which has earned it the nickname Casa dels ossos (House of Bones). The roof is arched and likens the spine of a dragon, with broken mosaic tiles in shades of yellow, orange, blue and green bringing its form to life. Be sure to book an entrance ticket prior to your visit to Casa Batlló to avoid waiting in line for up to two hours.

2. Casa Vicens

Just before getting to the end of Passeig de Gràcia and reaching the Ronda del General Mitre, you will find Casa Vicens on the Carrer de les Carolines. Built between 1883 and 1889, it was one of Gaudí’s first major projects. From afar, the residence may not appear colorful enough to be a true Gaudí but, upon closer inspection, you will come to realize just how much playful detail has gone into Casa Vicens. The house was inspired by Gaudí’s endless fascination with natural shapes; in this case, the free flowing and delicate forms of the plant world. The walls, ceiling, façade and even the windows are adorned with delicate paintings, tile, metal and wood work, all in floral shapes. The wrought-iron bannisters and window grilles blend in with the warmth of the façade’s red brick and undressed stonewalls with the incorporation of further floral patterns and Moorish influences. If you still have some travel money left at the end of your Barcelona trip, you’ll be happy to hear that Casa Vicens is currently up for sale.

3. Parc Güell

From the Passeig de Gràcia you can take the L3 metro to Parc Güell, although making your way there by foot or bicycle is definitely recommended. This will give you a chance to take in various different districts along the way, including Avinguda Diagonal, Passeig de Sant Joan and Travessera de Dalt. There are different entrances into the Parc Güell, the main one being the “monumental zone” where Gaudí’s former house is located. The house is now a museum in which you can view many of his furniture designs. The park itself is a living, breathing work of art full of mysterious symbolism and puzzles. Colonnaded footpaths and a roadway built upon columns resembling the park’s trees enhance the other-worldly feel of this fairytale-like park. The famous serpentine bench and “el drac” (the dragon) celebrate Gaudí’s use of mosaic tiles. There is plenty to see at Parc Güell, but you’ll also get to hear some good tunes, as plenty of street musicians take advantage of the area to provide tourists with a Parc Güell soundtrack.
4. Sagrada Familia

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Photo via Flickr/Xavi Gracia

The Sagrada Familia Roman Catholic Church was once described by architectural critic Paul Goldberger as “the most extraordinary personal interpretation of Gothic architecture since the Middle Ages.” Along with six other Gaudí constructions, part of this striking building is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The church is situated in between the Plaça de la Sagrada Familia and the Plaça de Gaudí which faces the nativity facade of the church. The construction of the Sagrada Familia started in 1882 and was inspired by the founder of the Spiritual Association of Devotees of St. Joseph, Josep Maria Bocabella. After having visited the Vatican and the church of Loreto, he envisioned a similar church for Barcelona. Initially, architect Francisco de Paula del Villar planned the standard form of a Gothic revival church, but upon his resignation in 1883, Gaudí took over and found an entirely new approach mixing Gothic and curvilinear Art Nouveau forms. To this day, La Sagrada Familia is incomplete. Faced with various interruptions and complications including the Spanish Civil War and Gaudí’s death, the completion is now set for 2026—marking the centennial of his death. As is typical of Gaudí ’s work, he incorporated various themes and symbols throughout the interiors and exteriors of the church—words from the bible in Catalan and various other languages, a cypress tree representing the tree of life and the hyperboloid structures of the “bishop’s mitre” spires, for example. Gaudí’s original design included 18 spires representing the Virgin Mary, the four Evangelists, the Twelve Apostles and Jesus Christ; as of 2010, eight spires have been built.

5. Farolas de la Plaça Reial

The Barri Gòtic (gothic quarter) is a popular district and the heart of Barcelona’s bohemia. Home to nightclubs like Karma and Sidecar, this is the place to go to let your hair down after a long day of following Gaudí’s artistic footprint. To escape the masses, make your way to the Plaça Reial, which is just as busy, but less suffocating than touristy Las Ramblas. The Plaça Reial is home to various open-air concerts during the Barcelona La Mercè (Lady of Mercy) festivities—the city’s largest street party—and yet another one of Gaudí’s quirky pieces. Commissioned by Barcelona’s Town Council in 1879, Las Farolas de le Plaça Reial (The Plaza Reial Street-Lights) incorporate mystical symbolism. The six-armed street-light pays homage to the God of Mercury, with the very top part of the lamp being a representation of his helmet. Snaking their way up toward the helmet are two serpents, acting as the symbol for trade and commerce. With its marble base and brass features, the Farolas de le Plaça Reial stand out.

6. Font de la Cascada

Good vibes and a gathering of open-minded and creative folk can be found at the Parc de la Ciutadella on any given day. This massive open space with a lake, a zoo and the museum of zoology attracts flocks of tourists and locals alike. The land was originally home to a fortress built under the reign of Philip V of Spain, but the area was turned into a park with the help of architect Josep Fontserè in 1872. For the creation of a fountain loosely based on Rome’s Trevi Fountain, Fontserè contracted Gaudí, who was still a student at the time. The Font de la Cascada is hardly reminiscent of Gaudí’s preferred style, but is note-worthy in that it was one of his first projects and is in such a historical and popular location.

7. Casa Milà

As you may have already gathered by now, the Passeig de Gracia is full of surprises. It is home to Casa Batlló in addition to annual summer festivities that transform the small pedestrian streets of the Passeig de Gracia into a magical, creative world of recycled artworks, culinary delight and great tunes. This is also where you will find Gaudí’s Casa Milà, otherwise known as La Pedrera (The Quarry). Commissioned by industrialist Pere Milà I Camps, the Casa Milà would add to his already lavish lifestyle. Always having shown a passion for art and entertainment, he visited Josep Batlló while the construction of Casa Batlló was already underway. Impressed by its unique style and impressive detail, he was immediately taken by Gaudí’s work and vision. Constructions on Casa Milà started in 1906 and would take six years to complete. Built around two courtyards, Casa Milà has taken on a quirky, asymmetrical “8” shape. The building’s roof incorporates broken marble and glass, limestone coated timbre and an array of towering figures making it a real eye-catcher.

Roxanne Sancto is a freelance journalist for Paste and The New Heroes & Pioneers._ She’s the author of The Tuesday Series & co-author of_ The Pink Boots. She can usually be found covered in paint stains.

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