Friday, March 11, 2011

Barcelona Day 3 - La Eixample

Sunday, March 6

I was relieved to have a third day in Barcelona to cover the other main neighborhood:  La Eixample (pronounced eye-SHAM-plah, meaning "The Expansion").  A street called the Gran Via divides Barcelona between the Old Town (El Barri Gòtic) and the 19th century investment in a grid-plan city.  Wide streets, parks, and promenades are prevalent throughout the grid plan.  At each intersection, the corners of the buildings are cut off, making each an eight-sided block.  The city plan coincided with the emergence of the "Modernisme" style of architecture championed by Barcelona's own Antoni Gaudí.  Known as "Catalan Art Nouveau," the style uses glass, iron, brick, and tile to produce organic, non-angular objects and facades.  Right angles are few; instead buildings look like they are melting.  Gaudí's works look like "cake in rain."  After picking up a map at the Tourist office of all of the Modernisme sites, I spent the day trying to find all of them.  Along the way, I admired Gaudí's three central masterpieces: La Pedrera, La Sagrada Familia, y El Parque Güell.

However, before I started my self-guided architecture tour, I wanted to absorb the electric atmosphere of the Barcelona Marathon that I was hearing so much about at my hostel.  That meant going to the Old Town, but some Modernisme would be found there too (including the magnificent Palau de la Música Catalana), in addition to the day's biggest surprise:  the Barcelona City Hall.

My first stop was the Barcelona version of the Arc de Triomphe (in Catalan, Arc de Triomf).  It was perfectly dramatic for the Marathon.  I continued my people watching in the old city, where I discovered the Barcelona City Hall to be open for visits (Sunday only).  I slipped in and gawked at the stately parliamentary-style halls, fit for a national government, let alone just a city.  After the quick stop, I shot up the "Ramblas" once again and took a photo this time of the madness (Marathon is below, but "Ramblas" is in the web album).

Of the architecture tour, the "Block of Discord" was the first highlight.  Three brilliant works in a row on the right side of the Passeig de Gràcia:  (1) Casa Lleó Morera designed by Montaner, (2) Casa Amatller by Josep Puig i Cadafalch, and (3) Casa Batlló by Antoni Gaudí.  The block was given its name because it seemed the three architects were competing with each other.  Casa Batlló is covered in shattered ceramic tile, making it glitter in the sunlight.  It seemed like a modernist twist on traditional Muslim tile work.  The balconies are like skulls, while the roof is like scales.  Instead of a traditional "onion top," Gaudí installed a "garlic top."  I went around the block to swing through the Fundació Antoni Tàpies, a contemporary art museum that may have been a bit too contemporary.  The exterior was the highlight, witch its use of brick and wild wire overhang. 

I soon arrived at the Gaudí apartment I would tour: Casa Milà, better known as "La Pedrera" (meaning, "the quarry"). The most endearing thing about Gaudí was his obsession with natural light within his works.  Throughout the interior apartments of the Pedrera, natural light penetrates all rooms, whether coming from the interior courtyard or the exterior.  The absence of right angles applied to much of the furniture and doorways.  Upstairs in the attic, brick arches support the entire structure and a natural ventilation system.  I enjoyed the museum in the attic too.  It not only descried the building, but also Gaudí's other works.  The finale was a visit to the roof, where a series of winding stairs and distinct "chimneys" actually surpassed the great views of the city.  Although, I did take an ever-closer look at the Sagrada Familia.

After a weekend of admiring Barcelona's greatest site from far, it was time to visit the Sagrada Familia.  I had been planning to enter, but upon arrival I saw the ridiculous line and decided a free examination of the exterior would suffice.  After all, (1) I had seen the "forest-like" columns of the Santa Maria del Mar Church that Gaudí copied on Day 1, (2) the Pedrera museum had described the Sagrada Familia in detail, (3) the church is far from complete, in fact not even close, and (4) someone at my hostel said it only took him ten minutes to complete the interior visit.  I was not about to stand in line for 45 minutes for that.  

The Sagrada Familia has three principal facades.  The two sides are complete.  Construction of the entrance has not even begun.  The project started in 1883; after 125 years the church is only half-complete.  The first "side" I admired with the Passion Facade, telling the passion of Christ.  Gaudí never witnessed the beginning of this side's construction.  He died 1926, but left behind exact blueprints of the road to completion.  Another architect oversaw the Passion Facade project.  On the opposite is the Nativity Facade, which was finished during Gaudí's time.  It is much darker that the newer parts (besides not being in the sun).  It is much less smooth than the Passion Facade, and demonstrates perfectly the "melting" style of Gaudí.  I ran across a model of what the entrance, or "Glory Facade," will look like.  Incredible, but they have a long way to go. 

From the Sagrada Familia, I caught a bus to Parque Güell, Gaudí's marriage with nature.  His "organic" architecture blends seamlessly into the forms of the mountain.  Gaudí had embarked on Parque Güell to create a wealthy housing district/gated community.  The idea flopped and today it serves as a public park.  Two gingerbread houses greet visitors.  A grand staircase leads to the "Hall of 100 Columns."  Gaudí had wanted this space to be the farmers market for the community.  Each column is different, and tiles glitter on the wavy roof.  On top is the beach terrace, where visitors enjoy a balcony view of Barcelona.  Continuing up the hill, you wind through Gaudí's "Pathway of Columns," rocks that support more bridges and balconies.  I climbed higher and higher and finally reached the top to picnic and enjoy an opposite panoramic view of Barcelona.

Before long I was back at the hostel.  I went to bed at 8:30 that Sunday night knowing that I would have to rise at 3:00 am to catch my early flight back to Sevilla.  I had little time to rest.  When I arrived Monday morning, I had three classes to look forward to.  Although I feel like I am still catching my breadth from the trip, I could not have enjoyed better weather and such a wonderfully error-free adventure.

For pictures of this day, see
"Barcelona Day 3 (3-6) - La Eixample" at

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