It was the idea of Gaudí’s patron Eusebi Güell to build a gated garden-centered luxury housing development at Barcelona’s edge, an Eden beyond the Eixample. It was, however, 100 years ahead of its time and a failure; designed for 60 estates, it sold only 3 and its construction was halted unfinished. Güell’s heirs sold the site to the city, which decided to preserve it as a public park. Good decision! Today the more completed region (the terrace area, or Monumental Zone) is so popular that, to control the crowds, the city had to charge an admission fee ($9!) with timed entry.
The pictures below show the main entrance to the Monumental Zone, protected by fabulous palm-frond wrought-iron gates in front of two gingerbread-like (Hansel and Gretel) houses that were the guard’s lodges. Behind them is the grand stairway leading to
the “Hall of 100 Columns”, originally designed to house a produce market for the sites’ mansions while supporting a terrace on top. This “finished” area is the focal point of the park; we’ll come back to it; our timed entry is hours away, so we’ll first explore the public areas – which means we’ll be seeing things in reverse.
Mountains surround Barcelona to the northwest, and Park Güell is in the foothills; from the entrance, the land goes rather steeply uphill over undulating terrain. To overcome the
topography and connect the intended houses with various parts of the park, Gaudí planned three snaking pathways for carriages, including three bridges. But this is Gaudí, and these are not your normal roads and bridges! To minimize the intrusion of the roads, Gaudí designed them as structures jutting out from the hillsides, with separate footpaths in the arcades formed underneath. Designed with local stone that integrates them into the landscape, his structures echo natural forms, with columns resembling tree trunks. As we come up the hill, the first bridge is visible above us (first picture) and is supported by sloping grotto-like columns and vaults made from unhewn stones. Different!
The top of the bridge is crowned by balustrades with Mediterranean vegetation, shown below. The hillsides, by the way, are a happy home to many cute parrots.
Walking further takes us to the other bridges which have a similar creative motif.
The last bridge is also intriguing and leads us to the terrace at the top of the Monumental
Zone, the region that was largely finished by Gaudí. In the last picture above, you’ll notice that the stones on the columns imitate the trunks of the palm trees planted above them. The short support columns in the middle of the image have a linear array of holes about half-way up, which Gaudí built so birds could nest there. Interesting details!
We’re standing on top of a huge terrace centered within the Monumental Zone; in the original plans it was called the Greek Theater, envisioned as a large staging area for
open-air shows that could be watched from the terraces of the planned – but unbuilt – villas. Note in that last picture that people are sitting on what appears to be a very long white bench that encircles most of the terrace. The bench is actually in the form of a sinuous sea serpent; the areas of small off-white tiles give it a positively scaly appearance. The deep curves of the bench form small seating enclaves, cleverly creating a more intimate social atmosphere. The bench is designed to ergonomically fit the body, and the back is anything but white! It’s inlaid with ceramic tiles and tile-shard mosaics, in a
symphony of colors and shapes that incorporate motifs of Catalan nationalism, religious mysticism and ancient poetry. It’s bold and abstract, before there was such a thing as abstract art.
The front of the terrace overlooks the main entrance to the Monumental Zone. If we had entered the main entrance, we would have seen a grand staircase leading up to the Hall of 100 Columns, as shown in the first picture below. Notice at the very top of that picture that there are people standing on the roof of the Hall of 100 Columns, which in fact is
the front of the terrace. The next picture shows the view from that front terrace, looking down at the main gate and some of the grand staircase. What I want to draw your attention to is the gingerbread-looking house in the background (you also saw it in the first set of pictures in this post) – the guard’s residence. It’s one of a pair of houses flanking the entrance gate; the other is being renovated and is not currently photogenic, but the two are interestingly Gaudí, as shown in this picture from the internet. A Hansel and Gretel opera was popular in Barcelona at this time, and Gaudí designed these two guard houses to reflect that story. The guard’s residence, at the far left, represented the witch’s dwelling (with a poisonous-mushroom-shaped dome). The smaller house on the right, the working guard house with a visitor’s waiting room, represented the house of Hansel and Gretel. Closer views of these very interesting houses are shown below.
As we head back to the top of the terrace in order to take steps down to the Park Güell entrance, we notice that the colorful bench lining the left side of the terrace gradually
fades to mostly white colors, an interesting effect. On our way down the steps to the park entrance we pass through the “Pathway of Columns” that supports a road above projecting out from the hillside. The supporting columns themselves have interesting sculptures/formations attached to them, as shown below. The column-lined footpath
under the roadway becomes a long arcade, playfully suggesting a breaking wave forming
a surfer’s perfect tube. Pretty cool organic architecture! Which leads to this structure shown below, a fanciful spiral ramp.
The path down takes us to the park entrance, with a view of the stairs going to the Hall of
100 Columns. Off to the right is an intriguing structure that was designed to shelter carriages and horses on rainy days.
Before heading up to the Hall of 100 Columns, let’s just look at some of the Gaudí-designed details of the buildings. As usual, they’re playful and different.
The grand stairway is actually a twin flight of steps (with two open landings). The stairs are divided by two small fountains, one of them a colorful ceramic dragon (looks like a
salamander to me!) that has become the most popular image of the park.
As noted at the start of this blog, the stairs lead to the Hall of 100 Columns, which was originally designed to house a produce market for the sites’ mansions (and to support the terrace on top). It’s pretty cool, with a mosaic ceiling having the shape of a series of upturned bowls, giving it an undulating feeling. It’s also studded with colorful medallions.
Our circuit has covered most of Park Güell. We’ll finish with a tour of the Guard’s House and a quick view of the Gaudí House Museum. First the guard’s – or witch’s – house. As expected, few things are “normal” in this house, including the deep blue walls (and blue ceilings!) of the ground floor. Below are shown some of those “abnormal” features: doors and arches that are parabolic, some walls that join ceilings in a continuous curve,
ceilings that are deeply ridged, stone columns positioned here and there, and some windows that are a collection of pentagons. It’s all really cool!
Well, hope you enjoyed Gaudí’s fanciful Park Güell. Gaudí actually spent his last 20 years living in what is now the Gaudí House Museum, shown here, that’s within the Park. In a strange twist, it’s not a house he designed; it was a model home built to attract prospective buyers.
The next post will be on Barcelona’s Old City, the “Barri Gòtic” or Gothic Quarter.