Gaudí Top 10 – Modernisme masterpieces

Barcelona is undisputedly the Art Nouveau capital of the Iberian peninsula, and while genius architects like Lluís Domènech i Montaner created the UNESCO World Heritage designated and exceptionally beautiful Palau de Musica Catalana, there is one light that shines a little brighter on the Art Nouveau sky: Antoni Gaudí.

Seven of Gaudí’s works constitute yet another UNESCO World Heritage classification in Barcelona, which makes it the only city in Spain that has two World Heritage sites. And that they’re both about Modernisme – Catalan Art Nouveau – just proves my first point.

You’re probably reading this article because you want to discover the best of this architectural genius’ works, but haven’t got all the time in the world. Well, lets get started on a Top 10 list, that just keeps getting better and better:

#10 – Museo Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC)

The national museum is not a Gaudí building, but we include it on the list to give you some context of the Catalan Art Nouveau movement; Modernisme. The museum has a whole section dedicated to Modernisme architecture, art and furniture – including some stained glass windows and a two-seat sofa in smooth, curved woodwork, both works of Gaudí.The palatial Palau Nacional that makes up the museum, stands tall and proud on the Montjuïc mountain and was built for the 1929 International Exhibition. It’s worth a visit, if not only for the views of Barcelona. The ticket is 12€, but if you visit on Saturdays after 3 pm. or the first Sunday of the month, there’s free entrance. You can get 30% discount if you buy the Ruta del Modernismo guide. I’ll write more about that in the end of the article.

You can reach the Museum on the L1 Metro line if you exit at Pl. Espanya and walk 25 minutes up the hill. Or pay 29€ for a one-day ticket to Barcelona Bus Turístic – they stop here as well as at many other Gaudí sights.

#9 – Güell Pavilions

Next item is easy and FREE to check of your list: The Güell Pavilions. Well, actually it’s only the gate and gatehouses that are interesting, you’ll notice why when you approach.

The striking Dragon Gate, a five-metre wrought iron sculpture that symbolises the mythological dragon of Verdaguer, with bat’s wings, a scaly body, great fangs and a sinuous tongue is sure a sure “keep out” sign.

Together with the gatehouses, that have that special “Gaudí touch”, it was built between 1884 and 1887 and is one of the earliest examples of Gaudí’s signature style: parabolic arches and chimneys covered with ceramics. It’s also the second time, Gaudí’s lifelong patron, Eusebi Güell, employed him, so in many ways this marks the beginning of a lifelong friendship, an exceptional architectural career and a distinctive style.

If you want to venture in and explore the pavilions further, it’s a 5€ admission fee. You’ll get 30% discount if you buy the Ruta del Modernismo guide.

The building showcases the period’s machinery and construction tools used by Gaudí as well as a documentary about the Catalan Art Nouveau movement. You can reach it in the L3 Metro line if you exit at Palau Reial. Or the Barcelona Bus Turístic stops right in front.

#8 – Casa Vicens

Casa Vicens is considered one of the first Modernisme buildings and was the first house designed by Gaudí back in 1883. He employed a Neo-Mudejar or Moorish-looking style and made this sumptuous house one man’s private Alhambra. You can’t help but wonder if his life-long use of colourful ceramic tiles began here, as the patron, Manuel Vicens was a Valencian tile manufacturer and wanted the house to advertise his products.

© Casa Vicens, Barcelona 2017. Photo by: Pol Viladoms

It’s not a stretch to also ponder about, if the foundations of his future style were laid here, in the study  of the Moors exceptional utilisation of geometry and integration of nature’s forms in architecture.

Another reason you should visit is because this private mansion has always been closed to the public but finally will open its doors in the autumn of 2017. After years of careful restoration, you will be one of the first to visit this early example of Gaudí’s genius.

The house is situated in the Gracia neighborhood, about 1,5 km. north-west of Casa Milà. If you don’t want to walk, you can reach it on the L3 Metro line if you exit Fontana station.

#7 – Gaudí Exhibition Center

We’re back in a museum. This one is very centrally located right next to the Cathedral on Placita de la Seu. The 15€ ticket price is worth the money if you’re looking to get an insight to the revolutionary ideas and unconventional methods Gaudí employed in his works. 

The museum houses a unique collection of pieces, objects and documents and will guide you through his childhood, education, career and life. It will help you understand his architecture.

It’s a fascinating revelation to look at strings forming his signature parabolic arches with the help of gravity. No idea what I’m babbling about, right? Visit the museum and you’ll understand.

#6 – Palau Güell

Against fashion at that time, rich businessman Eusebi Güell wanted to build a mansion in the Raval neighbourhood in downtown Barcelona. In those days, the rich and fashionable moved away from the sea and up to the posh Gracia neighbourhood. 

Today, this makes Palau Güell stand out in another way, as it’s one of the few Modernisme buildings next to La Rambla and therefore quick to reach and easy to visit. It was the first residential building Gaudí created for the Güell family and is very different from his later achievements. Like with Casa Vicens, there are straight lines, pointy arches and thousands of details, but where Casa Vicens is colourful and playful, Palau Güell is gothic and serious.

What makes this building not only a UNESCO World Heritage site but a no-miss for Gaudí fans, is the chance to witness his maturation as an architect and discover how every building of his sits on top of the other, and eventually gave him the self-confidence, boldness and knowhow to create his later masterpieces.

Admission is 12€ (or 9€ with the Ruta del Modernismo guide) and includes an audio guide. If you happen to be there the first Sunday of a month, they offer free entrance – but the number of tickets are limited, so be there early!

#5 – Museu del Modernisme

Time for some more context on Catalan Art Nouveau and to have a closer look at the gorgeous craftmanship of the time. No wonder, the English called the predecessor of the Art Nouveau style for “Arts and Crafts movement”, since the level of artistry of every single piece of furniture, sculpture and painting is extremely high. You have ample chance to marvel at the details in here. 

Modernisme however, took Art Nouveau a step further and had an ambition that went beyond aesthetic renewal. It was the interpretation of a desire for a cultural rejuvenation of Catalonia, fuelled by its dynamic capital: Barcelona. Modernisme went beyond architecture and the decorative arts and played an important role in the Catalan self-understanding, their language, literature and music.

This museum’s collection includes important works of art, from exquisite pieces of furniture (like Gaudí’s wooden bench) and the decorative arts to beautiful examples of painting and sculpture. It’s not as extensive as MNAC but is a lovely little jewel with an impressive selection of Catalan Modernisme.

Museu del Modernisme is only 10 minutes walk from Plaça de Catalunya and admission is 10€. You get 30% discount if you buy the Ruta del Modernismo guide. I’ll write more about that in the end of the article.

#4 – Casa Milà

Now, this list is really getting at some of Gaudí’s masterpieces!
Casa Milà was constructed between 1906 and 1912 and was the last residential building, Gaudí designed. While it lacks the colour and playfulness of his other achievements, it makes up in form, simplicity and brightness. 

The white limestone facade curves like a sandy beach and the wrought ironwork at the balconies resembles seaweed. And while it’s very much an Ode to the Sea, it’s also a curvey fortress with chimneys disguised as sentinels looking out and keeping guard. Even the entrance and inner courtyard looks like a grotto or underwater cave filled with multicoloured algae.

The Barcelonians, used to linear structures and Gaudí’s colourful buildings, ironically called the building La Pedrera – the stone quarry – as an allusion to the resemblance of its façade to an open quarry. The name stuck.

The building is only 7 minutes walk from Casa Batlló, another Gaudí gem and admission is a whopping 22€. You get 20% discount if you buy the Ruta del Modernismo guide (more about that in the end) but still, I think this is too expensive. The true treasure of this structure is its facade, and that’s free to admire. Admission provides you with an audio guide and gives you access to the rooftop, so if you’re all for a selfie with a sentinel – go for it.

#3 – Park Güell

We’re in the top 3 list now and Park Güell deserves this no. 3 spot not solely on its architectural singularity, but just as much because it’s a welcome break to the bustling streets of downtown Barcelona. The two gatehouses welcome you at the bottom of the park as fairytale gingerbread houses and the Dragon staircase leads up to the columned Hypostyle Room, that was created to be the market for the park.

The project began in 1900 with Gaudí’s eternal patron Eusebi Güell envisioning a luxurious garden city with 60 houses. The 15 hectare land was developed between 1900 and 1904, and in 1906 Gaudí himself moved into one of the only two houses, that were built on the estate. Eusebi Güell converted an existing mansion in the park in 1907 and moved here himself.

For several years Park Güell was the Catalan Modernisme dream come true: the large square was often staging Catalanist events, traditional Catalan sardana dancing and other civic and social events. Furthermore, the park was already considered to be one of Barcelona’s great tourist attractions. Financially however, the project was a failure and after Eusebi Güell’s death in 1918, the estate was sold to Barcelona City Council, who turned it into a public park.

Most of the park you can visit for free, but if you’re intent on sitting on one of the ceramic tile covered benches on Nature Square, walking the Hypostyle Room with its 86 Doric columns or climb the Dragon stairway, you have to pay 8€ (6.30€ if you have the Ruta del Modernismo guide) at the ticket office. It’s was a long queue even in February and I would recommend either buying the tickets online or just enjoying the view of the park from the free area above.

It’s a bit of a walk to get there, no matter what kind of transport you use. You can hop on the L3 Metro line, get off at Vallcarca and walk 15 minutes downhill. Or you can take the Barcelona Bus Turístic, that stops a 10 minute walk from the park.

#2 – Casa Batlló

This building makes my personal Top 3 list of most beautiful houses in the world. It’s just as beautiful from the inside as the outside and is a prime example of Gaudí’s architectural ability.

While Gaudí was actually given free hands by Josep Batlló, who commissioned the work to transform the original building from 1877 into his residential home. Gaudí decided to keep the existing structure but instead transform it into “paradise on earth” as he exclaimed. He succeeded in doing so in only two years from 1904 to 1906.

The soft, curvy interior, the masterful woodwork and his ingenious use of different blue shades of tiles in the light well, will make you discover how much of an artist and perfectionist Gaudí really was. The audio guide with augmented reality, that is included in admission price, shows how the house was furnitured and makes a enlightening addition to discovering the history and architecture of Casa Batlló.

It’s not cheap to visit. A ticket will set you back 23.5€ and if you have the Ruta del Modernismo guide, you’ll get a 2€ discount. This makes it the most expensive Gaudí attraction yet, but I personally think it’s worth the money if you’re a fan of Gaudí, Art Nouveau or architecture itself. Casa Batlló is just a 10 minute walk from Plaça de Catalunya.

#1 – La Sagrada Família

It was a tight race between Casa Batlló and La Sagrada Família to make it no. 1 on this list, but the epic proportions, uncompromising creativity and singularity of this work, makes it truly Gaudís life achievement.

Gaudí was a devoted Christian all his life and he integrated many biblical acknowledgments in his previous works: chimneys that doubled as crosses, Christian proclamations on Casa Milà’s facade and monograms of the holy family on the tower of Casa Batlló. It is only fitting, that he could use every last drop of his potential to serve a religious purpose, that was so dear to him.

Construction of Sagrada Família began in 1882 in a neo-gothic style, but when Gaudí took over in 1883, he proposed a much more daring vision: The Bible in stone. A symbol of the life of the Saviour chiseled in rock. Topped off with a 172-metre central tower devoted to Christ. This building transcends the boundaries of Art Nouveau and Modernisme and is unique in form, light and history.

Gaudí devoted his life to building this, his last legacy that outlived him. He became more and more dedicated to the work and committed himself solely to this construction during the last 10 years of his life, until his premature death, caused by a tram accident in 1926. He didn’t live past his 74th birthday.

The building that survived him – and will hopefully survive us all – ensures the immortality of his genius and awards him a special star on the Wall of Fame for Iconic Architects. In polychromatic ceramics, of course.

Basic admission to Sagrada Família is 18€ (15€ online) and price increases with extras like audio guide, tower visit or guided tour. You can reach it either on the L2 Metro line if you exit Sagrada Família station and the Barcelona Bus Turístic has a stop right outside as well. All roads lead to Sagrada Família.

Ruta del Modernismo

The Barcelona Ruta del Modernismo guide is an itinerary, that takes you through Modernista Barcelona. It is a suggestion for self-guided walking tour through Barcelona to discover the Modernisme architecture, it includes a booklet with information about the various buildings and it offers discount vouchers to the different attractions.

If you decide to visit all the Art Nouveau attractions listed above, you’ll have to pay 120€ in total if you buy the tickets at the counter. If you buy the Ruta del Modernismo guide, it will provide you with discounts worth 20€ in total on those said attractions.

Because the guide is only 12€, you’ll save money – and receive further discounts on the other extraordinary Modernisme attractions of Barcelona like the UNESCO World Heritage awarded Palau de la Música Catalana, the beautiful Gran Teatre del Liceu and Casa Batlló’s neighbour Casa Amatller, just to mention a few. And if you’re a couple, you can get a second discount voucher for your other half for only 5€.

If you, whilst touring magnificent Modernisme buildings or gawking at Gaudí’s architecture, find yourself a tad thirsty, why not complete your Art Nouveau agenda with a visit to one of the Art Nouveau Art Nouveau cafés or bars, that can be found all over town? Check out our article about The Bohemian Bars of Barcelona.

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