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Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Bouncing About Barcelona - Page 3

Written by Eric D. Goodman
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A Most Unusual Palace

      Palau Guell, the home commissioned by the same Guell who later commissioned the park outside town, proves to be one of the highlights of our visit to Barcelona. It was Gaudi’s first city center project on such a massive scale. The palace stands on such a small plot of land, we wonder from the outside why it’s called a palace at all. Then we go inside and marvel at the incredible sense of space and style Gaudi was able to create.

      The tour begins on the ground floor—an entryway worthy of being a nobleman’s home on its own—and then down to the basement, where the horses once lived in luxury. The tour takes you on eight levels, including the basement, attic, and rooftop terrace. In the center of the house, the center room, complete with organ, choir stalls, an altar, and domed ceiling, spans several of the stories.

      But more impressive than size,  is style. Gaudi uses stone, tile, ironwork and unique columns and structures to create a home that is a museum piece of its own. 

      The rooftop terrace, should you brave the irregular tiled floor, is crowned by twenty chimneys covered in mosaics of broken tile and designed in unusual and surprising shapes. It is when you exit the palace, seeming to go down the stairs forever, that you realize how far up you have climbed. Visiting Palau Guell is indeed a high. But the highlight of Barcelona and Gaudi is yet to come.


Beautiful Basilica

      Sometimes referred to as Barcelona’s favorite church, the Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar was built in the Catalan Gothic Style.  With donations by local merchants and shipbuilders, the massive church was built in a mere fifty five years—a short span of time for a classic European cathedral. Stained glass and stone fill out this beautiful Basilica. It is a beautiful basilica, and it shows in the artisanship that this was a labor of love, and, indeed, the church of the common people.


Not Your Usual Picasso

      If there was any doubt, the Picasso Museum in Barcelona confirms that Picasso could paint just about anything he wanted. Love or hate the chosen style he became famous for, this painter had talent. Located in five connected palaces from medieval times, the museum showcases some 3,000 pieces ranging from Picasso’s mid-teenage years to his old age. Picasso paints in the styles of many other artists, some realism, some impressionism. There are a number of sketches from his school days, some of them stamped by the administration.

      The most dense and fullest part of the collection seems to be his study, dissection, and entirely unique recreation of Velazquez’s masterpiece, Las Meninas.


Columbus in Port

      Not far off the beaten path, we find our way from the Picasso Museum back to Las Ramblas. After strolling for a short bit, we escape to some of the twisting side streets, where a more authentic feeling Barcelona awaits.  About three side streets in is where we usually begin ducking into shops, restaurants and cafes.  It is somewhere around this area that we have a good and inexpensive three-course meal at a little restaurant called Princessa 23. 

      I order caper and onion seared salmon, with a starter of leak and potato soup that could have been a meal in itself. The highlight of the meal, despite how good the salmon tastes, is the strong mojito.

      After filling our stomachs, quenching our thirsts, and relaxing our senses, we continue down the hill until we meet with Columbus once again, his monument pointing to the water, toward the new world.  We’re not ready to leave the old world yet. So instead, we continue down to Port Vell for a stroll along the dock, and then along the breezy boardwalk. 


A Perfect Eixample

      For our final full day in Barcelona, we decide to save the best for last and stay close to our bed & breakfast in Eixample  with a slight diversion at the edge of Eixample back to Old Town. We have tasted a sample of what our day is to be filled with since we have already visited Park Guell and Palace Guell. Our final day in Barcelona is to be a surreal experience filled with fantastic modern architecture and design. Our tour guide: the Great Gaudi.


Fireworks inside a Cathedral

      Truth be told, although the Sagrada Familia is the sight I have most anticipated, I expect to be let down.  Like a movie or book everyone has raved about, you watch or read with unreasonably high expectations, only to come away disappointed.  That is not the case with what is easily Europe’s and most likely the world’s most unusual and creatively designed church. I come with high expectations. They are exceeded.

Sagrada Familia

      I love touring the majestic architecture of old cathedrals and palaces. And I love art museums. In a way I have never seen before, Gaudi’s masterwork combines the two. I have marveled at the insides of cathedrals many times before—from Notre Dame to Saint Chappelle, from St. Issac’s Cathedral to St. Basil’s Cathedral. Nothing has ever taken me by surprise like Barcelona’s Cathedral Sagrada Familia.

      Even as we wait in line for more than an hour, we look up and find surprises in the exterior.  Frogs and lizards carved in the towers and stone, along with fruits and vegetables and other elements of nature. Eight of the twelve existing spires are topped with detailed Venetian mosaics. Much of the exterior is hidden by the construction work that continues, and is expected to continue until the church is completed according to Gaudi’s designs on the centennial of his death.

      When our line reaches the entrance (which is actually the back of the church), the view is something to behold.  The Passion Façade features angular figures carved in stone showing the passion and crucifixion of Christ. The modern style is stunning. The brass doors to the church are covered in passages from the Bible about the passion.

      Once inside, the real marvel begins. Slowly walking in, looking up, it is like fireworks exploding above us. Looking around, it is so much to take in. Gaudi’s interior columns are like colorful and textured trees, none of them uniform, all of them branching out into other columns before reaching the starburst, floral ceiling. Stained glass, gold leaf and jeweled areas shine down on us. No surface is smooth; everything has color and texture.  I would describe it as white or gray, but it’s really multi-colored, carved from different types of stone and material. Unlike any other church I’ve seen, this one seems alien and organic, but in a beautiful non off-putting way. In a word: amazing.

      Pictures don’t do the cathedral justice, but here is an attempt at showing off the beautiful ceiling: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Sagrada_Familia_nave_roof_detail.jpg

      There is so much to take in.  We could spend hours exploring the details. But we have ground to cover on our last day in Barcelona, so we reluctantly make our way to the exit of the cathedral after an hour of open-jawed staring.

      We exit through a museum beneath the cathedral that displays models and methods of construction. When we actually come outside again, we pass through the Nativity Façade, showing the nativity in a new way and in a style very different from that on the Passion Façade.

      The Nativity Façade is the most complete section of the church; it was completed in 1930. It showcases doors that represent Hope, Faith and Charity. The nativity scenes carved in stone include the usual manger scene with wise men, angels, Joseph, Mary, and the Christ child. It also features turtles holding up pillars, and birds flying every which way. From a distance, the façade has an alien look, almost like a melting, bug-like hill. Like the water-eroded mud formations of a California seaside cliff.

      Another façade is still to be completed, along with about half of the church and the tallest of the towers. Gaudi’s original designs and intentions are being followed, and funding comes from private contributions. The estimated mid-point on construction came in 2010, the same year the Pope visited to consecrate it and proclaim it a “minor basilica.” Gaudi, who spent the last fifteen or so years of his life working on the church and raising money to build it, would have been happy. He is buried on sight, in the Sagrada Familia’s crypt. We bid Gaudi farewell at his final resting spot. But we will visit him again in town.

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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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