Unless you’re a huge football fan like me – in which case F.C. Barcelona’s Nou Camp stadium is your number one place to visit – chances are you’ll associate Barcelona with the architecture of Antoni Gaudi. Most of his works are in Barcelona, including his (still in progress) magnum opus La Sagrada Familia, and each exhibit his distinctive fusion of nature and religion to create remarkably organic-looking structures.
Barcelona’s city centre is relatively small, making it possible to explore a lot of his works that are based here in one day. I opted to check out the four most famous ones, beginning the day at Gaudi’s best-known outdoor masterpiece – Park Guell. With its riotous splatter of colours, topsy-turvy walls and cavernous, naturalist arches, Park Guell feels like one big modernist canvas come to life.
The much-trumpeted Banc de Crecandis, an open space with a curved bench looping around its edges, is impressive. So is the oft-photographed main entrance with its Grimm fairy tale houses guarding the foot of a stairway leading to the nest of Doric columns that support the Banc. Much of Gaudi’s style is in evidence here, not least in the centrepiece Dragon-lizard statue. However, the park’s real highlights are further inside, particularly Turo del Calvari, where higher altitude views of the great city below reward any physical exertion that you have to put in.
After a pit stop to catch my breath, it was on to La Pedrera. Conceived as an apartment, this structure is all about the roof really. Wooden looking figures – a sort of a cross between the Easter Island statues and tofu-carved voodoo dolls – sit aside spinning top-shaped mosaics. More views are on offer, and from here it’s also possible to contrast it with Barcelona’s most celebrated modern building, Torre Agbar.
Being on a budget, I decided not to pay admission for Casa Batllo. Barcelona is an expensive place! I compensated later on by taking some night time shots of the multi-coloured marzipan facade to go with the ones I’d taken right at the beginning of the day (my hostel was very close to it). I assure you that monetary, rather than time-bound, reasons were behind me not going in. But any lingering disappointment over this was more than made up for with my visit to the stunning La Sagrada Familia.
Entry to Sagrada is through the impressive but, compared to the Nativity entrance, somewhat stripped back Passion facade. I scaled the tower to catch some more great views of the city, as well as a closer up view of the works in progress (expected completion date 2027) that are the towers themselves. Here you get a real appreciation of the naturalistic, intricate attention to detail, with religious symbolism and naturalistic flourishes abounding (where else can you see spires topped by bunches of fruit?)
Back at ground level, the interior felt like a masterstroke of a grand design. Gaudi truly has achieved his stated aim of creating a ‘forest-like’ effect, as magnificent pillars sprout tree-like from ground to ceiling. The stained-glass windows complement the natural light spilling from outside too. Leaving the interior takes you to the unmissable highlight: the Nativity facade. Whilst the Passion facade depicts Christ’s suffering, this facade is all about a joyous celebration of his birth, and the rich tapestry that covers the wall is simply astonishing. Each of the sculptures tells part of the story, and the overriding mood is one of joyous exuberance.
La Sagrada is a church like no other and the undoubted highlight of my short trip to Barcelona. But whilst it is justly considered to be one of the finest man-made buildings in the world, Gaudi’s other achievements in Barcelona should not be overlooked either. Believe me when I say taking the time to visit them is very much worth your while.