Many tourists are drawn to Barcelona to see Antoni Gaudí's incredible architecture.
Gaudí's non-conformity, already visible in his teenage years, coupled with his quiet but firm devotion to the church, made a unique foundation for his thoughts and ideas. His search for simplicity, based on his careful observations of nature are quite apparent in his work, from the Casa Milà and its ondulating balconies, to the Church of the Sacred Family and its organic, bulbous towers.
Barcelona celebrates the 150th anniversary of Gaudí's birth in 2002. There has never been a better time to visit this incredible city.
If you walk down Passeig de Gràcia, in the heart of Barcelona, you pass by many an extraordinary building, from Domènec i Muntaner's Casa Lleó i Morera to Puig i Cadalfach's Casa Amatller. But there is perhaps nothing quite so striking as the huge but sinuous Casa Milà, designed by Barcelona's premier architect, Antoni Gaudí.
One of the things I love about Gaudí's work is that it was essentially useful. La Casa Milà is an apartment building and real people live there. (OK, rich people live there.) Originally built for Pere Milà and finished in 1912, apart from living quarters, it contains a parking garage, a beautiful interior courtyard, and an elegant rooftop terrace complete with sinks and clothes lines. A trip to the back balcony of the housewares store next door affords an intimate view, complete with hanging laundry, of the inner life of the Casa Milà.
Of course, the Casa Milà is not famous for its usefulness but for its mix of nature and architecture: its wrought-iron railings that resemble a tangle of branches and leaves, its ondulating balconies that remind one of the sea that ebbs and flows just a few blocks to the east, its towering smokestacks that resemble a collection of silent giants on the roof.
The complicatedly named and curiously unfinished masterpiece that is the Expiatory Temple of the Sacred Family is the most visited building in Barcelona. In it, Gaudí combines his vision of nature and architecture with his devotion to his faith. His focus on this project was so intense that he shunned all other projects, slept in an apartment at the work site surrounded by plans and drawings, and so completely ignored his dissheveled appearance that when, in 1926, he was struck by a streetcar in front of the church, he was mistaken for an indigent and brought to a hospital for the poor where he died soon thereafter.
The Sagrada Família attracts even the non-religious to its doors in large part due to this tragic story and its still unfinished state, of which the everpresent scaffolding and cranes are permanent reminders. But there is something more. In the Sagrada Família, Gaudí again brings nature and architecture together--the soaring spires look something like rising stalagmites in an underground cave--this time in reverance.