Barcelona: Modernisme Masterpieces

One cannot visit Barcelona without appreciating the architectural marvels that are located here.  Modernisme, also known as Art Noveau, was a design movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries which strove to push back the encroaching wave of urbanization and industrialization that was rapidly turning cities into sterile and inhospitable places.  Design concepts included avoiding straight lines and right angles in favor of soft forms and curving lines, incorporating themes of nature into the structural elements and decorations on buildings, adding a dose of whimsical elements, and seeking to maximize natural lighting.

Antoni Gaudi  is the most well known preeminent masters of this genre.  Construction on his epic Sagrada Familia church was begun over one hundred years ago and is still on-going.  It is indeed a masterpiece.  However, today the scaffolding, temporary construction walls, etc., combined with crushing crowds, detract from a visitor’s experience.  There is an ambitious plan to finish the project by 2026, the centennial of Gaudi’s death.  We will have to wait and see.

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Another project of Gaudi’s was the Park Guell, a planned housing development that never took off and was turned into a city park.  Overall, this does not live up to the hype.  But there are some interesting features.  Fanciful structures mark the entrance…..

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And nature-derived sculptures are scattered about.  One of Gaudi’s trademarks was to use broken tile, often reclaimed from demolition projects, to cover his works…..

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Other Gaudi projects worth visiting include the Casa Mila and Casa Batlio.

Another master of the Monderisme genre was Louis Domenech i Montaner.  Not as well known as Gaudi, his projects are, we think, more visitor-friendly and definitely worth considering by the well-informed traveler.  The Catalan Music Hall, located in the Gothic Quarter, utilizes a huge stained glass skylight and side windows to maximize natural light.  The experience of sitting in the concert hall and taking in the surroundings is truly sublime.

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These columns on an outside balcony of the music hall demonstrate the incorporation of nature themes such as flowers into the decorations.  All of the tiles are hand-made, and each column has a different design.

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Another project of Montaner’s was the Hospial of St. Paul.  For 100 years up until 2010, this was a functioning hospital.  After closure, the site underwent four years of refurbishment including removal of later modifications and opened as a tourist site in early 2014.  This site is still not covered in many of the guidebooks but we highly recommend this and consider it the best “undiscovered” Modernisme site in the city.  Take the guided tour to get the most out of your visit.  Here is the facade of the main administration building as seen from the street, with angled wings embracing all those who enter.

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But the surprise that awaits the visitor is that the site consists of not just one building, but is a campus of multiple buildings and surrounding landscaped grounds extending behind the administration building.  In fact, the campus was considered a “city within a city” when it was planned and built.

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The multiple “chimneys” were actually ventilation shafts, since the buildings were heated with steam radiators.

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Interpretive displays depict scenes from the past.  Note the radiators in the center of the room.

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An interesting aside is that the hospital is named after its original benefactor, Pau (Paul) Gill.  The “saint” Paul designation was “earned” by Mr. Gill by virtue of donating a considerable sum of money, dubiously accumulated in the family banking business, to save his soul and that of his deceased father.  Whatever the funding, the buildings are magnificent.  Don’t miss this on your next visit to Barcelona!

With that, we leave Barcelona and continue on our tour of the Mediterranean.  Next stop, Morocco.


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