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.

Cut the cod into pieces and put into infused oil that has just come to a simmer; remove from heat and let stand until cod looses transparency and becomes flaky.  Clean the

spinach under tap water and remove stems.  Let the raisins soak in Moscatell wine for 30 minutes.  Brown the pine nuts for 2 minutes in a nonstick frying pan with a few drops of olive oil.  Remove the pine nuts and add the infused raisins with their liquid; stir until thickened (this happens quickly) and pour back into their bowl.  Add more oil and saute the spinach briefly, adding a sprinkle of salt; do this in small batches, adding a little oil

each time.  Put some spinach on each piece of flatbread and arrange large flakes of the cod on top.  Add some of the raisin mixture and pine nuts.  Move to a plate and add more

raisins and pine nuts.  Davíd also added a dollop of reduced raspberry balsamic vinegar on the side.  It came from a bottle, and was a nice addition to the flavors.  I would have added a little sea salt.

PAELLA DE MARISCO (Seafood paella)

Seafood PaellaTo this list of ingredients we added some fava beans, a red bell pepper as well as the green, asparagus, some of the unsliced artichokes, and smoked paprika.  Prepare all the ingredients.  Dice the onion and garlic.  Cut some peppers into strips (for presentation) and dice the rest.  Wash the asparagus and remove their lower stem.  Grate the tomatoes

as shown.  Cook the fava beans, drain and let cool; remove the outer skin.

Soak the clams in salty water and then rinse.  Check that the clams and mussels are alive (if they are open, knock them on the table and discard if they stay open).  De-beard the mussels and clean their shells (we scraped them with a knife).  Clean the squid interior by scraping with a paper towel.  Cut the squid into squares, about 1.5 inches.  If desired, trim the whiskers off the prawns.

When everything is ready, heat the oil in a paella pan (until a drop of water sizzles) and saute the prawns briefly (count to 20, turn, count 20 again, remove).  Turn on the outer

propane ring.  For the paella you want even heat, and since you don’t want more than a layer or two of rice, you need a large skillet with a wide heat source (or two skillets …).  Add the squid to the pan, spread out the squares, and wait until the squid squares are “popping up”.  Add more oil to the side of the pan as needed.  Do not turn.  The longer you cook the squid the more tender it will be, so cooking it for something like 45 minutes

(overall) is good.  Brown only 1 side (you’re going to be adding water).  When the squares have popped up, stir and add the onion and the diced peppers and carmelize, constantly scraping the pan to deglaze.  Add some wine to continue the deglazing as the water evaporates.  90% of the taste is this “attacking the brown”.  When onions are browned, add the garlic and when it starts to brown, sprinkle with smoked paprika and add the grated

tomato on top of the paprika, mixing quickly so the paprika doesn’t burn.  Scrape and deglaze and let all the liquid from the tomatoes evaporate.  Add the asparagus, artichokes

and remaining pepper slices, stir, and cook for a few minutes.  Add the rice and stir well to coat, a minute or two.  Flatten the food to a layer, with no holes.  Add the saffron to the boiling stock, then add the stock slowly to the preparation.  Do not stir!  Rice can’t be touched beyond this point!

Increase the heat to medium-high and cook for +/- 8 minutes.  (Davíd used high heat for 5 minutes).  Then add the clams and mussels, pushing them slightly into the remaining liquid.  Taste the stock for seasoning – it must taste slightly salty (rice will absorb and dilute it).  Reduce heat to a minimum (say the notes) and cook for an additional +/- 10 minutes (Davíd says cook for a total of 15 minutes).  Davíd didn’t really time it so much as check it.  As the liquid went down, he turned the heat down.  It was done when there was

essentially no liquid at the bottom of the pan.  You want rice with some dryness.  Davíd also noted that after adding the clams and mussels one could take the pan to the oven at 180°C for 12 minutes (gets even heat!) rather than keeping it on the flame.  Right near the end, add the fava beans and arrange the prawns in a decorative pattern and allow them to heat up.  When the time is up, take the pan off the heat and cover with a cloth for 3 – 4

minutes to steam (the notes say only “stand for about 5 minutes before serving” [no mention of a cover]).  For Davíd, wanting rice with some dryness, if the rice is done and there is still some water, he doesn’t cover or he covers with a cloth to let the steam escape.

One could cover with aluminum foil to keep the rice wetter.

You’re ready to go!  It tasted every bit as good as it looks.

Well!  Hope you enjoyed this diversion from our travel blog.  The next post will be back in England, visiting the fabulous city of York.