It’s only our second day in Barcelona, but already I’m loving this city and wondering how it took us so long to get here. We covered some ground today, from Gaudí’s Park Güell via La Boqueria Market to the museum of Picasso’s early works and finishing at the eccentric marvel that is the Frederic Marès Museum.
Park Güell was originally intended to be a high end residential zone, a garden city combining architecture and landscaping in a natural setting, financed by the wealthy industrialist Eusebi Güell. Güell wanted to recreate the British residential parks, hence the anglicised spelling of “Park”. He commissioned Antoni Gaudí to design the park, his largest commission apart from La Sagrada Família. Work started in 1900, but the project was not viable for a number of reasons and construction was abandoned in 1914, with only two of the 60 planned houses having been built. Instead it was converted to a public park, and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.
We arrived early hoping to beat the crowds, but we failed miserably on that score. There were several large tour groups arriving as we did, which made good photos quite challenging to achieve. We concentrated on the so-called Monumental Zone, the central area of the park where Gaudí’s architecture is prominent. In warmer weather the rest of the park would be a lovely place for a stroll and a picnic lunch.
This “dragon” or salamander has become a symbol of Barcelona. It is one of three fountains in the centre of the curved staircases that lead from the entrance to the Hypostyle. It is obligatory to get a photo taken in front of the dragon. The serpent fountain is at the top of the staircase.
The two houses on each side of the main entrance (the only ones completed) formed the porter’s lodge. The one to the left was the one actually used as a porter’s lodge, with a waiting room and telephone booth, while the one to the right was the porter’s residence. Note the details of the whimsical rooves.
At the top of the stairs is the “Hypostyle”, supported on 86 columns. This area was designed to be a market hall for the estate. Four giant mosaic circles on the ceiling represent the seasons. The domes in the ceiling of the hypostyle also function as a rainwater collection system, funnelled through the columns. Because they were renovating when we were there the domes, which are usually buried under sand, were visible from the Nature Square above. Lion’s head gargoyles and big stone droplets clinging to the outside edge of the terrace, hint at this hidden function.
The view terrace, called Nature Square sits above the Hypostyle, and is surrounded by a long, curved, colourful tiled bench. On the original plans it was called the Greek Theatre as it was intended for staging large open air shows. There’s a lovely view of Barcelona – look closely to see the spires of La Sagrada Familia
Trencadís is a technique used to cover structures with a mosaic, normally abstract, of irregular pieces of ceramic, glass or marble tiles and even broken china, buttons or shells, popularised by the Catalonian Modernist architects.
Gaudí was inspired by nature, and his two level colonnades (planned for vehicles and pedestrians) are great examples of that. An arcade shaped like a perfect surfing tube leads to a spiral ramp which leads to the former house of Gaudí’s patron Eusebi Güell, now a school. Each column supporting the portico is different. One that stands out is shaped like a washerwoman on her way to do the laundry.
La BoqueriaThe Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria is one of Europe’s largest and most famous food markets. It is crowded and touristy, but locals do still shop here. There has been a market on this spot since 1217, and it is a feast for the senses with rich and bountiful fruit and vegetable stands, seemingly limitless varieties of sea creatures, sausages, cheeses, meats and huge tubs of fragrant olives. We were fascinated by the different seafood we had never seen before, though not tempted to try them – especially the percebes (goose-necked barnacles) which look like witches’ fingers and are apparently eaten with a garlic and parsley sauce, sea snails ready to eat, and caterpillar lollipops (really!).
Pablo Picasso was born in Málaga, but lived in Barcelona from age 14 to 23. The Picasso Museum in Barcelona is dedicated to the artist’s early years. There are some 300 paintings, mostly dating from his years as child and at art school, before he developed the cubist style for which he is famous. We enjoyed the museum, but we don’t have a single photo to show of it, as there was a strict no photography rule, and for a change, we complied.
Frederic Marès Museum
To be honest by now we were pretty tired. We sat in a cafe for a little refreshment, but then realised that the nearby Frederic Marès Museum was (1) Open till 8 pm, and (2) Free on Sundays after 3 pm. That was an opportunity too good to pass up, even though we didn’t have much of an idea what to expect. That turned out to be an excellent decision, and the museum was one of our favourite spots in Barcelona.
Frederic Marès (1893–1991) was a sculptor and prolific collector of sculpture and Romanesque religious art, Medieval stone carvings, and pretty much anything else he fancied. Two floors of the museum are devoted to the Collector’s Cabinet, a personal collection items from everyday life in the 19th century, such as keys, fans, clocks, pipes and so much more. Marès donated his entire collection, including many of his own works to the city in 1946, although he continued to add to the collections until his death almost 50 years later, and in fact donated to many other museums as well when he ran out of space. It is a fascinating and eclectic collection, and well worth a visit. Here are just a few of the items we saw: