Barcelona, the cosmopolitan capital of Catalonia, contains a treasure-trove of designs by its own illustrious architect Antoni Gaudí. Here, Gaudí’s ambitious body of work includes utilitarian sidewalk pavements and street lampposts, private mansions for the wealthy, and the extraordinary first cathedral of the present age.
Our long walks through the stylish and circuitous streets of Barcelona were like a treasure hunt for Gaudí gold. Even our footsteps on the sidewalk pavement stones of Passeig de Gràcia revealed Gaudi’s designs under foot.
Born in 1852 to a Catalán coppersmith, Gaudí was raised as a fervent Catholic, and educated in Barcelona as an architect. A well-groomed and carefully dressed dandy in his youth, his first official commission was a set of lampposts that still cast their radiant light on Barcelona’s Plaça Reial.
Influenced by nature and his Catholic upbringing, Gaudí lived an extraordinarily creative and religiously charged life. He pioneered the Catalán version of the Art Nouveau movement known as the Modernisme style, and personalized the forms in his own inventive way.
In short order, Gaudí gained commissions from several of Catalonia’s wealthy industrialists to build their palatial homes in this emerging and ornamental style. In his first residential project of Casa Vicens, Gaudí employed Modernist elements in the decorative neo-Mudéjar (Moorish Revival) manner.
His organic and free-flowing architectural designs have become synonymous with Catalonia’s free-spirited identity. Gaudí’s masterpiece of residential design, Casa Batlló includes an imaginative façade adorned with colorful mosaics of broken tiles and iron-railed balconies shaped like theater masks.
Gaudí had several wealthy patrons, but his primary benefactor was the textile industrialist Eusebi Güell. Güell granted Gaudí unlimited artistic license to design and construct his opulent home, whimsical hillside park, and industrial colony chapel on the outskirts of the city.
Over the years, Gaudí’s celibate lifestyle, vegetarian diet, and long unhealthy fasts led to his increasingly pious and spartan existence. The last private residence he designed, Casa Milà, was also his most criticized, for its rough-hewn finish and relatively austere form.
In the last years of his life, Gaudí devoted all of his efforts to Sagrada Familia, and his epic ambition to construct a three-dimensional history of the Catholic faith. Here, he employed catenary, parabolic, and hyperbolic structural forms, and enveloped them with natural and religious symbols to vivid and awe-inspiring effect.
On an untimely summer evening in 1926, during his daily walk to mass, Gaudí was accidentally struck by a tram and rendered unconscious. Wearing a baggy and worn-out suit with only a few nuts and raisins in his pocket, he was mistaken for a drunken beggar. Finally identified in hospital, he died two days later.
Antoni Gaudí was ceremoniously interred in the crypt of the unfinished Sagrada Familia. To this day, his heart continues to beat to the rhythm of construction, scheduled for completion in 2026, the centennial year of his death. Marked by a large “X” on our treasure map, Sagrada Familia rises unmistakably as Gaudí’s magnum opus and our greatest plunder of Gaudí gold.
Feature Image: Palm Leaf Fence, Casa Vicens