Today was “Gaudi Day” for Kris and myself. I had set up a tour of Casa Batllo (a home that Gaudi renovated and redesigned for a wealthy textile merchant of the time Battlo) and the Basilica of Sagrada Familia (the Basilica of the Holy Family).
The Basilica draws over 3 million visitors a year and will not be completed until 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death.
Kris and I met the tour group in the Placa Catalunya, a 15 minute walk from our hotel. The tour was scheduled to start at 9:00 a.m. and the streets were practically deserted. We recalled what our our driver from the airport had told us yesterday abo
ut how the city likes to keep late hours. Tourists
and the workers who cater to them, seem to be the only people out and about at this time of the day.)
Our first stop was Casa Batllo, which sits next door to a very beautiful house, Casa Amatller, owned by a major chocolate manufacturer, Antoni Amatller, of the early twentieth century. This house, designed by one of Gaudi’s contemporaries, Joseph Puig, is exquisitely decorated with many stone reliefs and carvings. Casa Batllo was a home that Gaudi was called upon the renovate by the owners, and he delivered a home that served as an elaborate metaphor of the city’s patron saint, St. George. The guide pointed out that the roof was intended to look like the back of a dragon. The interior walls are decorated in a pattern reminiscent of a reptile.
The house is a wonder of decoration and innovation. The family wanted a balcony and Gaudi adapted one of the rooms on the front of the house to serve as a quasi balcony by opening the windows. The use of colored, ceramic tile and the repetition of natural forms in the house made it a delight to visit.
After a good hour and a half at Casa Battlo, we proceeded to Gaudi’s masterpiece, Sagrada Familia, which is still under construction. (The nave of the Basilica was only completed in 2010 and dedicated by Pope Benedict.) When I first saw a photo of Sagrada Familia, I was reminded on the kind of structure that you would put in an aquarium for the fish to swim in and out of. The symbolism of the basilica, both within and without rivals the symbolism and decoration of the great Gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages. Two of the three porticos are finished: The Nativity Portico and the Passion Portico; the last portico, the Portico of Glory, will serve as the main entrance of the Basilica, and they are just beginning to construct it. (Our guide said that its completion will require the demolition of an apartment building on that side of the street, something that must cause the residents great concern.)
If you thought that the basilica was beautiful on the outside, the interior takes your breath away. The graceful columns that support the weight of the room remind one of exquisite trees that seem to be growing from the floor to the ceiling. The openness and brightness of the space lifts one’s spirits as soon as one enters. The basilica is truly a wonder to behold and a feast for the eye and soul.
Our last Gaudi stop was his famous Mila House or La Casa Pedrera (the stone quarry, or, as our tour guide, Danny described it, “The Flintstone Apartment Building.) This building was built as a private residence for the Mila family (though they only occupied what we would call the 2nd Floor apartment.) According to the recorded tour, it was a common practice for wealthy families to build these huge apartment houses, live in one of the apartments, and live off the rent of the tenants. The building still houses many people and businesses.
We started our tour on the roof which is a whimsical wonder of curves, chimneys that resemble soldiers in armor and ventilation shafts that remind one of a decoration in icing on a cake. All tours work their way down from the roof which helps the flow of traffic in the building. There is one vacant apartment that is staged to look like an apartment of Gaudi’s day.
Finished with our explorations of some of Gaudi’s more famous buildings, and with feet and legs sore from walking on stone surfaces, Kris and I took a break outside of Cathedral Square, near our hotel. The steps in front of the cathedral attract street musicians, tourists resting on the steps and small children with scooters who use the stone ramp on the left of the cathedral steps as a staging for much fun.