Nicknamed God’s Architect, Antoni Gaudi was a creative genius inspired by nature.  His Catalan Modernism style of architecture is mainly found in Barcelona.  A devout Roman Catholic, Gaudi expressed his faith in the religious icons that permeate much of his work.  His designs were distinctive, highly individual and often whimsical.

From 1984 to 2005, seven of his works were declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites.  Today, his work is admired and studied around the world.

If you’re visiting Barcelona, you might want to take one of the several walking tours available to see numerous examples of Gaudi’s eccentric and sometimes magical architecture throughout the city, such as the Casa Batlló (nicknamed the House of Bones), and Casa Milà (La Pedrera) on Passeig de Gràcia with its wrought-iron balconies and organic façade.

Parc Guell

Count Eusebi Guell commissioned Gaudi to design Parc Guell, a garden complex and housing site in the Gracia district of Barcelona.  Built during the years of 1900 to 1914, the site was an artistic triumph but a commercial failure.

An iconic dragon fountain greets visitors at the main entrance between two buildings, the porter’s lodge and an office.  The building that currently houses the Casa-Museu Gaudi was Gaudi’s home from 1906 to 1926.  A large plaza in the form of a Greek theatre is where you’ll find the famous undulating bench covered in broken ceramics.

If you go to Parc Guell, be prepared for a long, nearly vertical climb, though there are three flights of escalators to help you get up the steepest grade to the top.  The guide books don’t mention this.  They also don’t let you know that, although most of the park is free, there is an entrance fee to access the “Monumental Zone” where the Gaudi structures are and entrance is regulated to an assigned time.

Plan on more time than you think you’ll need, not only to climb the mountain but to stand in line.  Since the park receives a large number of visitors daily, they only allow 400 visitors at a time.  You’ll have to wait for the entry time designated on your ticket.

Unfortunately, I was not able to spend as much time here as I had hoped, since I had to leave for a Picasso tour.  Ideally, a visit to Parc Guell should be the only thing on your agenda for the day (now I know).  That way, you can see all the monuments and enjoy the park itself.  It’s a beautiful spot that overlooks the entire city and the harbor beyond.

You won’t see many straight lines in Gaudi’s architecture at Parc Guell.  These whimsical structures remind me of ToonTown at Disneyland.  I wonder if the Disney Imagineers who designed it were influenced by Gaudi’s architecture.

What’s ironic is that somehow the setting on my Canon camera got turned to wide angle, so I took some funky, distorted pictures of the already funky and distorted Gaudi monuments.  I think it’s rather fitting and makes them even more whimsical.  Fortunately, I also took some pictures with my iPad, so I have some “normal” views of the buildings, as well.

La Sagrada Familia

The Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s magnum opus, is the best known example of his architecture and the most popular tourist attraction in the city.  Construction on this cathedral, a tribute to the Holy Family, began in 1882 in the new Eixample district of Barcelona.

The cathedral was planned to be built entirely in a neo-Gothic style.  However, Gaudi later changed the design to his trademark modernist style, which was based on the forms founds in nature.  During his life only the crypt, apse and part of the Nativity Facade were finished.

Tragically, Gaudi never got to see his masterpiece completed.  While walking along the Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes in 1926, he was struck by a passing tram and lost consciousness.  He died three days later in the hospital.  You can view Gaudi’s burial crypt in the museum under the main floor of the cathedral.

The original design of La Sagrada Familia called for eighteen towers to be built.  To date, only eight towers exist.  Work continues on the cathedral, however.  Although the interior is now complete, the exterior will not be finished until 2026, the centenary of Gaudi’s death.

There are three facades.  The Nativity Façade faces east and was finished by Gaudi himself.  It was built in a Baroque style, ornamented with motifs of plants and animals.  On the opposite side, the Passion Façade depicts the crucifixion.  After the sculptures of the crucified Christ were added in 1987, there was a great deal of public outcry, as the abstract style was quite different from Gaudi’s.  The main façade, known as the Glory Façade, is still under construction and when completed will picture life and death.

Although I’d seen photos of the exterior, I never imaged what waited inside.  When I entered, I gasped.  A magical feeling washed over me as I beheld this vaulting, light-filled space.  The design was intended to feel like a forest, with inclined columns like branching trees.  Natural light filters through to what feels like a forest floor.  It shines through both stained glass and clear windows and casts patterns in colors around the space, creating an ethereal, inspiring atmosphere.  I’d love to go back multiple times to see how the light changes during different times of day and seasons.

If you’re going to visit this marvel, it’s wise to purchase a “skip the line” ticket in advance.  Otherwise, you’ll find yourself waiting in line for a couple of hours.  You can also visit the towers, but they’re not always open.