The first time I visited Barcelona, I was twenty-one years old with a mission to see as much of Europe as I could. I had bought a month long eurorail train ticket and was trying to visit as many European countries as humanly possible with not much money. Back then I only spent one day in Barcelona and it was a mix of seeing the Olympic Park at Montjuic Mountain (which I found a little boring) and checking out the Picasso Museum (amazing).
But the next time (and the next time and the next time) I returned to Barcelona I had a plan. I knew what I wanted to see, which was pretty much everything created by Gaudí – Parc Güell, La Sagrada Familia, La Pedrera and Casa Battló. And all of these are so remarkable and beautiful that I must focus on each, one at a time. And first up is Parc Güell.
A little history for you – in 1890, the industrialist Eusebi Güell hired Antoni Gaudí to design the park which was originally planned to be a garden city with villas high above Barcelona in an area called Bare Mountain. It was inspired by the English garden city movement and its intent was to exploit the fresh air and enjoy expansive views of the city and the coast. There were sixty triangular lots available for luxury houses but nobody was interested. Only two homes were built on the land (neither by Gaudí), with Gaudí buying one of them and living there from 1906 to 1926, it is now the Gaudí House Museum.
By 1903 the two entrance pavilions had been constructed, as well as the main flight of steps, the shelter for horse-drawn carriages, the outer enclosure, the viaducts and part of the great esplanade, together with the water evacuation system.
The Dragon Stairway:
The great entrance leads to the Hypostyle room, which was designed to be the market for the estate. It is made up of 86 striated columns inspired in the Doric order. The outermost ones slope in an undulating movement clearly contrary to the rules of classical composition, while reinforcing a perception of their structural role.
Inside the room the absence of columns in some sections creates spaces that simulate three naves, like a great church. The ceiling is formed of small domes constructed using the traditional technique of clay bricks decorated with original tile-shard mosaics made by Josep M. Jujol, one of Gaudí’s assistants.
My favorite area (and I think most people’s favorite) is the Greek Theatre but it has more recently been rechristened as Plaça de la Natura (Nature Square). Its original name was due to the fact that it was planned for staging large open-air shows that could be watched from the surrounding terraces. Although Gaudí always respected the lie of the land, this large square is artificial. Part of it is dug into the rock, while the other part is held up on top of the Hypostyle room. The focal point is the long bench in the form of a sea serpent and the views are breathtaking. The curves of the serpent bench form a number of enclaves, creating a more social atmosphere.
This bench is world famous, even Salvador Dalí called the bench once the precursor of surrealism. And he has sat there!
I mean seriously, check out the view.
On the eastern side of the Greek Theatre square there is an original iron door which leads to where there used to be the gardens of Casa Larrard, the former mansion that Güell adopted as his own house, but which has been a school since 1931. The route, which runs at a level higher than that of the house, passes through a pine grove with the portico backing onto a retaining wall made from unworked stone. The portico adopts the shape of a great wave atop slanting columns, with a double colonnade that acts as a buttress. It is one of the finest examples of the organic architecture upheld by Gaudí.
While the park is completely enchanting with all of its, let’s just say “stunningness”, my favorites are always the gorgeous mosaic tiles. Which a lot of were planned and designed not by Gaudí but by his often overlooked colaberator, Josep M. Jujol.
And the best mosaic of them all, the dragon which guards the entrance to Park Güell – El Drac. A conduit running inside the Hypostyle toom collects the rainwater that filters down from the square, sending it to an underground tank, which uses the dragon’s mouth as its overflow. Genius, I tell you.
There is a large area of the park that is open free to the public. But all of these areas to visit mentioned above you need to buy a ticket, adults are 7.50€ and children are 5.25€. I would advise to buy tickets online to bypass the long line that sometimes happens with the beautiful park.
I would love to hear about your experience at Parc Güell if you go or if you have been before. I find this such a magical place that it always draws me to it every time I am in the fabulous city of Barcelona.