Episode 263 – Barcelona’s Gaudy Gaudi

April 29, 2022. 71°F/20°C

#myvikingstory

The first time we visited Santiago Chile, we spent our entire day focussed on my favourite poet, Pablo Neruda. Similarly, with all the excursion options available to us here in Barcelona, we needed a reason to choose one over the others; I chose to focus on the art and architecture of Antoni Gaudi.

It’s easy to understand why Gaudi’s designs were not immediately or universally admired, especially during the period of the Belle Époque (what Canadians called Victorian/Edwardian and Americans called the Gilded Age). Although we now recognize his unique vision, apparently when he was awarded his degree in architecture, the director of the school said: “We have given this academic title either to a fool or a genius. Time will show.”

What I enjoyed most on our excursion was the visit to Park Güell on Carmel Hill. It was originally conceived as a housing complex by Count Eusebi Güell, after whom the park was named, but was commercially unsuccessful. I think I can understand people’s reluctance to live in these odd “homes”, although apparently the issue was more about price and land ownership. The colours, shapes, and curves made me think of illustrations in Dr. Seuss books; they would fit right into the land of the Lorax.

Gaudi loved using recycled materials. The chimney top featured not only red clay shards but also old teacups turned upside down to create his puffball mushroom shape. The window frame (second from top) was mosaic made from recycled tiles.
Walkways, market spaces, and even carparks were sculpted to look like natural formations, with supports often angled instead of straight verticals.
All of the curved benches in the park were decorated with mosaics made from recycled porcelain. No two designs were alike.
Gaudi’s mosaic lizard (top) adorns many of Barcelona’s souvenir items.

Gaudi’s most famous structure, although one he did not finish (he began it in 1882, but died in 1926) is the famous Sagrada Familia, which was slated to be completed in 2026 in time for the 100th anniversary of his death, but likely will not be, since the third facade, “Glory”, has not even been started, and there are multiple apartment buildings which would have to be expropriated in order to complete that facade and the planned grand entranceway and staircase.

Some residents are fighting back, preferring their homes to a bigger tourist attraction.
All these architects, both before and after Gaudi, have been responsible for the design of the Sagrada Familia. There has been an attempt to remain true to Gaudi’s vision, but honestly, it’s not very cohesive.

I have to say that while I completely understand all the fuss around the Sagrada Familia (it is incredibly huge and definitely eye-catching), it didn’t speak to me at all. Over the years, we’ve visited many churches, basilicas, and cathedrals. In the best of them, just walking into the space and looking up creates a feeling of lightness and awe; I felt none of that here, and for me the exterior was a disjointed jumble of styles reminiscent of either a Salvador Dali painting, or one of Mad King Ludwig’s fairytale castles gone wrong.

Permanently under construction since 1882, although not always with modern cranes. The pool at the bottom is situated across the street, intended to reflect the basilica.

The “Birth” (Nativity) facade, which is the only one actually designed by Gaudi, seems to be melting or dripping – I found it quite disconcerting.

Top to bottom: (1) the facade above the door depicting Jesus’ birth. (2) the three magi (and an angel on their right) (3) Jesus working as a carpenter, depicted with Mary and Joseph, the Sagrada Familia (holy family) (4) the shepherds adoring Jesus (5) two of the herald angels

Adjacent to the Birth facade is an area with blue accents, and featuring all of the fruits purported to be available in paradise. The fruits are made of Venetian glass. Again, I found the whole effect strange and out of sync with the rest of the facade. Coloured fruit on a basilica is just a bit weird, no?

The “Death” (Passion) facade, on the opposite side from Birth, is complete, and features figures with a very squared off angular style, not at all like Gaudi’s smooth curves and silhouettes taken from nature.

The interior is in some ways quite stark, with vast open spaces and some quite angular modernist elements.

What I did love about the basilica were the stained glass windows, which look like a combination of Gaudi’s wonderful recycled mosaics and Picasso’s paintings. The light shining through the windows – blue/green tones on the east side to catch the morning sun, and yellow/orange/red tones on the west side to catch the afternoon sun – is glorious.

Driving through Barcelona, Ted and I were both struck by the beauty of the city’s architecture. Our short tour tomorrow will take us into the historic sector, where hopefully we’ll get photos of some of the monuments and structures, as well as the 14th century cathedral and the Gothic quarter.

While waiting for our bus back to the ship, we stood beside this building completely covered by a mural featuring Barcelona’s famous citizens, including Gaudi, Miro, Dali and more.

Tonight we were treated to a “destination performance” when Viking brought local music and dance troupe “Rumba Catalan” on board to entertain us . They were terrific!

2 comments

  1. We have been to Barcelona three times and had to go to the basilica all three times. If nothing else, it is fascinating. Seeing the changes each time and the progress of the towers is worth the trip. After all the same old churches in Europe, this one never fails to excite. It is the biggest tourist attraction in Barcelona. (Except for Barca)

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