A Life in a Year – 30th October, Barcelona and Antoni Gaudi

I visited Barcelona in October 2005 before I had really heard about or fully appreciated Art Nouveau or Antonio Gaudi so this place came as a real surprise.  On a sightseeing day I was walking along the Passeig de Gràcia part of the Illa de la Discòrdia in the Eixample district of Barcelona and heading for the Casa Milà, which is Gaudi’s most famous creation when across the stret I saw the most amazing building that I have ever seen that turned out to be the Casa Batlló, recently restored as a museum and open to the public. 

Antoni Plàcid Guillem Gaudí i Cornet was a Catalan architect with a Catalan name which quite frankly is a bit of a mouthful so thankfully he is usually referred to by the simplified Spanish translation, Antonio Gaudí.   He  belonged to the Modernist Art Nouveau movement and was famous for his unique style and highly individualistic designs.  He designed Casa Batlló, in a prosperous middle class district of Barcelona, for a wealthy city Aristocrat who was carrying out a refurbishment of the property that had originally been built in 1877. The lower levels of the house were designed for the owner and the upper floors were for renting and the refurbishment took place between 1905 and 1907.

The local name for the building is Casa dels ossos, literally the House of bones and the building has a visceral, skeletal organic quality. The building looks very remarkable and like everything else that Gaudí designed, only identifiable as Modernisme or Art Nouveau in the broadest sense. The ground floor, in particular, is rather astonishing with tracery, irregular oval windows and flowing sculpted stone work.  It seems that the objective of the designer was to avoid straight lines completely. Much of the façade is decorated with a mosaic made of broken ceramic tiles that begins in shades of golden orange and moves and merges liquidiciously into greenish blues.

Caso Batlló is a unique and fabulous building that defies any sort of description and is a building that has to be seen to be fully appreciated.  It is a wonderful riot of style and outrageous architectural ideas and designs.  Every room is a treasure and the attention to detail is immaculate.  My favourite part of the building was the roof which is arched and is likened by students of Gaudi to the backbone of a dragon.  A common theory about the building is that the rounded feature to the left of centre, terminating at the top in a turret and cross, represents the sword of Saint George the patron saint of Catalonia, which has been plunged into the back of the dragon.

I know that we think of St George as an English Saint but a lot of the rest of Europe has claimed him as well because St. George is also the patron saint of Aragon, Catalonia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Greece, Palestine, Portugal, and Russia and I wouldn’t mind betting that all of them will do an awful lot more to celebrate 23rd April every year than we do!  We English do tend to ignore Saint George and take him a bit too much for gratnted.

Like a lot of artistic people Gaudi was rather eccentric and because of his ragged attire and empty pockets, many cab drivers refused to pick him up as he walked about the city for fear that he would be unable to pay the fare.  On 7th June 1926 Gaudi was run over by a tram and because no one recognised him he was taken to a pauper’s hospital.  His friends found him the next day but when they tried to move him into a nicer hospital, Gaudi refused, reportedly saying “I belong here among the poor.”  He died three days later on 10th June and was buried in the midst of his unfinished Cathedral, La Sagrada Família which even now remains unfinished and is due for completion in 2026, a hundred years after his death.

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