Thursday, October 8, 2009 - Barcelona - El Tour de Gaudi de Barcelona

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October 10th 2009
Published: October 11th 2009
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I am pretty sure that is not correct Spanish. But the idea of spending the day touring the creations of Antoni Gaudi is. I don't think I have seen a city so dominated by a single architect. Not only did Gaudi design several structures, you can see his influence in many others. When Gaudi received his architect title, Elies Rogent (who signed it) declared, "Qui sap si hem donat el diploma a un boig o a un geni: el temps ens ho dirĂ " ("Who knows if we have given this diploma to a nut or to a genius. Time will tell.") He is now thought of as one of the most original architects of all time. Using unusual forms and paying unusual attention to details generally left unnoticed by architects, he formed a genre that is replicated nowhere else. He made a conscious effort to incorporate forms of nature in his works. But at the same time, he pioneered many structural elements that allowed a degree of freedom that is best seen in the Sagrada Familia, to which he dedicated entirely the last years of his life. He was hit by a tram in 1926. Dressed in ragged clothes and with no money in his pockets, cab drivers refused to take him to a hospital for fear they would not be paid. Eventually he was taken to a pauper;s hospital where his friends only located him the next day. Saying he belonged among the poor, he refused a move to a better hospital, and died three days later. He was buried in the crypt of Sagrada Familia in a funeral service attended by thousands.

We began our day at the Sagrada Familia, or more properly El Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia (Expiatory Temple of the Holy Family). This giant edifice, designed to seat 10-13,000 people for mass, has been under construction for 100 years. Construction has continued in fits and starts, but is preoceeding apace and is expected to be complete by 2026, the anniversary of the architect's death. Gaudi continuously fiddled with his design, and his final plans were burned by anarchists in the Spanish Civil war, so construction is proceeding from models and surviving sketches. From a structural standpoint, two of the innovations which Gaudi elevated to new heights were the reverse catenary and angled support columns set up along the lines of thrust rather than being vertical. You thus avoid buttresses. A catenary is the curve described by a chain hanging between two points. In a catenary, all the tension forces are along the shape of the curve. If you then reverse the catenary, you form an arch in which all of the forces are along the shape of the arch, thus allowing the arch to support large weights while covering large spans without intervening support columns. All of this would be pedantic and tiresome were it not for the soaring architecture which results, and if not for the existing hanging catenary models that Gaudi ingeniously used to figure out the catenary shapes, He used small strings and suspended variously weighted bags of lead shot at load points, where the pull of the shot equaled a scaled-down version of the weight loads that would be applied in the structure when inverted into an architectural form. The models themselves are fascinating and in a weird way beautiful.

From the outside, and particularly from a distance, the Sagrada Familia looks like a kid's drip sand castle, but inside it is a vision of soaring columns and beautiful natural lighting. I had seen it from the outside before, but was unable to go in when I was in Barcelona in 1972. I must say that I was struck immediately by the scope, the soaring aesthetic, and the vision that made this. The attention to detail is extreme, and too great to be covered here. Suffice it to say that every piece of the architecture has meaning. There are three facades and eighteen towers, with the eventually crowning glory will be a central tower with a giant cross that will stand over 500 feet tall. Judging from how much I have written about it, it must have made quite an impression. But that is not unusual. The Cathedral attracts over 2 million visitors per year, and is one of the most-visited sights in Spain.

In a somewhat unusual demonstration of sloth, we hopped the Metro for a short ride to the Casa Mila, known as La Pedrera (quarry) because it was initially dismissed as worthless. It is now one of the most distinctive buildings in Barcelona. Having fallen into disrepair in the 80's, it has now been restored and apparently is a museum. Only the bottom two floors are open to the public, and it is owned by a local bank. We decided that it was not worth 10 euros each to enter for the limited viewing. It was built for Pere Mila and his wife Rosario, the wealthy widow of Jose Guardiola. The local wags said of the notoriously flamboyant Mila that he was more interested the widow's guardiola (piggy bank) than in Guardiola's widow. THe former apartment building is now part of the World Heritage site The Works of Gaudi. In a wonderful bit of nearby whimsy we watched the initial confrontation and then detente between a ferret and a dog being walked by their owners.

We then took the Metro to a stop near (well, as nearby as we cold get) to the Parc Guell, named for Gaudi's wealthy patron. Gaudi designed the park structures and lived there for some time in a house he designed. It illustrates wonderfully another design element that Gaudi apparently pioneered, and which has since become virtually the very essence of Barcelona's image - the use of broken white and colored tiles as decorative art for surfaces. Within the park, there are walls and turrets and other structures that are quintessential Gaudi. From the parapet once can look out over Barcelona toward the waterfront. Musicians play, children run around, and a good time is had by all. We bought a couple of cd's from a man playing wonderful classical guitar music.

Tired by this time, we headed back to the hotel for a cerveza and a rest, then went to the Palau de Musica for a symphony concert. Due to its late start, our lack of dinner, and various other considerations, we stayed only for the Beethoven First Piano Concerto, which was wonderful, and decided to let the Mahler Ninth wait for another evening elsewhere. The Palau itself is another Gaudiesque structure inside, although not designed by him. Free-form sculptures enclose the stage from each, broken tile and otehr decorative touches cover the surfaces, and an impressive chandelier shaped like an egg in a mesh bag crowns the ceiling.

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14th October 2009

Good story!
I have also written couple of stories about Barcelona attractions on Visit us!
1st March 2010


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