Guadi's Obsession

Trip Start May 31, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Friday, October 27, 2006

We left our hostel early in the morning, before anyone else was up, to decide what we wanted to do as we walked and examined at our map. We were sure visiting the Sagrada Familia would take an entire day so we decided today was as good as any day to do so. On the way we could visit the Batllˇ house and The Pedrera, both of Gaudi's famous architectural works in the center of Barcelona.

We crossed Plaza Catalunya and continued to walk on Paseo de Gracia, an elegant avenue with impressive buildings, old and new, anywhere you looked at. It was a busy street where business men and students hurried along. Few tourists walked this way so our sightseeing-mode pace was apparently too slow for some. 

   In a city that is well-known for its rich architecture, one can't deny the camera its job when it comes to the details and the structures of some intricate buildings. Designer houses such as Valentino, Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Armani lined the eastern sidewalk where I posed for a few pictures.

  After a few blocks, we came across the first signs of the Batllˇ House: the colorful curvilinear roof imitating the belly of a dragon was unmistakable. A few more steps and through the trees we could see the balconies shaped as theater masks, and the fašade decorated with different colored tiles. What struck me as curious was that Gaudi's intention, along with any other Art Nouveau architect, to seek inspiration in organic material and in nature itself was apparent: the building for some reason looked alive and breathing.

Unfortunately, the bottom section of the building was closed for viewing so we decided we would come back another day to see the entire thing. We didn't want to miss anything. And so we continued to walk up Paseo de Gracia toward La Sagrada Familia.

We took a few wrong turns and after about 20 more blocks and 2 pairs of tired feet, we came across the first steeples. We crossed the park that lead to the side entrance called the Fašade of the Passion.

The tour guide gave us a quick but important introduction that left me amazed: the Temple of the Sacred Family was conceived as an atonement concept: it would be built only with the donations and alms of the faithful....this of course would grant you forgiveness to all your sins. This is why the Temple is not yet finished: it depends solely on contributions. What a romantic concept to begin this architectural legacy with. And apparently its construction still has 25 more years to go!

 Gaudi was appointed Project Director when he was a young upcoming architect, just one year after the church project began. He continued to work on the project for forty years until his death, when he left plans, drawing, studies, and notes on what the building should be. A sort of post-mortem oversee. The modern day architects have respected Gaudi's wishes but have brought his 19th-century designs into the 20th and 21st century. That's how the famous Passion Fašade came to be. The style of the sculptures have nothing to do with Gaudi's style; they are however exactly what he wanted.

Interesting bits are seen in that fašade such as the cryptogram next to Judas's figure kissing Christ: every sequence of four numbers in the cryptogram from any direction add up 33, Christ's age when he was crucified. A serpent appears behind Judas's figure.

The tour guide went on and on with interesting details about the temple and its design: for example the interior of the church was meant to symbolize a forest. The tall trunks are the huge columns we see in the main nave, and the branches with its leaves are spread out all across the vaults. Gaudi wanted to imitate the sunrays going through the leaves and branches of the canopy in any forest, so for that he created circular holes, like skylights allowing the sun to pierce the building. Witty.

He also kept in mind the chromatic richness of a forest: he used different colored stones for the different barks. The harder stones were used to cover the pillars that had to carry more weight. For example, the central pillars were made of Porphyr from Iran, which is a highly resistant stone and becomes red when polished. Granite from France was used in the apse columns. Bagnoregio Basalt from Italy is used in eight central columns and capitals.

"...the great book, always open and which we must make an effort to read, is the book of Nature; other books are based on this one, and therein lay the mistakes and interpretations of mankind." - Antoni Gaudi

  When the tour was finished, Ed and I paid 2€ to go up the 60 meters on the lift, taking us to the top of the temple. Even though the tallest tower is projected to be an astonishing 173 meters, I thought 60 was enough to start with. From the top we saw most of Barcelona, even though the misty sundown wasn't helping. From this height we could admire certain details we couldn't really see from the ground such as the dolorful steeples and other hidden items like Latin words in the stone. To get down we had to go down 270 steps down a spiral staircase where no more than one person fit at a time. It was a little claustrophobic, I must say, and if it weren't for the little windows on the sides, I might have not enjoyed the climb down.

As we were walking away from the church, we captured the best light to photograph it through the tree branches of the park in front of it. A caramel colored light bathed the steeples as the sun started going down so Ed went trigger-happy with his camera. I hadn't seen him this excited over an architectural piece of work since we started the trip, and since I'm usually the more art-oriented person of the two, I was glad to see it finally caught on.

On the way back home, as we left the organic Neo Gothic spires behind us, we promised each other that we would come back in 25 years to see the finished masterpiece, even if we grow apart.
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