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Amsterdam To Rome Cruise Post #11 – ‘Barcelona, Spain: The City of the Never-Ending Church, the Brilliant Gaudí and the 2nd Most Valuable Soccer Team in the World.’

Karen at The Church of Colònia Güell by Antoni Gaudí

Karen at The Church of Colònia Güell by Antoni Gaudí – Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona, the capital city of Spain and the country’s 2nd largest city, is an important cultural center. Particularly renowned are the architectural works of the great Antoni Gaudí, which have been designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The city has hosted the 1992 Summer Olympics and many other international sport tournaments, including their own famous, home soccer team, Futbol Club Barcelona. Unlike many other football clubs, the fans (which has included Pope John Paul II, an honorary member) operate Futbol Club Barcelona. It is the second most valuable sports team in the world, worth $3.2 billion, and the world’s second-richest football club in terms of revenue, with an annual turnover of $613 million (the richest being Madrid, Spain).

La Sagrada Família by Antoni Gaudí - Barcelona, Spain

La Sagrada Família by Antoni Gaudí – Barcelona, Spain

The highlight of Barcelona is the truly inspiring masterwork, La Sagrada Família (Basilica and Expiatory Church of the Holy Family), the life’s work of the city’s favorite son, Antoni Gaudí. The view of the breathtaking spires of the unfinished cathedral, imprint themselves magnificently against the sky – with swelling outlines inspired by the holy mountain Montserrat. The spires are encrusted with a tangle of sculptures that seem to breathe life into the stone. In November 2010, Pope Benedict XVI consecrated and proclaimed it a minor basilica, as distinct from a cathedral (which must be the seat of a bishop). One of the fascinating stories the guide told us about the Pope’s visit was that he was shocked to see a naked Christ on the cross. Immediately, an artist placed a covering over Christ’s lower half. Sometime after the Pope left, the covering was removed and remains so to this day. I laughed out loud – it was such a lovely, funny story symbolizing the independence and artistic ‘purity’ of the Catalonian people.

La Sagrada Família by Antoni Gaudí - Barcelona, Spain

La Sagrada Família by Antoni Gaudí – Barcelona, Spain

Construction of the church commenced in 1882. Gaudí became involved in 1883, taking over the project and transforming it with his architectural and engineering style – combining Gothic and Art Nouveau forms. In 1926, at the age of 74, with less than a quarter of the Church complete, Gaudí’s obsession with his project ended when he died, after being struck by a trolley car. On the subject of the extremely long construction period, Gaudí is said to have remarked, “My client is not in a hurry.” After Gaudí’s death, work continued until interrupted in 1936, by the Spanish Civil War. Construction passed the midpoint in 2010, with some of the greatest challenges still remaining. An anticipated completion date of 2026 was announced – the centenary of Gaudí’s death – but our guide said that everyone in Barcelona thinks it will take at least another 100 years. Todays chief architect, Jordi Bonet, argues that the building of the Church, no matter how long it takes, is a sacred one, as it is a Church intended to atone for sin and appeal to God’s mercy and Catalonia.

Casa dels ossos (House of Bones) by Antoni Gaudí - Barcelona, Spain

Casa dels ossos (House of Bones) by Antoni Gaudí – Barcelona, Spain

Next was a visit to another one of Gaudí’s spectacular masterpieces, the bizarre Casa Batlló, a renowned building located in the center of Barcelona. It is a remodeling of a previously built house, redesigned in 1904 by Gaudí. The local name for the building is Casa dels ossos (House of Bones), as it has a visceral, skeletal organic quality. The ground floor, in particular, has unusual tracery, irregular oval windows and flowing sculpted stone work. There are few straight lines, and much of the façade is decorated with a colorful mosaic made of broken ceramic tiles. The roof is arched and is likened to the back of a dragon or dinosaur. The turret and cross on the roof represent the lance of Saint George, which has been plunged into the back of the dragon.

Casa dels ossos (House of Bones) by Antoni Gaudí - Barcelona, Spain

Casa dels ossos (House of Bones) by Antoni Gaudí – Barcelona, Spain

To cap off the day’s appreciation of Gaudí we visited The Church of Colònia Güell, also an unfinished work. It was built as a place of worship for the people in a manufacturing suburb just outside of Barcelona. Colònia Güell was the brainchild of Count Eusebi de Güell. During its construction, Güell set no limits or barriers for Gaudí, neither in the budget nor the design. The construction of the Church began in 1908. In 1914, the Güell family decided to stop financing the church and Gaudí abandoned the project. Even though the church remains unfinished, it is the culminating point of Gaudi’s work, encompassing all of his architectural innovations.

The Church of Colònia Güell by Antoni Gaudí - Barcelona, Spain

The Church of Colònia Güell by Antoni Gaudí – Barcelona, Spain

An interesting fact worth noting is that Gaudí rarely drew detailed plans of his works. Instead, he preferred to create them as three-dimensional scale models and molded the details as he conceived them. Gaudi also introduced new techniques in the treatment of materials, such as trencadís, which used waste ceramic pieces. It is a type of mosaic used in Catalan modernism, created from broken shards of ceramic, tiles and dinnerware.

The Church of Colònia Güell by Antoni Gaudí - Barcelona, Spain

The Church of Colònia Güell by Antoni Gaudí – Barcelona, Spain

One of my favorite pieces of trivia about Barcelona is St. Georges Day, a celebration of love and literacy. The festival is one of the biggest, most widely celebrated days in Barcelona, which takes place every April 23rd. On this day, the tradition is to present your loved ones with roses and books… Watch out Paris, ‘city of love’ – Barcelona is catching up with you!

La Sagrada Família by Antoni Gaudí - Barcelona, Spain

La Sagrada Família by Antoni Gaudí – Barcelona, Spain

Photographs by Ryan Oksenberg

Comments

  1. Alan Mandell says:

    Lovely to revisit one of my favorite cities. Thank you for this illuminating tour.

  2. I visited many of these places last year. Such fanciful architecture. Thanks for sparking the memories.

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