Barcelona, the sun-drenched Mediterranean city known for its diverse international culture, a thriving arts scene and world-class cuisine, has always allured travelers quite unlike any other city in Europe. The capital of Catalonia attracts an endless stream of visitors for so many reasons, but none are quite as inextricable from the place itself as its legendary architecture. And rarely does a single architect become so deeply intertwined in a city’s identity that he or she becomes nearly synonymous with it – as Gaudí is with Barcelona.
Madman or Genius?
Born in Reus in 1852, Antoni Gaudí was the son of a boilermaker and became fascinated with architecture at a young age. In fact, he has said that his early observations of the boilermakers at work influenced his understanding and skill in working with three-dimensional space. He was often in weak health as a child and had to spend much time recuperating at home. This led to his many hours of contemplating nature and drawing, which later came to deeply influence his architectural style. He went on to study in Barcelona, and later graduated from the Provincial School of Architecture in 1878. Upon signing Gaudí’s certificate, the director of the School of Architecture, Elies Rogent, reportedly remarked: “We have given this degree to a madman or a genius; only time will tell.”
The Fated Rise
The same year of his graduation, a fateful introduction at the Paris World’s Fair to industrial tycoon Eusebi Güell i Bacigalupi marked the beginning of a lifelong friendship and important professional relationship – Güell would become his main patron and sponsor. The introduction led to Palau Güell, and later, the renowned Parc Güell and many other structures. Deeply influenced by nature and organic forms, Gaudí placed an emphasis on designing structures with a very fluid and organic aesthetic early on. He also became known for popularizing the colourful mosaic tilework, an ancient Catalan tradition and a signature on many of his structures.
Around 1914, La Sagrada Família became his all-consuming obsession and Gaudí withdrew from his social life and abandoned all other work to focus on it. During the last years of his life as funds rand out, he contributed to the project and was often seen asking for donations from anyone likely to contribute. In 1926, Gaudí was run over by a tram and died.
Undoubtedly, his legacy lives on today. His groundbreaking works have left an enduring impact on the world of architecture and seven of his structures have been named UNESCO World Heritage Sites for their exceptional creative contribution – genius it most certainly was.
Gaudí’s Top Sites in Barcelona
La Sagrada Família: Under construction for more than 100 years, La Sagrada Família is an expiatory church; that is, it has been built solely from donations since the very beginning. The massive structure features a highly symbolic façade with sections devoted to representations of the Nativity and the Stations of the Cross, and the soaring bell towers are dedicated to the 12 apostles.
Casa Batlló: An unusual house originally designed for a wealthy aristocrat, Casa Batlló’s fantastical features have made it one of Barcelona’s most emblematic structures. The undulating façade shimmers with glazed tiles and ceramic discs, hinting at marine life and the striking iridescent tiles composing the roof are reminiscent of a dragon’s scales.
Parc Güell: A must-see in Barcelona, Parc Güell is a landscaped park designed by Gaudí that features his signature mosaic tilework, the infamous Gaudí dragon and a terrace with sweeping views of the city.
Casa Milà: Also known as La Pedrera (The Quarry), the sinuous building comprises two apartment blocks connected by interior courtyards. It is recognized by its rippling gray stone façade that resembles an open stone quarry.
Palau Güell: A mansion designed for the industrial tycoon, Palau Güell is one of Gaudí’s earlier works. The sprawling home has 18 fanciful chimneys and centers on a grand entertaining room with soaring arches. Guests would enter in horse-drawn carriages through the front gates, which are composed of intricate ironwork patterns resembling seaweed.
Explore Gaudí’s magnificent Barcelona in 2015 during one of these extraordinary voyages aboard Riviera:
Beaches, Blooms & Bluffs from Miami to Barcelona | April 1, 2015
Coastal Hideaways from Barcelona to Rome | April 25, 2015
Artistic Discoveries from Venice to Barcelona | May 11, 2015; July 25, 2015; November 7, 2015
Pearls of the Mediterranean from Rome to Monte Carlo | Jun 16, 2015