Where’s Gaudí gone?

Mention Barcelona and the first person to come to mind, if you’re not a football fan, is most likely Antoni Gaudí. Any fridge magnet collection is bound to include one inspired by the architect. He’s synonymous with the city. But we walked miles in search of his work and came up short.

Born back in 1852 to a coppersmith, young Gaudí knew he what he wanted to be when he grew up. Part of the Catalan Modernista movement, his distinctive style wasn’t long in coming to the fore. He set geometric shapes in pattern brick and stone and rather fancied both flowers and reptiles. [His salamander in Park Güell, is probably his best-selling fridge magnet.]

Showcasing his work at the Paris World’s Fair in 1878 brought him some attention and a commission to work on the Güell Estate and Güell Palace in Barcelona. We tried to visit but they had sold out for the day. A park. Selling out. Madness. We had to content ourselves walking the free space and looking down on those who’d been better prepared, catching only glimpses  of the great man’s work. Be warned. Book in advance.

In 1893, Gaudí was tasked with building a cathedral – Basilica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia (Basilica and Expiatory Church of the Holy Family). The plans had already been drawn up and construction had begun when he took over, but he managed to make it his own. It’s still a work in progress – more than 120 years later. But it’s coming along. It’s another venue that needs advance booking, though.

Gaudí died when hit by a trolley in June of  1926. He was nearly 74. It is hoped that the Sagrada Familia will be finished by 2026, to mark the 100th anniversary of his death. We can but wait and see.

We went in search of  Casa Vincens, what’s billed as his most famous and best ever. And we found it. Under renovation. And I really wanted to see Casa Mila but the La Pedrera Google gave us wasn’t quite what we had set out to find. We did stumble across Casa Batlló. Mind you, it’d have been hard to miss, with the hordes of picture-snapping tourists queuing up outside. Pretty spectacular though.

I’d looked to see if any other architect of note was hiding in Gaudí’s shadow and a Josep Puig i Cadafalch popped up. Turns out, he designed the Casa Amattler right next door to Casa Batlló. We found this out after we’d traipsed the back streets hitting various shops and such by the same name but they never quite measured up. I wonder if Josep’s rocking around heaven wondering what life might have been like had he been born a century earlier … or later.

We gave it time – the best part of a day. But we hadn’t done our homework. We hadn’t plotted our route or signed up for a tour. I didn’t want to be constrained by someone else’s timetable. So we wandered the streets and happened across many other equally stunning buildings that would require time to research. I contented myself with a look.

And we found the smallest theatre in the world, El Teatre més Petits del Món. Set in the home of pianist Luis de Arquer [carrer de l’Encarnació 25], a gig here is now top of my list of things to do, should a return visit to the city be on the cards. It would be, according to the New York Times, the most enchanting musical evening the city has to offer.

Gaudí’s work is world famous. He’s quite the ambassador for Spain. His style has influenced many artists from all over (Fuster in Havana, Cuba, is an example). But I wonder if you can get too much of a good thing. He’s been hijacked by the tourist board and the souvenir industry and is on the verge of being tatted. Which is a shame. Entrance fees to see his work are extortionate. And yet the masses come. And pay. Too many of them.

Earlier this year, the city of Barcelona approved a new law to limit the number of tourists coming to the city.  People took to the streets in protest over the collateral damage of too many tourists – soaring rents and property prices, increasing numbers of evictions, lack of parking facilities, etc. Add these to the rising costs of eating out and the low salaries paid in the tourist sector, the locals have a gripe or three.




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