“What I saw in Barcelona – Gaudí – was the work of such strength, such faith, of an extraordinary technical capacity, manifested during a whole life of genius; of a man who carved the stones before his eyes in well thought out pattern…. Gaudí was a great artist; only those who move the sensitive hearts of gentle people remain” = Le Corbusier
We visited Barcelona in 2005 before we had really heard about or fully appreciated the architecture of Antoni Gaudi so this place came as a real surprise. On a sightseeing day we were walking along the Passeig de Gràcia part of the Illa de la Discòrdia in the Eixample district of Barcelona and heading for the Casa Milà, which is Gaudi’s most famous creation when across the street there was the most amazing building ever that turned out to be the Casa Batlló, recently restored as a museum and open to the public.
Antoni Plàcid Guillem Gaudí i Cornet was a Catalan architect with a Catalan name which quite frankly is a bit of a mouthful so thankfully he is usually referred to by the simplified version of Antoni Gaudí. He belonged to the Modernist Art Nouveau movement and was famous for his unique style and highly individualistic designs. He designed Casa Batlló, in a prosperous middle class district of Barcelona, for a wealthy city Aristocrat who was carrying out a refurbishment of the property that had originally been built in 1877. The lower levels of the house were designed for the owner and the upper floors were for renting and the refurbishment took place between 1905 and 1907.
Casa Batlló is a unique and fabulous building that defies any sort of description and is a building that has to be seen to be fully appreciated. From the road outside the building looks stunning and the local name for the building is Casa dels ossos, literally the House of bones and the building has a visceral, skeletal organic quality. Much of the façade is decorated with a mosaic made of broken ceramic tiles that begins in shades of golden orange and moves and merges harmoniously into greenish blues.
It is a wonderful riot of style and outrageous architectural ideas and designs and stepping inside is like being given the privilege of sharing the inside of the mind of a genius. Every room is a treasure and the attention to detail is immaculate. The ground floor, in particular, is rather astonishing with tracery, irregular oval windows and flowing sculpted stone work. It seems that Gaudi’s objective was to avoid straight lines completely.
My favourite part of the building was the roof with its forest of coloured chimneys decorating a terrace which is arched and is likened by students of Gaudi to the backbone of a dragon. A common theory about the building is that the rounded feature to the left of centre, terminating at the top in a turret and cross, represents the sword of Saint George the patron saint of Catalonia, which has been plunged into the back of the dragon.
I know that we think of St George as an English Saint but a lot of the rest of Europe has claimed him as well because St. George is also the patron saint of Aragon, Catalonia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Greece, Palestine, Portugal, and Russia and I wouldn’t mind betting that all of them will do an awful lot more to celebrate 23rd April every year than we do!
Like a lot of artistic people Gaudi tended towards eccentricity and because of his ragged attire and empty pockets, many cab drivers refused to pick him up as he walked about the city for fear that he would be unable to pay the fare. On 7th June 1926 Gaudi was run over by a tram and because no one recognised him he was taken to a pauper’s hospital. His friends found him the next day but when they tried to move him into a better hospital, Gaudi refused, reportedly saying “I belong here among the poor.” He died three days later on 10th June and was buried in the midst of his Cathedral, La Sagrada Família which even now remains unfinished and is due for completion in 2026, one hundred years after his death.
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