Barcelona VI – Gaudí’s Park Güell

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 The guard houses flanking the entrance gate - and representing the Hansel and Gretel storybeing 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!

The Gaudí House Museum

The Gaudí House Museum

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.





Barcelona V: La Rambla

This post was written before the terrorist attack on La Rambla in August that left 13 dead and 100 wounded.  Here’s wishing those wounded a speedy recovery, and an end to the scourge of ISIS.

La Rambla (or Las Ramblas) is Barcelona’s most famous street, and its tourist mecca.  “Rambla” means “stream” in Arabic, and La Rambla was originally a drainage ditch outside the city walls.  Around the year 1400 the city walls were expanded, which then included La Rambla.  The stream was diverted to the outside, and the old course of La Rambla gradually turned into a street.  Celebrating its The undulating La Rambla sidewalkhumble origins, La Rambla’s sidewalk undulates like water in a stream – cute, but not so easy to walk on!

Like the Passeig de Gracia in an earlier post (Barcelona I, the Eixample), La Rambla is a tree-lined, wide central pedestrian walkway bordered by one-way service streets.  However, whereas the Passeig is fashionable, La Rambla is instead colorful and gritty, going from the elegant main Barcelona plaza (the Placa de Catalunya that divides the old city from the newer Eixample) down to the rougher areas at the port with its history of lively nightlife, cabarets, prostitution and pickpockets.  Tourism has had its impact with a proliferation of pavement cafes, street performers and kiosks selling newspapers and souvenirs, but it remains a lively and interesting street.  So we’ll stroll down it, starting from Placa de Catalunya; we’ll also take a few diversions up short side streets.  First some looks at the walkway itself!

Looks like fun, yes?  A few steps down the Rambla we come to our first side trip, a left turn and a block into the Old City (which goes by “Bari Gothic” here in Barcelona).  I haven’t mentioned that Barcelona was founded as Barcino around 15 BC when Roman soldiers built a fort here to protect the harbor.   Where we’re standing became the forum and Barcelona’s center until Rome fell 500 years later.  It had an imposing Artist conception of the forum in Barcelonatemple dedicated to Emperor Augustus (Temple d’August), and even in the 1100’s the area was called “the Miraculum”, suggesting it was still intact.  However, in the Middle Ages it was demolished, although parts were incorporated into new construction.  A building project in the late 1800’s uncovered four of the temple’s columns, shown below (viewed

after going down some stairs; the Roman street level was 10 feet below today’s level).

One of the major attractions of La Rambla is La Boqueria Market.  This produce market has a lot of “mosts” – the oldest, the most famous, the most central, the most crowded, the most touristy, and probably the most interesting.  We thought it was amazing.  The market has been at this general location since farmers first sold their produce to inhabitants of the walled city.  It now occupies the site of a former monastery that burned in the early 1800’s, now built as a cool glass-and-steel enclosed structure, with multiple vendors for every imaginable food type (and many you’ve never seen before).  The fish stalls look like a marine biology lab.  Some pictures of the market cornucopia are shown below.

Just off La Rambla is the medieval church Santa Maria del Pi (St. Mary of the Pine Tree).

In the late 900’s there was a small Romanesque church outside the city walls by this name; this existing church was built in the Catalan Gothic style within the walls of the Bari Gothic in the 1300’s.  The Catalan Gothic style is interestingly different from your usual Gothic cathedral.  That octagonal bell tower is impressive; it’s 150 feet tall, with 10-foot-thick walls at the base.

Half-way down, La Rambla widens into a small square; below are pictures of typical

buildings and their ornamentation.  The Chinese dragon decorates a former umbrella shop; the wall decorations are impressive!

On a side street a block away is one of the oldest hotels in Barcelona, the Hotel España, which opened in 1859 and was refurbished by Montaner in 1902.  You may remember Montaner from an earlier post (Barcelona II – Casa Lleo Morera).   The hotel has some

interesting features, like the alabaster fireplace and fancy staircases such as the one shown above, but the dining rooms are the real attractions.  The main dining room has gorgeous

tiles, mosaics, wood carvings and paintings in the Modernista style.  The interior dining room has amazing marine life (in sgraffito) swimming around the walls.   The coat hooks

are also fascinating.  The ceiling is pure Modernista.

A short distance away in the Bari Gothic is the Placa Reial (Royal Plaza), an elegant square ringed by yellow Neoclassical La Placa Reialbuildings and numerous palm trees.  As with La Boqueria Market, big open spaces like this were once monasteries that were dissolved in the 1800’s.  Today the square is a popular meeting place in the summer, a host for many festivals and markets (like the arts and crafts market we stumbled on, shown here), and home to a large number of restaurants, taverns, bars and some of the city’s most famous nightclubs.  Getting to this square from La Rambla is via attractive passages, including the Bacardi Passatge, the first covered gallery of the city, built in 1865.

Across La Rambla and down half a block is another of Gaudí’s buildings, the Palau Güell, a mansion that Gaudí built early in his career (1886).  This palace was built not in the trendy Eixample but in an area known at the time for prostitution and brothels (it’s near the harbor – and sailors).  Although not an ideal location for the Güell family (with 7 children), Señor Güell’s father lived nearby.  Palau Güell is the first of Gaudí’s Modernista buildings, and it’s much darker and more Neo-Gothic than his later work (see earlier post, Barcelona III – Casa Batlló).  Gaudí design is always fascinating; this is his darkest work, so let’s have a look!

Shown below is the outside of the building, with its impressive parabolic-arch doorways

and elaborate wrought-iron work.  The double doorways allowed horse-drawn carriages to enter the home through one door and exit through the other.  The horses could be taken down a ramp to stables in the basement (where the servants resided), while the guests

went up several stairs to the receiving room (the antechamber) on the main floor.

The antechamber leads to “the hall of lost steps” and beyond that, the visitor’s room (where visitors waited prior to entering the Central Hall).  Starting with the visitor’s room, note the interesting marble columns that are a feature throughout this floor, and the

intricate ceiling.  The room in between, the “hall of the lost steps” (I have no idea where the name came from), has an arcade of marble columns, a gorgeous ceiling, and a fancy

entrance to the Central Hall, a room that was dedicated to entertaining and concerts.  This Central Hall is at the center of the main floor and is 50 feet high, topped by a parabolic dome that provided light via a central opening and a series of small holes; at night,

lanterns were hung outside the dome to give the appearance of a starlit sky.  Pretty fancy!  The height of the room allowed concerts to be held with the orchestra one floor above, singers a floor above that, and the organ pipes at the top (the original surround sound?).  Other rooms on this floor were for family purposes.  The “Hall of Intimates” (now empty) was used for gatherings with close friends and a place where the Güell daughters practiced

the piano and gave concerts.  Visible at the rear of the photos above is the family dining

room, with its beautiful carvings, furniture and ceiling.  The dining table and chairs are family originals.

Note Gaudí’s use of geometry in this building – for instance, the cones in the middle of the marble columns, or the parabolic dome and doors and windows and mirrors.  As you’ll see in a later post, geometry became a major factor in Gaudí’s design of his masterpiece, the Sagrada Familia.

The second floor contained the private rooms of the family – and as you might imagine,

they were nicely decorated.  You’ll meet the furniture maker Joan Busquets i Jane in a subsequent post.

Finally, a trip to the roof reveals Gaudí’s fantastical chimneys, precursers to the ones we

saw in the Casa Batlló post.

We are almost at the end of La Rambla!  Off to the side is the Maritime Museum, once the city’s giant medieval shipyard.  One interesting display there is a replica of the pioneering

submarine Ictinao I built in 1859.  Nearby on the other side of the street is a section of the original medieval wall that encircled Barcelona in 1378.  The Portal de Santa Madrona is

the only remaining gate of the wall.

La Rambla ends at a monument to Christopher Columbus at the waterfront.  And it’s a nice waterfront!!  Barcelona is one of Europe’s top 10 ports, with busy industrial harbors and cruise terminals, but its beach at the bottom is clean, people-friendly, and fun – and it has

great seafood restaurants, right there on the beach.  This food and the view.  Oh yeah.


I’ll end this loooong post with the observation that not all of Barcelona architecture is Modernista – far from it!  This building, at the edge of the waterfront, is a utilities

company, Gas Natural Fenosa; and, as they say, its pretty rad!

And that gets me to exactly 100 photos; but who’s counting?

Next post: Well, we haven’t really walked the Bari Gothic yet, Barcelona’s “Old Town”, but it’s time for a change; let’s revisit Gaudí, but this time not a building.  We’ll tour his park overlooking the city, the Park Güell.





Barcelona IV: Palau de la Musica Catalana

This Catalan concert hall is another Modernista building; it was done by Domenech i Montaner (of Casa Lleo Morera fame) in 1908 for the choral society Orfeo Catala.  The hall seats over 2000 and celebrates Catalan culture.  Although the building incorporates the rich floral decoration of stone, ceramic tile and stained glass typical of the Modernisme era, here the design pays strict attention to function.

We’ll start with the outside; today’s entry is a modern add-on, with a courtyard and lots of glass; what we didn’t know until later is that the original entrance, no longer used, was from the building’s side.  Guests entered directly from a small street through beautiful arches surrounded by a richly decorated facade, shown below.  It’s gorgeous!  Today this

cramped street is lined by tall buildings, and it’s not possible to step back and get a good picture of the facade; but hopefully I got enough to impress.

Of course the interior is where the OMG is located.  The lobby is shown below; the current entrance takes you directly to the bar that serves drinks and yummy tapas (Spain is so ahead of the US in certain ways).  The lobby is huge, but it’s broken into more intimate-

feeling spaces by the many cathedral-like columns that frame vaulted ceilings – the vaults defined by tiles rather than stone, a nice touch.  In some of the areas there is extensive beautiful stained glass, as shown in the last two pictures.

Two grand marble staircases lead from the lobby to the upstairs concert hall.  The marble handrails are supported by transparent yellow glass columns – different, but it works.  The

ceilings and underside of the staircases are covered with lightly colored tiles that form gleaming canopies.  Gorgeous stained glass is in the windows.  It really is very impressive!

Going up the stairs, one comes to the two-story-high Lluis Millet Hall, a visually

impressive gathering place for concert-goers and the entrance to the concert hall’s main floor.  So let’s see the concert hall!  The pictures below look toward and away from the

stage.  There’s a lot going on around that stage!  The concert hall is the only one in Europe that can be illuminated entirely by natural light during the day.  The walls on two sides consist of gorgeous stained glass set within magnificent arches – I’ll show them off soon – but the hall is primarily illuminated by an enormous skylight that is directly overhead.  So let’s look up.  Ah – yeah.  It’s awesome!  The skylight is like a huge kaleidoscope, the

design representing a choir singing in the sky around the sun.  What’s really going on, however, is only visible from the balconies.  Take another look at this skylight, bringing

light deeper into the concert hall.  Surprise!  It’s in 3-D!  And spectacular.

The concert hall stage is equally impressive in its own right.  Let’s start with the back wall of the stage, where young women, popularly known as the muses, are playing musical

instruments.  Both the women’s upper bodies and their musical instruments are sculpted in stone and protrude from the wall.  Their lower bodies are done in colorful mosaics depicting regional clothes.  Details of some of the muses from the left side are shown below; the women are playing different musical instruments, and each is wearing a

different skirt, blouse, and headdress.  Some muses from the right side are shown here.

Not to be outdone, there is a whole lot of sculpture arching over the front of the stage!  On

the right is a depiction of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries, from an opera with a strong female choir.  Below that is a bust of Beethoven, presumably in honor of the choral “Ode to Joy” from his 9th Symphony.  On the left is a bust of a famous choir director who revived Catalan folk songs (not shown), with a large stone tree above him; below him are girls

singing the Catalan song “The Flowers of May”.   The arch represents folk music on the left and classical music on the right, the two approaching each other at the top.

Need a bit of air at intermission?  The Lluis Millet Hall has a beautiful side room with a door going to a balcony lined by two rows of absolutely fabulous columns decorated with

gorgeous, intricate mosaics – it’s the same 2nd floor balcony that we saw from outside in the very first set of pictures.

I’ve given you views of pieces of this concert hall, now let me try to give you a feeling for the overall effect that includes the concert seating.  That gorgeous overhead skylight (oh, let’s just show it again!) is surrounded by beautiful columns in tile and mosaic and by a lot

of stained glass.  It’s beautiful everywhere you look.  Below are details of the windows and skylights at the back of the upper balcony.

The columns are decorated with floral patterns formed by mosaic and tile.

The columns flare out beautifully at the ceiling.

Finally, some details of the ubiquitous stained glass.

As you might imagine, anybody who is anybody – artists and conductors – have performed in this gorgeous Modernista building.  Beautiful, isn’t it?

For our next post we’ll do a change of pace and tour La Rambla, Barcelona’s most famous street.



Barcelona III – Casa Batlló

In the last post you saw Casa Lleo Morera, an example of “classic” Modernista.  This time you’ll see a very different Modernista style that’s just one house away from Casa Morera.  Casa Batlló is one of Antoni Gaudí’s masterpieces, a symphony of shape, color and light.  Although it was built in 1904, it looks avant garde even today.  We loved it!  You’ll see in this post (and subsequent posts, culminating in Sagrada Familia) why Gaudí is considered a genius.  You saw the outside of this house in the first Barcelona post, so below are just a few exterior pictures to refresh your memory.  Fascinating, yes?  The allure of the facade is reflected in its many interpretations.  The principle one is that Gaudí

was referencing the city’s patron saint, St. George killing the dragon.  Look at the last picture in the set above; the roof is the dragon’s back (is that triangular window on the right its eye?), the tower on the left is St. George’s lance, the balconies are the skulls of the dragon’s victims, and the columns of the lower windows (previous picture) are their bones.  The other main interpretation is that the whole facade is an allegory of Carnival; the roof is a harlequin’s hat, the balconies are ball masks, and the mosaics on the wall represent falling confetti.  A mark of a great work of art is the controversy it creates, but hey, I know a dragon’s back when I see one!

The story of Casa Batlló is that the industrialist Josep Batlló owned a conventional building at this site (left-most picture below) but wanted a house that stood out; he wanted something audacious and Before and after renovationcreative.  So he hired Gaudí based on the architect’s incredible Park Guell (wait ’till you see that in a subsequent post!).  He gave Gaudí free rein to do whatever he wanted.  Although Batlló wanted to tear down his existing plain house, Gaudí convinced him that a renovation was sufficient.  I think we can agree that the resulting renovated building is indeed “audacious and creative”.  So let me show you the interior, where audacious and creative continues!  Fasten seat belts.  You should notice during the tour that there are few straight lines or square floors in Gaudí’s house.  “Undulating” is probably the best description of every surface – including walls and ceilings!

The entrance hall leads to stairs and a central well that extends to the roof and is covered

by a vented skylight.  Gaudí was always interested in making his houses very livable, and he used very inventive ways to increase light and ventilation.  In his renovation he expanded the central well to deliver more natural light to the surrounding rooms.  He wanted more light, but he also wanted to deliver uniform lighting to the various floors.  In order to do this, he made the windows smaller at the top (where the light is strongest) and sequentially larger on each floor going down (see first picture below).  He also made the glazed tiles darker at the top and lighter at the bottom where they would reflect more

light (see next picture), again helping to achieve a uniform brightness on the different floors.  The color gradient and the light gradient combine to give an almost uniform color appearance to the central well, as shown in the last picture.  That picture also shows attached structures beneath the windows, which are vent slats to provide fresh air to the house.  Vents are everywhere in Casa Batlló – they’re present on windows, doors and even walls, as shown in the examples below.  Impressive attention to detail, yes?  The central well is also simply beautiful on its own, as shown in that last picture.

OK, back to the house tour!  The building consists of a ground floor, a main floor with a courtyard, four other self-contained floors, a loft and a roof terrace.  The entrance hall leads to the ground floor, shown below.  The two oval skylights in the first picture are

said to resemble tortoise shells.  In the second picture, notice the curving wall and “bug-eyed” windows, and the amazing door.  Different, but the other half of the room is simply a new world.  The astonishing wood staircase resembles the curving spine of some huge

animal.  Further, that curving spine defines the end of the wall!  There is a separate wave of a wall behind it, disappearing up the stairs.  The walls are almost in motion, with subtle patterns of color superimposed over polygonal shapes that refer back to the tortoise shell skylights.  The baseboard molding is wave-like, as is the staircase spine itself.  Descriptions of this room talk of “an underwater atmosphere”, with the wall having the colors and shades of the surface of the sea and sand.  It is the world of Jules Verne.  There is a feeling of being magically inside a wave.

The staircase leads to an elegant and exciting landing on the main floor.  The curving walls, gorgeous wood and large oval windows (eyes?  portholes?) are awesome (pictures

from the internet).  In the opposite direction is a hall, but we’ll continue forward through the major doorway.

The curving walls in this next room have the same polygonal pattern as the ground floor, but the colors are no longer of the sea; they’re a warm brown.  Note that the window shown in the first two pictures below is not planar; the wood frame curves into the room.

There are some surprising details in this room – that mirror/cabinet, for example – but the most notable feature is the cozy, secluded, intimate fireplace alcove that can accommodate just a few people.  As we exit this room through a beautiful three dimensional door – the last picture above – notice the door visible behind it!

The next room has one of those “boney” windows overlooking the Passeig de Gracia, shown below.  The window and its wood surround are amazing.  Vying for attention is this

particularly beautiful 3-dimensional door leading into the next room.  Not only is it a 3-D door, it’s amazingly a 3-D folding door!  Designing that to fit properly sounds challenging!  Like doors and windows in other areas of the house, this organically shaped oak beauty is topped by a header with inset panes of patterned stained glass; it’s also shown (first picture below) from the other side.  This door, and another on the opposite side of the middle room, can fold back to create a single light-filled space out of the three rooms.

Before going into that major middle room, let me give you a wider view of these two rooms from a picture I borrowed from the internet, shown above.  Together, this main suite of rooms is an exciting, light-filled space with wide wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling-high views of Barcelona’s most fashionable street.  I would call it a reverse shop-window display, flaunting its location.  Then, walking into that central room … well; the windows aren’t the only items of interest!  The ceiling is a veritable whirlpool; a wavy allusion to the

sea?  I should remind you that Gaudí renovated this house in 1904; most houses look dated after 100 years.  I think you’ll agree – not this one.

Details from other rooms are shown below.

The main floor also contains a courtyard, which is accessed from the room shown below.  The room has an interesting ceiling (second picture) – perhaps representing a drop of fluid landing in a pool?  This room also has a number of inventive references to the sea.

The door to the courtyard is almost blocked by columns; a barrier between sea and land?  The courtyard itself is a little disappointing; it’s attractive enough, but it’s close to normal

in a house that, everyplace else, is anything but!

The loft of this house is also unusual, with sixty arches that create a space resembling the rib cage of an animal – perhaps the rib cage of the dragon whose backbone arches over the

roof?  The loft was originally a service area for the upstairs tenants, containing laundry rooms and storage areas. It’s beautiful in its simplicity of form and all-pervading light.

And now the interesting roof!  The roof terrace is one of the more popular features of the house due to its famous dragon design.  The arch of the roof resembles the spine of a dragon, a perception enhanced by the ceramic roof tiles that suggest reptilian skin.   The

tiles have a metallic sheen to simulate the varying scales of the beast, with the color grading from green on the right side to deep blue and violet in the center, and then going to red and pink on the left side.  Alas, in the failing light, I can’t capture how vibrant it is.  The roof also has four sets of sinuous and beautifully tiled chimneys that suggest bunches of mushrooms.  They’re absolutely beautiful, with gorgeous patterns; but they’re also very

functional, designed to keep smoke from blowing back down the chimney.

Gaudí was a control guy, not unlike Charles Rennie Mackintosh in Glasgow, the subject of an earlier blog (Glasgow I, The City).  In addition to designing the building, Gaudí also designed furniture for it; and as you might imagine, it’s also pretty fabulous!  Some examples were on display.

We’ll end this post with a walk back to the main floor – night is falling fast.  That room is

pretty again, in a new light.

So we end the tour of this fascinating house!  It was built in 1904, and today I think it’s still ahead of its time.  It is truly weird – and compelling, and beautiful, and captivating.  Inventiveness is absolutely everywhere, and masterfully done.  We’d live there in a minute!  If this was your introduction to Gaudí, you’re in for a treat – we’ll be doing two more posts featuring him, including our final Barcelona post on his amazing and almost finished cathedral, the Sagrada Familia.

Next post – let’s do a short one; just one building, basically just one room.  It’s the Catalan Palau de la Musica CatalanaConcert Hall.  We’ll call it Barcelona IV: Palau de la Musica Catalana.  Here’s a preview.  Don’t miss it!



Barcelona II – Casa Lleo Morera

Hmmm.  I debated whether to give you a change of pace from Modernista homes along the Passeig de Gracia – there is soooooooo much more to show off in Barcelona! – but decided that these interiors are a natural follow-up and sufficiently interesting that you won’t get bored, so here we go!

We’ll start with one of the finest Modernista interiors in town, that of Casa Lleo Morera by Domenech/Montaner, built in 1905.  What?  A whole blog devoted to just one building’s interior?  Well, you’ll see; it’s definitely interesting.  I’ll call it “Great Mainstream Modernista”.  The pictures below should jog your memory of this house and its ornate

exterior; maybe you’ll also remember the attack parrots (previous post)?

Entry is into a vestibule, guarded by – yep – more attack parrots, shown at the upper edges Entry into the Casa Lleo Morera, guarded by attack parrotsof the door (for a better view, right-click and “view image”).  You will note from this picture that the vestibule interior looks pretty ornate!  Yes, but it’s ornate with a purpose.  The Morera family wanted the building interior to reference their family name, which means mulberry tree, and that reference is everywhere – exuberantly.  From the entry, marble stairs lead up to an original elevator (the first in Barcelona) and then continue up to an entrance hall.  I didn’t take a picture of those stairs, so I cribbed the first picture below from the Casa Morera website.  Those flowers on the stair risers are mulberry tree flowers, and the mosaics and tiles

along the walls are the same.  The fancy ceiling mosaics show mulberry and other flowers.  It’s pretty fancy – a bit much, really – but as one continues up the stairs to the entrance hall, the decoration gets simpler.

The entrance hall – also the waiting room for Dr. Morera’s patients – to me seems a bit strange.  It’s a small room broken up by 6 doors, with the doors being heavily bordered by protruding stone sculpture.  The undulating ceiling doesn’t help.  Fear not, there is beauty

yet to be seen!  A hint of what’s to come is shown in the nice mulberry designs in the door woodwork.

Two of the entrance hall doors lead to (interconnected) drawing rooms where the family would receive visitors, each room with a view overlooking the prestigious Passeig de Gracia.  The first drawing room is absolutely gorgeous, the more so when you can see it all at once (sorry about that!).  The floral themes are everywhere – on walls, woodwork, stained glass, ceilings – it’s delightful, like being inside a bouquet.  The carved and inlaid

wood ceiling is spectacular, its carved roses reflecting the theme in the stained glass, while the inlaid mulberry flowers reflect the theme in the wallpaper (and floor).  Oh, but there’s more to see in this room!  Enjoy more flowers with the fireplace, wood carvings and floor

mosaics!  The wood carvings are exquisite.

Well, it’s hard to beat that gorgeous room, but the adjoining drawing room also has its charms – particularly the beautiful wood inlay.  The use of different kinds of wood in

subtly different shades at times gives the feeling that the design was painted rather than being wood inlay.

We’re back in the entrance hall, looking at the stone carvings over doorways.  To me they’re too much for a small indoor space, but at least some of them involve a story from a

lullaby, “The wet nurse and the king’s son”, where the Virgin Mary works a miracle by bringing the king’s infant son back to life after the nurse left the child too close to the fireplace (that’s a lullaby??).  The lullaby apparently had some meaning for the Morera family, whose first son died soon after childbirth.  That last picture above shows a hall (with more stone reliefs) leading to the Morera’s living quarters – bedrooms, dining room and smoking room.  Some of the stone reliefs are shown below, including Barcelona’s patron saint St. George (protector of the home) defeating a dragon.  The mosaic floor and

fancy ceiling are also pretty spiffy.

The bedrooms are plain by comparison, but still with profuse flower motifs.  The first two pictures below show Dr. Morera’s bedroom, the next two his wife’s.

The dining room is a continuation of the hall and separates the two bedrooms.  It’s a fabulous, very interesting room, and it was very personal for the Moreras.  The room is surrounded by 8 wall mosaics showing the Morera family enjoying life in the countryside over the 4 seasons (I’m showing you just 4 mosaics).  Interestingly, the mosaics include porcelain hands and faces, I guess to more accurately depict the Moreras.  In addition to

the mosaics, the surrounding wood carving and inlay is gorgeous as usual.  It’s a magnificent room.

The next (and last) room in the house is the smoking room, which is floor-to-ceiling stained glass!  Originally there was a sliding wood door between it and the dining room;

now it’s one large (and spectacular) space that nicely complements the rural themes of the dining room.  Such a large expanse of stained glass is simply dazzling, and its semicircular construction works to immerse you in the scene.  Pretty fabulous!

This was the last room of the house that we’re allowed into, but there is also a patio, accessed via a door in the stained glass wall.  Here we have an entire mulberry tree

in sgraffito, along with other mulberry references.  Down below at street level (seen through the grate) there’s a real courtyard that we don’t have access to.  Turning around, we see the beauty of the smoking room windows from the outside, but – surprise! – there

are 3 more floors of Casa Lleo Morera!  All with their own semicircular stained glass walls!

We exit the way we entered, the stairs circling around the elevator shaft that also cleverly

delivers natural light to the building interior.

Well!  I hope you thought a “classsical” Modernista interior was interesting.  The next post will show the interior of the other major building on the Passeig de Gracia’s “Block of Discord”, Gaudí’s Casa Batlló.  This other vision of Modernista is very different from what you’ve seen; rather than “classical”, I would call it “futuristic”.  You’re going to love Gaudí!


Barcelona I, the Eixample

Barcelona is our favorite big city so far.  It’s Spain’s 2nd largest city (1.7 million in the center, 5 million in the greater city), but it doesn’t feel like a big city.  Public transportation is fabulous, making the city seem smaller, and wherever you go there’s a neighborhood feeling.  It’s a delightful city – anywhere you look there’s a feast for the eyes and an outdoor bistro for the stomach.  Everywhere the surroundings are funky, or whimsical, or gorgeous, or all three together.  Wide, tree-lined pedestrian boulevards are bordered by arresting architecture, chic shops, and relaxing sidewalk cafes that serve amazing tapas.  Narrow alleys and winding lanes open to surprising plazas lined with classic architecture, palm trees, sculpture and – por supuesto (of course) – more delightful cafes and boutiques.  In this amazing setting, the people bubble with life; how Pedestrian walkway with Sagrada Familia in the backgroundcould you not?  And did I say the food is fabulous?  We’re here in December, and the weather is delightful (we suspect the summer might be tough).  At night we can still dine in outside cafes wearing only light jackets, while street vendors sell roasted chestnuts that harken back to a colder climate.  This city has charm.  Are you sold yet?

There’s one problem in showing you this city – there is so much to show!  Where to start!  How to organize!  I’m going to divide Barcelona into several areas and many posts: the Old City and its “Barri Gotic” quarter; the elegant Eixample which was built just beyond the Old City walls and was the heart of the Modernista movement; the city’s main street, La Rambla; Park Guell; the art museums; the Art Nouveau Sant Pau Hospital, and finally, saving the best for last, the stunning, incredible Sagrada The Sagrada Familia, from the internet (with the construction cranes digitally removed)Familia Cathedral that was started in 1882 and is still under construction.  Just to whet your appetite, here’s a picture of Sagrada from the internet.  My!  Doesn’t that look just like 1882!  No? Although that list of what I’m going to cover in Barcelona might sound like ‘way too much, I think you’re going to be as captivated by this city as we were.

One of the joys of Barcelona is its amazing architecture, so in this first post – por supuesto – a little background on that topic is in order.  Barcelona has Roman ruins, a medieval cathedral, vestiges of a city wall, twisty Gothic lanes, and we’ll touch on those in later posts.  Mostly, however, I’ll be focusing on Barcelona’s Modernisme architecture.

By the late 1800’s Barcelona had became an industrial powerhouse, and like other large cities in Europe there was an artistic reaction against industrialization, leading to the Arts and Crafts Movement in England, the Glasgow Style in Scotland (see post Glasgow I, The City), and ultimately Art Deco in the 1920’s.  Barcelona developed a unique artistic style that it named “Modernisme” (Catalan for “modernism”), which lasted from the 1880’s to about 1914.  Its main expression was in architecture but it included painting, sculpture, and decorative arts.  Joan Miro was born in Barcelona, Salvador Dali nearby, and Picasso lived here as a teenager.  Imagine asking these three to collaborate on architecture, and you’ll come close to understanding Modernisme.  The three main Modernisme architects were Lluis Domenech i Montaner, Josep Puig i Cadafalch and (the most famous) Antoni Gaudí.  Their styleSt. George fighting a dragon, decoration on the Casa Amatller incorporated rich decoration and detail, frequent use of plant motifs, a predominance of the curve over the straight line, a taste for asymmetry, and … what to say … fantasy?  Tomorrow’s future chic?  You’ll see.  It’s a hundred years later, but I think Modernisme is still ahead of its time.  Oh, one other piece of information: the main symbol of Catalunya is the dragon, which was slain by St. George, the region’s patron saint.  In Barcelona, “there be dragons”; they are everywhere.

I’ll start the Barcelona posts with a tour of the Eixample region.  There’s much to show, so be forewarned – you’re going to see a lot of amazing buildings (and some interiors).  The expansion out of the Old City at the turn of the century was an opportunity for the newly rich to build urban mansions designed by architects doing the bold experimental designs of Modernisma.  It’s still the ritzy part of Barcelona.  I’ll start with the mundane – the sidewalks of one of the major main streets, the swanky Passeig de

Gracia, shown above.  Interesting, yes?  They’re copied from floor tiles designed by Gaudi for one of his buildings.  These wild sidewalks go for miles down the Passeig.  The street itself is divided by a central very wide tree-lined pedestrian way that is filled with outdoor

seating for the cafes across the streets – picture harried waiters racing back and forth across those street carrying trays of amazing tapas.  The pedestrian way also has occasional art, like those pasta sculptures above (and yes, young kids are allowed to play in them).

One of the first buildings we come to is the Casa Rocamora, built in 1914 in Neo-Gothic

style.  Notice its fancy decoration!  Almost universally in Barcelona, examples below, a building’s external walls are for embellishment (sgraffito, tiles, glass, colored stucco) and

the display of stone carvings; rooftops are for fanciful artistic displays; and doors are for fancy wrought iron.

As if the Passeig de Gracia needed more elegance, there are 31 fanciful street lamps with

incorporated benches that were installed in 1906 to light the boulevard.  They’re pretty cool!

As we walk along, we come to an area set slightly back from the street, and we stop to investigate.  We discover that “El Nacional” is an 1870’s textile factory converted to a restaurant complex that now houses 4 restaurants and 4 bars that also serve tapas.  Oh,

this is soooooo much more than a food court!  We’re talking upscale.  For instance, at the fish restaurant shown above, you pick out the particular fish you want, and they cook it for you right there in the open.  Some of the food options from the bars are shown below.

This swanky area of the Eixample is called the Golden Quarter (Quadrat d’Or), but we’re about to encounter the “Block of Discord” with 3 major Modernista buildings in very different styles.  Here we go!  The first house, Casa Lleo Morera, converted by Montaner

from a previously existing building in 1905, has been described as “Renaissance-influenced”.  There’s a lot of decoration!  There are art muses lurking on the balconies representing music, photography & theater, attack parrots and dragons protecting the

entrances, and awesome column decorations.  However, the outside can not compare with

the incredibly beautiful Modernista design and art on the inside of this building.  I’ll show it to you in a subsequent post.

A few doors down is the Casa Amatller, also a previously existing building, this one redone in Neo-Gothic style by Cadafalch in 1900.  Neo-Gothic?  I see quite a mix – an extravagant

Dutch-style gable combined with Moorish influences in the windows and in the sgraffito designs in the ochre-and-white stucco.  Mongrel-ian comes to mind, but the facade is interestingly attractive.  Entry into the foyer is allowed, where one can see that the

opulent exterior design extends into the building.  A staircase leads to an upper landing and a continuation of the extraordinary detail, plus an impressive stained glass ceiling.

The next house over is Casa Batlló, and it too was a previously existing building, redone in 1904 in a unique Modernista style by the most famous of the Modernistas, Antoni Gaudí.  The facade is pure fantasy, as shown below.  The lower levels are stone, with

organic-looking windows whose columns are disturbingly reminiscent of carcass bones.   The upper levels of the facade are decorated in colorful mosaics and circular disks, the balconies look like carnival masks, and everything is crowned by a roof that looks like a

scaly reptile’s back.  Pretty wild, yes?  Well, the inside is also wild, and wildly, crazily beautiful; and not just a pretty face – the design combines amazingly clever functional elements – I’ll show it off in a subsequent post.

Everywhere in this city there is incredible eye-catching detail on the buildings – stone carvings, sgraffito, tile, wrought iron and stained glass.  Below are some examples

of this diverse architectural embellishment – like that on the Palau Montaner building from 1896, shown above, and on a variety of buildings shown below.

OK, let me show you just 4 more houses, near the end of the Passeig de Gracia.  The house below is the elegant Palau del Baro de Quadras, built by Josep Puig i Cadafalch in 1904.

This next house is Casa Bonaventura Ferrer, built by Pere Falques in 1906.  It has an

outside door and an inner door with marvelous handles.  The interior was under construction upstairs, so we snuck in long enough to shoot some pictures in the foyer.

Isn’t that woodwork gorgeous?  I love the Modernista infatuation with floral motifs.

The third house is Casa Comalat, by Gaudí-influenced Salvador Valeri i Popurull in 1911.  The front of the house is symmetrical and urban-looking, although there are some

impressive Gaudí-like fluorishes.  The rear of the house, however, is something else!

It’s Clark Kent shedding his suit and glasses!  Modernista is on full display, in a breathtaking way.  In the last picture, a look through the upper floor window suggests a very interesting interior – so let’s go look through that door at the front of the house, shown below.

Remember, this is 1911!  I could just as easily believe the building was from 2111!  The Modernista architects were all control freaks; in addition to designing the building, they insisted on doing the internal decoration and even the furniture.  Isn’t it interesting?  And this is just to whet your appetite for what’s to come.

The final house is Casa Fuster, the last house that Domenech i Montaner built in Barcelona (1911) – and also the end of the Passeig de Gracia.  The end of a long day of

sightseeing (and blog reading!) deserves a culinary celebration, yes?  Some tapas and good wine?  We’ll finish this blog with a look at a colorful fountain near the beginning of the

Passeig de Gracia, with Casa Rocamora in the background.

Well, it’s been a long post! Hope you enjoyed our initiation into Modernista down the Eixample.

Next post we’ll look at the interior of one of the more spectacular Modernista buildings (the exterior was shown earlier in this post), the Casa Lleo Morera by Montaner.






Cooking School (Cook & Taste), Barcelona

Let me interrupt my on-going blog on Britain, just recently started, and jump ahead to share with you this cool cooking class we took – in Barcelona, Spain.  My, we do get around, eh?  Well, we’re here for several reasons – it’s warmer here, for one – but mostly we’re here because there are travel restrictions on how long you can stay in different parts of Europe, so we have to move around and play this silly traveling game.  A real pain for us long-term travelers.

While walking down a narrow twisting alley in the barrio (the Gothic Quarter) of Barcelona, intentionally lost, we came upon a cooking school (Cook & Taste,  Opportunity!  The food in Barcelona is really, really good, but in addition we had fallen in love with an Andalusian dish in Malaga, Spain (post of 7/10/13, “Malaga, Costa del Sol”), called berenjenas con miel, or eggplant with honey, a version of which we had found here in Barcelona.  Could they show us how to make that dish?  Sure, next week.  And sure enough, next week it was offered, and here we are!  This is what we learned.  Disclaimer – things move fast when cooking, so many pictures are not in good focus.


In Granada, everybody was eating this tomato flatbread for breakfast in all the restaurants.  Eh?  We passed on it – I’ll have the apricot jam, please.  Here in Barcelona, flatbread with tomato pretty much comes automatically when one orders jamon (cured

Green olive and jamon iberica startersham) – and it goes really well together!  It’s also really simple to make!  Start with toasted bread, rub it lightly with garlic, cut a small tomato in half and rub one of the halves over the bread (a little garlic, a lot of tomato), drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt, cut to a good size (in this case 4 slices) and you’re ready to chomp.  It’s great with appetizers. (shown above).


Crema Catalana recipeThis desert needs to be prepared ahead and refrigerated.  It’s like a creme brulee, but a softer custard with less egg, and I think a slightly thicker, well-carmelized sugar coating.  Obtain lemon peel – our chef, Davíd, prefers to cut a large slice rather than using a grater to get the peel, since the grated peel can find it’s way into the custard and make it grainy.  One needs to cut thin slices and remove any pith, which can be bitter, from the slices.  Davíd  also scored the inside of the

lemon peel a few times with his knife.  Bring the milk just to a simmer (small bubbles only), add the peel and cinnamon, and let steep at least 10 minutes to infuse the flavors.  The longer you let it infuse, the stronger the flavor.  Meantime, blend the egg yolks with

the corn starch and sugar in a bowl until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture becomes foamy and almost white.  Bring the milk mixture just to simmer again, and very slowly pour the mixture through a strainer into the egg mix, whisking to avoid cooking the egg; whisk all together.

Pour mixture back into the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring vigorously all the time with a wooden spoon until the cream thickens and one can make a line on the back of the spoon, as shown.  Pour into traditional terracotta dishes before the cream cools down.  Shake and tap to level the cream.  Place in refrigerator to chill.

Just before serving, sprinkle with sugar to coat and caramelize with a blowtorch.  In order to avoid burning the sugar, you’ll probably need to do alternate torching with brief periods of cooling until you have the desired degree of carmelization.  Let the sugar harden for a

couple of minutes.  Add fruit for presentation, then have at it!

BERENJENAS CON MIEL y QUESO de CABRA  [Eggplant chips w/ honey & goat cheese)

RecipeCut eggplant crosswise into paper-thin rounds with mandolin.  Keep cuts circular (Davíd had to trim the eggplant to fit the slicer).  Soak the slices in milk to reduce their bitterness – around 10 minutes.  Fill a deep skillet halfway with oil (not extra virgin) and heat over moderate heat to 170° C.  Blot the


eggplant slices with a paper towel to remove the milk.  Dredge eggplant slices in the flour until thoroughly coated, lightly pressing if necessary to help the coating adhere, and gently shake to remove excess (the idea is to produce a very thin coating that will become crisp when fried). Drop the floured pieces into the 170° C oil.

Only do a few at a time (our pan dictated 4).  Submerge, separate and turn slices in the oil with a slotted spoon until they begin to brown (golden brown), 1-2 minutes (or longer).  Transfer the chips to paper towels to drain.  Sprinkle with coarse sea salt.  Repeat for remaining chips.  Cut cubes of goat cheese.

Berenjenas con mielPlace chips over cheese squares, drizzle with honey, and add toasted pine nuts and a presentation item (Davíd used viola flowers).  Fight for your share.  In Andalusia, the dish was a little different – no cheese, and they used a molasses-like cane sugar instead of honey.  Both are good!


As an added bonus, Davíd showed us how to fry artichokes using this same system.  First he removed the scales to get to the heart, then removed the stem and trimmed the base.  The top part of the artichoke, about half of it, is removed, the artichoke cut in half longitudinally, and the choke is cut out.  It is then placed in water with parsley to prevent

the browning reaction (I didn’t know parsley did that!).  When ready to fry, the artichokes are sliced very thin, dried on a paper towel, dredged in the flour like the berenjenas, and

fried.  They fry quickly!  Drain on a paper towel, sprinkle with sea salt, and they’re ready to go.  Thanks Davíd, they were great!

COCA DE SEPINACAS A LA CATALANA CON BACALAO CONFITADO                                 (Catalan style Spinach Flatbread with Confit Cod)

Cod on flatbread with spinachActually, before we started this recipe Davíd prepared a quick appetizer with the cod.  The cod came from a farmers’ market where chunks had been soaking in salt water for 3 days.  Davíd sliced off the remaining skin and cut 4 small pieces off the fish chunk.  He drizzled the pieces with (infused) olive oil (see below) and added a garnish of chive

sprouts and chopped pistachio nuts.  Ready to eat!  It was good, but next time I would add some sea salt.

For the flatbread, work all ingredients as a normal bread dough.  Let it rest until if rises for 1 hour.  Meanwhile, warm the oil in a saucepan, remove from heat, add the bouquet of spices (whatever you want), and let infuse for awhile.  When the dough is ready, roll it out, trim to a rectangle, and cut it to size.  Place the pieces on parchment on a tray, and brush with the infused oil.  Cover with parchment, put weight on the top (another baking tray), and bake until golden brown (180°C, 10 minutes).  Brush with infused oil again.