Barcelona Is for Architecture Lovers

Tuesday, April 23, 2019 Road Junkies 0 Comments


Stepping into the Past, Days 19-24:  Malta to Barcelona.  Barcelona is well-known as the epicenter of Catalan Modernist architecture.  Its most popular attractions are the architectural creations of favorite native son, Antoni Gaudí.  When Gaudí graduated from the Barcelona Architecture School, after his tenure as a mediocre student, the school's director reportedly remarked, "We have given this academic title to either a fool or a genius.  Time will show."

History would record that Gaudí subsequently proved to be the latter.  There is no mistaking his designs.  They are ground-breaking and unique and reflect his distinctive style, and most are located in Barcelona.  His most famous is the Church of Sagrada Família (the Holy Family), one of the most visited sites in all of Spain.
La Sagrada Familia (photo from Wikimedia)
Gaudí took charge of the project a year after the foundation stone was laid in 1882, scrapping the original Gothic design plans in favor of his unique interpretation of Modernism.  By the time of his death in 1926, the building was about 20% complete. Vandalism during the Spanish Civil War and a 2011 fire disrupted the building’s progress.

(photo from Wikipedia)
The church’s interior is defined by columns that stretch like tree branches toward the ceiling. Gaudí’s plans call for 18 spires, eight of which are complete, as well as numerous towers, chapels, portals, and other interior features. When built, the tallest spire, symbolizing Jesus Christ, is expected to secure Sagrada Família’s place as the world’s largest church building.

But the building is far from complete.  Projections that construction may wind up by 2026, the hundredth anniversary of Gaudí's death, seem overly optimistic, given that so much is left to be done.  (See the 2018 model of the plan to the right.  Parts already constructed are shown in tan.)  Gaudí is buried in the crypt of a chapel to the left of the Sagrada Família altar, so he will be present for what will be a grand celebration when the project is finally completed.

Though it is by far his most ambitious project, the church is not the only popular Barcelona attraction bestowed on the city by Gaudí.  Two homes he designed are also at the top of most visitors' must-see lists: Casa Batlló and Casa Milà.
Casa Batlló (photo from Wikimedia)
Known among locals as the “house of bones,” Batlló reflects Gaudí’s transformation of a pedestrian middle-class residence into a work of art. Designed to look more like the organic layers of an animal than a private home, the house has few straight lines. Much of the exterior is decorated with colorful mosaics made from broken ceramic tiles, and the roof line resembles a dragon’s back.  Currently the front of the building is covered with scaffolding and a canvas, as it undergoes restoration.
Casa Milà
Completed in 1912, Casa Milà was the last private residence designed by the famous architect. Its undulating stone façade and twisting iron balconies thrust the house into a neighborhood controversy and attracted unwanted attention from city officials. In the end, the local government forced the alteration of Gaudí’s original plans, ordering demolition of elements that exceeded height standards and fining the owners for numerous building code infractions.
Random building near Casa Milà
As remarkable as these and other Modernist structures are, they are not Barcelona’s only claims to architectural fame. The city is replete with architectural gems, many of which would generate special mention in most cities, but in Barcelona’s collection of riches, they’re just another bauble.
Sant Pau
Another masterpiece of Catalan Modernism is the Hospital de Sant Pau complex built between 1901 and 1930. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, like Sagrada Família, Sant Pau has been called the largest Art Nouveau complex in the world. Named for a wealthy Catalan banker who left his estate to the city for the construction of a hospital, Sant Pau was a fully functioning hospital until 2009. Today it is used as a popular museum and cultural center.
 The Ohla Hotel sees the city.
The architect charged with transforming this historic building into a boutique hotel engaged an artist to create a design on the building's exterior that would 'bring soul' to this former department store. Four years later came the installation of 1,000 basketball-sized ceramic eyeballs pointing in various directions on the building's facade, giving the Ohla Hotel its distinctive appearance.
Arc de Triomf
The Arc de Triomf was built as the main access gate for the 1888 Barcelona World Fair. Designed in Moorish Revival style of red brick, the arch overlooks a wide promenade, a popular gathering place and a pathway to Citadel Park, the city’s signature green space. (A more famous entrance gate designed by Gustave Eiffel was constructed for the next year’s world’s fair in Paris.)
Palau Nacional
Another building constructed to welcome visitors from abroad was the Palau Nacional (National Palace), which served as the main site of the 1929 International Exhibition. Sitting majestically on the hill of Montjuic, the Spanish Renaissance building later became home to the National Art Museum of Catalonia.

And just walking around the city, one comes across a wealth of architectural treasures which merit no particular attention in the context of Barcelona’s abundance but are immensely pleasing to the eye.
Spain outlawed bullfighting, so the old arena became a shopping center.
Catalonia Palace of Justice
Detail from an unnamed building
Art Nouveau confection
More random Art Nouveau
And Barcelona does funky, too.
Resurrecting Old Easter Errors
It comes as no surprise that we again plunged headfirst into a four-day Easter holiday without adequate planning. Incredibly, we managed to do this three times last April in the Balkans—Catholic Easter in Slovakia, Orthodox Easter the following week in Romania, and, another week later, Memorial Easter in Moldova. Naively, we thought we had learned our lesson.  We were wrong.

In our initial draft for this trip, we would have been in Israel this weekend, but came to our senses when we realized the country would be flooded with visitors from two religions with Easter and Passover coinciding. We recalculated and pushed that stop into May. Then we wavered between Barcelona and Andorra for Easter weekend, finally settling on Andorra.
Seeing the sights in Andorra
Apparently, thousands of other people had the same notion. About a mile inside the Andorra border on Saturday, we came to a dead stop in the midst of an overheated holiday traffic jam. We were just ten kilometers from our hotel, but in the next half an hour, we advanced only half a kilometer. The odds did not look good, so as soon as we crawled to a traffic circle, we followed it around 360° and headed back south to Barcelona, stopping just long enough to plant a drive-by letterbox in an Andorran guardrail.

And we learned that not just the Easter holidays but the entire Holy Week in Barcelona attracts many thousands of Spaniards to the city, in addition to the foreign visitors. Even though we were aware that tickets to the Gaudí hotspots needed to be purchased in advance, our intentions to get that done while traveling fell by the wayside so we were unable to enter any of the sites, prompting us to add Barcelona to our “must return to” list.

What's Next?
Now we leave Europe and head to the Middle East—seven days in Jordan followed by nine days in Israel.  With lots of historic sites on our agenda in these neighboring countries, we're looking forward to our first visit to the area in 40 years.

Chapter 6 Stats
    •  Started in:  Valletta, Malta
    •  Ended in:  Barcelona, Spain
    •  Air Miles:  760
    •  Foot Miles:  34.6
    •  Road Miles to Andorra & back: 232
    •  Highway Tolls to Andorra & back:  $59.76
    •  Gas to Andorra & back:  $42.20  ($6.04/gallon)
    •  Weather:  52° to 68°, windy, windy, windy
    •  Motorcycles in Barcelona:  59,271
    •  Architectural Delights:  too many to count
    •  Street cats:  0

Loved:  The eye candy provided by Barcelona’s many architectural jewels, both the acclaimed and the unsung. The ease of traveling around the city with its extensive public transit system.

Tickets to the most popular attractions.

Learned:  We’d say we’ve learned our lesson about Easter, but future lapses in judgement may prove us wrong as we do love to travel in April.
A Fair Fare Affair 
Though the stations can’t match those in Athens for cleanliness, Barcelona’s Metro system is superb. Almost any spot in the city has a rapid transit station nearby, a feature usually found only in much larger cities. And the cost is beyond reasonable: $1.12 per ride in the city, $5.17 to/from the airport.  Check here to compare the rapid transit map of Atlanta with a metro population of 6.5 million with this graphic of the Barcelona system that serves 5.5 million.
Avenue Diagonal
In Plain Sight 
Plane trees (called sycamore in the US) are popular choices for urban boulevards in Europe. Unlike Paris, London and other European cities, Barcelona allows its planes to grow to their normal height rather than stunting them with extreme pruning. This natural growth offers both shade and a certain majesty along Barcelona sidewalks.  Compare an example of mutilation pruning in England here.
Beware motorcyclists with malevolent intentions.
That's Evil, Knievel 
When we picked up our rental car from Hertz in Barcelona for our ill-fated trip to Andorra, the agent alerted us that motorcyclists have been known to ride up beside a car and point to a tire indicating it is flat. When the driver stops, the cyclist stabs the tire to puncture it. What the next step in this scam would be, he didn’t say and we didn’t bother to ask, knowing we wouldn't allow it to happen, thanks to his warning.
Now You See It... 
Driving in northern Spain, we were startled when we rounded a steep curve in a rural area and suddenly found ourselves in the full-blown town of Martinet. After passing through the densly developed town, we exited just as abruptly as we had entered, back in a rural landscape again.  This kind of development is typical of what we see in European countries, but this was particularly surprising because of the curved approach.
Cathedral of Barcelona, constructed 13th to 15th century
Train frequency meant we rarely waited for a subway ride.
Another view of the Palace of Justice 
Contemporary architecture in L'illa Diagonal shopping mall
One of numerous stunning viaducts between Barcelona and Andorra 
The lone Andorran official at the border crossing was on the phone with his back to entering cars.