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Published: January 31st 2017
Friday dawns with overcast skies and streets wet from early morning showers. This morning I have a pre-purchased 9.00am 'skip the line' ticket to Barcelona'a most famous landmark, The Basilica Sagrada Familia.
This huge church, often referred to as a cathedral even though it has no bishop's seat, became Antonio Gaudi's all-consuming obsession from when he took the project over, a year after it started in 1883, until his death in 1926. During the last months of his life he moved from his home in Guell Park into his workroom on site, to be closer to his work.
At the time of his death only the crypt, the apse walls, one portal and one tower had been completed. By 1930 three more towers were finished. Then in 1936, anarchists smashed and burned the interior destroying plans, models and maps. Work ceased until 1952 but construction has always been clouded with controversy. Just how much of what is being constructed today adheres to Gaudi's original plan is open to debate. Love or hate what's being created, the fascination it awakens is undeniable. Completion date is anyone's guess, 2026 is a popular choice, being the 100th anniversary of Gaudi's death. The
Bastilica Sagrada Familia
The blue section of the stained glass windows.
construction of the bastilicia is funded by private donations and ticket money only.
Crowds were already gathering outside when I arrived around 8.30am, that 'skip the line' ticket was a good idea. Eventually the lines moved (even the 'skip the line' ticket holders had a line) and I was inside. The stained glass windows absolutely took my breath away. They soured towards the roof in blocks of colour - red, blue, green and orange. The colour is intense at ground level and becomes more translucent as it rises. Gaudi wanted to encourage worship and introspection by allowing light to flood in.
The roof is supported by angled pillars made from four different types of stone, varying in colour and load bearing strength. As the pillars soar toward the ceiling they branch out, creating a tree top effect. This is what Gaudi planned, once again taking his inspiration from nature. He wanted the mottled light from the stained glass windows to create a leafy forest effect across the roof.
Looking up at the roof is like looking into a kaleidoscope, seeing the same pattern repeated, each one joined to the next. Suspended from the ceiling and seeming to
hang in mid air is a figure of Christ on the cross, protected by an umbrella shaped canopy, surrounded with lights.
Outside many biblical stories are hidden in the facade, and are full of symbolism. The sheer scope of the intricate Gothic style ornamentation on the front of the bastilicia is hard to take in. There is so much of it, it's overwhelming.
Each of the other three sides of the bastilica has a different facade - Nativity, Passion and Glory. I exited via the Passion facade where I found another hidden Gaudi gem - a simple brick building with an undulating roofline built as a school for the worker's children. Inside there is a recreation of Gaudi's modest office, as it was when he died, plus plans of his building techniques.
Later that afternoon, I returned to the Passeig de Gracia for my visit to Casa Batllo, known locally as the house of bones, and Gaudi at his hallucinatory best. Said to be one of the strangest residential buildings in Europe, Casa Batllo looks like a mythical creature. The balconies resemble the bony jaws of a fierce beast (I think a shark) and the undulating roof
is made from multi-coloured ceramic tiles that look like dragon scales. They change colour, depending on the angle you view them from. The facade is dotted with blue, mauve and green mosaic pieces and the windows are wave shaped.
Gaudi didn't build Casa Batllo from scratch, he was commissioned to re-fashion an existing building, and it is magnificient! There are no boxy corners, window sills or architraves here. Everything swirls, the salon roof is twisted into a vortex around a beautiful metal chandelier, the door, window and skylights are fluid waves of wood and coloured glass. So calming and easy on the eye, very similar to the homes built these days from recycled tyres, mud and glass bottles called earthships, of which there are very few in Australia, unfortunately.
Casa Batllo has an air well, or skylight, where light is filtered down to the ground floor. Tiled in blue, paler at the bottom of the building and darkening towards the roof, created to resemble the sky, I wonder, to bring nature inside again? The windows opening into this skylight are larger on the lower floors, the result of Gaudi's desire to control the entry of light into the
Bastilica Sagrada Familia
The suspended figurine of Jesus on the cross
building. There is also a large art deco tiled courtyard with more mosaic work on the far wall, which opens from the living areas.
I loved Casa Batllo, and continue to marvel at Gaudi's creations. There are six private apartments here, what an amazing place to live. The audio tour continued into the attics and up onto the roof where twisting mosaic covered chimney pots added a surreal touch and I was able to get a closer look at those scale like roof tiles.
How lovely it would be to be able to savour this beautiful place alone for 10 minutes, without the intrusive presence of other people. To wander, dream, run your hands over the woodwork, trace the leadlight pattern of the window glass, and come away inspired. I could have stayed longer but needed to keep moving with the continuous wave of visitors, making way for those behind me.
Darkness was falling when I decided to finish my day with a visit to Port Vell, from where I could walk up La Rambla again and return to my B&B via the Catalunya metro station. Another day almost finished!
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