There were so many amazing things to see in Barcelona and as Jeff said it’s a lot like Paris though the people are a lot nicer. Some things didn’t fit so well into a particular topic for a blog post so I’ve left them for one final collage of the city.
The Picasso Museum contains a large collection of the artist’s own works donated by him because of the fondness he felt for the city where he lived and studied as a young man. The museum itself is a combination of five palaces in the Born neighborhood. We were not permitted to take photographs in the museum at all though I did manage to take some of the interior of the building. I’m sharing a few highlights that stood out to me.
The Palau Nacional that sits on the hill called Montjuic was the built for the Universal Exposition of 1929. Today it houses the Museu Nacioal d’Art de Catalunya. The art spans 1000 years of art and has probably the world’s greatest display of Romanesque art in the world. There are also works on permanent loan from the Thyssen Bornemisza Collection in Madrid and an extensive collection of contemporary art from Catalunya. From there we walked to the Jean Miro Foundation. I’ve never been a big fan of Miro but there is an amazing work by Alexander Calder and the setting is quite nice. Photographs could not be taken inside the museum, only works outdoors and the Calder image comes from the internet.
Last museum on our list was the Museum of Contemporary Art, housed in a Richard Meier building (same architect as the Getty Museum in Los Angeles). The exhibit we saw was entitled “Desires and Necessities” with all the work we saw there was related to the idea of what space is and how space and ordinary objects can be exhibits themselves. The exhibit included many recent acquisitions to the museum’s collection and it was wonderful to see the integration of a global collection of works.
Park Guell at the north end of Barcelona high on a hill was Gaudi’s home until he started the project of Sagrada Familia. One of Gaudi’s biggest fans and best patron was Eusebi Guell. This wealthy entrepreneur who would have been richer than Bill Gates in todays dollars entrusted Gaudi with planning an estate for 60 residences on the model of British residential estates (hence the name Park Guell). The project had many roadblocks and was abandoned for the most part by 1914. Instead it was turned into a public park. Both Guell and Gaudi had homes there and Gaudi created an number of structures to enhance the aesthetics of the park. To start it all Guell commissioned Gaudi to remodel at palace for his family including 10 children close to the Rambla. This was Gaudi’s first great project. While Guell was not really involved in this project, another that did manage to be completed has been described as a petrified wave. It is Casa Mila (now called La Pedrera) built 1906-1912. Gaudi was a trained architect though when he graduated the dean said of him, “he’ll either be a madman or a genius.” This reclusive master left an indelible mark on the city of Barcelona and art movements to come after him.
It’s hard to know where to start with Antoni Gaudi and his importance to Barcelona. the next several blog posts will be devoted to him and his work. Just a little background. Antoni Gaudi lived 1852-1926. He was one of the first “organic” architects and is often referred to as a Modernist though he rejected that label (also associated with Art Nouveau). His patrons were the church and the Barcelona elite. He saw architecture as an art form and gave his attention to every detail of his projects from materials selected to the visual affects of the completed structures. He was fascinated with and studied nature and geometry from an early age. I’m going to start with his last project, the Sagrada Familia cathedral which he started on in 1884 and was unfinished at his death. It is a work still very much a construction zone as you will see. Its expected completion date is 2026.
We’ve seen Roman, Medieval, and contemporary Barcelona. The movement that has had the biggest impact is known as Modernisme. Combining the historical past with new technologies at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century combined to make this a most interesting architectural movement. It is colorful, flamboyant, and honors natural and organic forms. It began in 1888 at the Universal Exposition and culminated around 1930. It parallels the artistic movements of Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts throughout Europe and the US. In the 19th century the city expanded to the north creating Eixample, a new neighborhood that allowed architects to experiment, hence came Modernisme. One of the best examples of this style is the Palau Musica de Catalunya. The architect Domenech i Montaner designed every single piece inside and outside of this amazing musical venue that is a UNESCO site and has a variety of 300 musical performances annually. It took only three years to fully complete which is unheard of but Montaner supervised every single thing and iron was used for the structure itself which made erecting the building more efficient.
In Catalonia the Jewish quarter of a town or city is known as the Call (from the Hebrew word kahal, meaning community). In 1391 the Jewish population of Barcelona was eliminated either from a pogrom (massacre), fled if they could afford to, or were forcibly converted to Christianity. The Jewish quarter is right in the center of Barcelona and we had a fantastic guide for this part of the visit as there is so much we would not have seen otherwise. One needs an imagination to conjure a flourising community that disappeared over 600 years ago.
After Girona we traveled to Figueres, a city associated with Salvador Dali, and not much else. The Theatre-Museu Dali (Theatre Museum Dali) is the town’s biggest and probably only attraction. Dali was born in Figueres in 1904 and lived there until 1922 when he moved to Madrid for art school from which he was expelled four times but not before meeting Federico Garcia Lorca and Luis Bunuel who would have major influences on him and turning him in the direction of surrealism.
In 1929 he met the love of his life, Gala, from whom he was inseparable until her death in 1982. She was his muse and appears either obviously or in disguise in many of his works. They moved to Paris during the Spanish Civil War and to the US during World War II. In the US Dali became famous and eventually moved back to Spain and died in the Dali Theatre Museum in 1989.
The Teatre-Museu Dali is a neoclassical building constructed in 1848 and an Italian style theatre. It was converted to the Dali Museum in 1974. The entire structure of the museum and the contents was designed by Dali himself and you can imagine he had a pretty good time doing it. However, being an ego maniac he did almost no editing so there are some great works to be seen and quite a bit that should not be seen (in my opinion). Because Dali’s work is impossible to explain I’m going to share what we saw with little or no explanation.
Girona is a city about an hour and a half outside of Barcelona. The city was founded by the Romans and one can also see Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque structures in a contained historic district. It has one of the best preserved Jewish quarters in Europe.
Barcelona is a city where you would miss quite a bit if you just looked straight ahead or at your feet. The city is known for its historic as well as modernistic architecture and there are surprises around every corner.
It’s been awhile since we’ve been in a new place where we have never been and it always strikes me how different a place looks than you imagined when you looked at pictures. It’s kind of a funny thing since you will likely imagine Barcelona after reading this blog that is very different from what it will actually look like when you come here, which I hope you all will (if you haven’t been here already). Before coming many people told us Barcelona was their favorite city and my biggest concern was the “this is the best restaurant” or “that was the best movie/book I ever saw/read” and it’s always a disappointment. So far no disappointments here. Barcelona gets many visitors/tourists/travels (whatever you want to call it) and I have confirmed that I will try never to come to Europe in the middle of the summer. I think one of the things that makes Barcelona so easy going is of course how nice everyone is but also how well they have managed the infrastructure of the downtown to accommodate visitors. There are information stations everywhere, the signage is better than any city I’ve ever seen so you almost never get lost and it’s great for walking, something we love to do. Here are a few preliminary views.