In Barcelona, there's a walk that's much more impressive than anything on La Rambla, and that's the Passeig de Gracia where you can see the majority of Barcelona's Gaudi-inspired buildings not in the Park Guell, in what they call the Block of Discord (in Catalan, Illa de la Discordia, or Bone of Discord), because of all the out of place buildings designed by various modernist architects of various ideas. Most of the buildings have a 5 or so euro charge to enter, where you get to see one or two rooms. At Casa Batllo though - the one designed by Gaudi - you can walk around most of the house, and though it's empty of the furniture (which Gaudi also designed), you at least get to see the basics of his interior design ideas.
Most of those fancy Passeig houses you're only allowed in to see one or two rooms, so many of the tours seem a waste of time to me. The only one with a full tour of the original construction - I say original, even though Batllo was a renovation by Gaudi and not his construction - was Casa Batllo and that cost an absurd 15 euro just for a walk-around.
a view from the Bone of Discord
My wife and I decided to throw in the money that it cost. Why not? We're only in Barcelona once. And of course, all the touristic activities are expensive because the operators know that same logic. Why tame your price when there's an endless demand for your historical place and you are the one supply? Simple economics there. And anyways, Gaudi was building his places for the rich, not for poor, backpacker travelers who would end up stinking up the corridors under his rib bone arches and playing pan flute inside his water chamber, in-between moments of talking about the latest Paolo Coehllo book about taming your animal spirit so that you can achieve all your dreams that you were meant to be through the realization of yourself as you are not as you are expected to be by those who don't really know you Iamalion roar.
About the house
Casa Batllo, also known as the House of Bones, is a house that was redesigned by Antoni Gaudi in 1904. It's been refurbished several times since, and now it has been emptied out and serves as a kind of Museum of Gaudi architecture. Josep Batllo had bought the plain and uninteresting house on the Passeig de Gracia, thinking that he would tear it down and have the architect of the Parc Guell make him a new house. But Gaudi insisted that he could save the house in a renovation and quickly submitted his plans to Batllo. Gaudi won the debate and built his beautiful monument of modernisme.
looking down from a balcony
The Batllo family owned it and lived there until the 30s, when they died and an insurance company took over and moved in their offices. In the 70s, it went under a further renovation and was rented out as a conference and meeting center, until recently when they decided they could make even more crazy, gaudy amounts of money as a museum, which is what brings us to the house today.
what happens when drugs are mixed with architecture
For 15 euros, you get an audio guide that you can hold to your ear and listen to an alternating man or woman speaking in some exasperated voice about the different details of each room. From the entryway to the first floor they explain the features: the hand rails and handles are shaped to fit a person’s hand perfectly; the curved halls model the structure of natural places like caves and forests; the scaly paint is like that of a snake or dragon; the glass work, that is, the windows, are meant to resemble water or fire.
the Noble Floor and its big windows
In the construction, Gaudi avoided straight lines as much as possible, so everything seems fluid and changeable. All the materials possible, especially the tiles used in the mosaics, are made from recycled materials that Gaudi found in dumps or abandoned structures, and he tried to garner the laws of physics to make for the best flow of light and air possible, making this 1904 house superbly energy efficient, putting most architects of our day to shame when it comes green construction.
the inner sunwell
After Gaudi's redesign, the family primarily occupied the Noble Floor, which is among the most visually stunning floors of the house, with it's indescribable gallery of windows looking down to one of Barcelona's main boulevards, and with a ceiling that looks like you’re gazing into a whirling vortex. The top of the building though is the most interesting, both in the weird, alien, almost Geiger-esque way the Catenary arches that Gaudi is famous for hold up the corridors and the great halls. Here the different ways of light, energy and drainage are explained, with those explanations continued on the rooftop, along with a near twenty minute discussion on if Gaudi intended for the roof to have something to do with St. George and the Dragon - spoiler alert, the verdict is still out.
the catenary arches of the attic
All in all, the 15 euro is worth it. Especially if you want to see a completed work by Gaudi, one where he was given full reins of the creative and architectural process. The Sagrada fails here, in that he died before he could finish it and was hijacked by less visionary architects in the process and Park Guell - though with parts that are interesting and stunning - still had some limitations on what he was allowed. And hey, you're only in Barcelona once anyway.
a fairytale rooftop
The Sagrada Familia
Further along those lines, we decided that it was impossible to visit Barcelona and not go inside the Sagrada Familia. At first, I was ambivalent - I'm cheaper than most and at 15 euros, I'm even willing to pass up an entry into Heaven - assuming a corporation has bought it and turned it into a private enterprise these days. Some corporate sponsors I'm expecting to see are Starbucks, H&M and Home Depot, maybe a few banks, and in order to get to the more premium parts of Heaven, you've got to pay for the more premium tickets, because as we know, service and quality ain't free folks. Expect St. Peter with a bar code reader; he makes no exceptions when it comes to the mercy of the direct deposit - no less than two a month or your access will be barred. You'll be left sipping your chai tea latte at a grey, run-down has been mom and pop 70s diner over there on Purgatory Street, full of all the people not quite exciting enough to be sent to the Inferno.
the Sagrada Familia: Permanent Construction Site
The Sagrada Familia was designed principally by Antoni Gaudi, from whom we get the term in English "gaudy", which means grossly out of place or extravagant, a meaning that ideally describes his projects scattered across Barcelona like cane toads in Australia. Gaudi was the 19th/20th centuries' foremost modernist architect, using the new artistic themes of art nouveau and melding them with influences of nature - creating truly bizarre, unique, functional and beautiful places, a convergence of art and architecture that seems to have been lost in today's warehouse chic world. One of his favorite artistic touches was the mosaic - a truly Spanish art - from which he often used recycled materials.
no time for beauty, I'm talking to someone on Facebook!
Gaudi took over the Sagrada Familia project in 1886, and though he was the chief architect, he continued on other projects as well, in some ways perhaps to experiment with various techniques and ideas that he had in store for the church. The church was originally conceived as a standard Gothic style church, but when Gaudi inherited it he decided to make it a true landmark and statement of the art nouveau movement.
the massive and weird interior
Much of his plans were lost during the Spanish Civil War and much of what we see today is actually the work of later architects somewhat inspired by Gaudi. His plans have been recovered though, and now there's been a longstanding debate as to whether to redo much of the work in order to follow his plans faithfully, or continue accordingly.
Of course, if they scrap what they've done, it would also mean that there would be no way to meet the latest construction deadline of 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudi's death. Interestingly, if technology from Gaudi's time were only used, the completion date wouldn't be for few hundred more years. Gaudi mentioned as to why construction was taking such a long time, he replied, "My Client is in no hurry."
Christ's first Act: parachuting down from Heaven
The facade of the church is - like most Gothic churches - covered in an array of sculptures. But unlike most Gothic churches, the sculptures appear as though they are hanging from the walls of a cave, as though they themselves were stalagmites and stalactites of an enormous entry to a mysterious subterranean complex.
The sculptures have been added over the one hundred plus year period of construction, so they have a slight variance of style, but all of most of them seem to follow the harsh lines and angles of the early avant-garde movement, as though to show us a Soviet Jesus, who plans for the salvation of our souls in five year schedules.
Soviet Jesus sends people to Purgulagatory
Though the exterior is tremendous and amazing to behold in person - indeed, no picture can truly capture the beauty of the work - it's the interior that's the real beauty. Inside, immense white columns reach up hundreds of meters, as though they were meant to hold the sky. Each column is shaped as an angular tree, with branches coming out to aid in the support of the cieling far above.
Everything inside the church is white - not just the columns - but color is added by the huge stain glass windows on either side. Each array of glass follows a particular color, so that the colors beam in, coloring the columns and the ground below, almost in the same way how in a forest the sun beams in its light through the leaves of the trees above, except instead of just being a brilliant yellow, this sun is bright red or blue or green, creating such a rich ephemeral play of colors that I've only seen in animated films.
People watching out for the parachuting Jesus
Is it worth the 15 euros? Absolutely. I would probably even go again, paying the same amount. I guess if that's all St. Peter were charging to his celestial Disneyland, then it'd be worth it. Not that I'm looking forward to paying for 10 dollar coffee brewed with overcooked beans and served in paper cups for the rest of eternity.