In this guide, I am rounding up some unique and beautiful architecture created by a famous architect in the last century that’s very well-known to the modern world – Antoni Gaudí – in Barcelona.
Who is Antoni Gaudí?
Antoni Gaudí is a Catalan architect who was born in 1825 in Spain. He passed at the age of 73 in 1926, leaving his masterpiece, Sagrada Familia, to the hands of his students, which takes over a century to build and it’s still under construction today. With a humble beginning, being born in a small town of Catalonia, his talents were recognized by many, especially in Barcelona, where he studied, and he dedicated most of his life to creating art through architecture.
Gaudí, in person, is quite reserved due to his poor health at his young age. It was believed that his strict vegetarian diets and religious belief, which led him to undertake lengthy and severe fasts, resulted in his poor health and illness. He was originally studied in a nursery school, but soon after his talent in art was discovered from his drawings while he was in the Piarists school. He moved to Barcelona later while he continued his studies in architecture at the Llotja School and the Barcelona Higher School of Architecture.
Gaudí lived during the historical context of the consolidation of Catalan industrialization, which began in the late 19th century and found his best clients from among the Barcelona bourgeoisie and the Church. After his graduation, Gaudí’s very first project was the lampposts for the Placa Reial (which these eyecatching lampposts are still here). His first true major work was the Casa Vicens, a residential building for the entrepreneur Manuel Vicens between 1883 and 1889; while the architect was still molding his technique and shape, making his first work quite different from his later works, you could still see the use of color and graphic elements that distinctively stood out from the crowd. That’s why his creativity was recognized by many more commissioners soon, and he had to take on multiple projects at the same time – many of them are in the city of Barcelona.
Gaudí led one of the lines that made up the architecture of the late 19th- and early 20th- century in Europe. Nevertheless, the creator did not submit to the formal and aesthetic dictates of Modernisme. Although his early architectural oeuvre alternates between an interpretation of traditional canons with an oriental influence and the revival of medieval elements, Gaudí focuses on achieving his characteristics of aesthetic and constructive forms, which would find their highest expression in the Casa Mila.
In particular, Catalan industrialist Eusebi Güell was impressed by his design and became one of his biggest commissioners, a number of works were built in the city in his name, including Park Güell, one of the most popular attractions in Barcelona today.
From an early age, Gaudí showed a keen interest in shapes, colors, and the geometry of nature as well as traditional techniques and solutions of the arts and crafts industry. At the same time, he embraced the technicals innovations of this day, such as the use and prefabricated elements, while maintaining a traditional style with brickwork.
In 1883, Gaudí was put in charge to build a Barcelona Church, being his final project, as he devoted himself to the build until he dies in 1926. His legacy has a huge influence on many followers and the shape of architectural development in the early 1900s. Architects like Friedensreich Hundertwasser (whose work can be seen across Austria, and I love) were deeply inspired by Gaudí. What is the “Gaudi’s Style” exactly?
What is the “Gaudí’s Style”?
Gaudí took pride in his homeland and the Mediterranean heritage had influenced him a great deal. These influences were reflected in his style and aesthetics. He was at first inspired by oriental arts (India, Persia, and Japan), and they were reflected in his early works. He developed a neo-Gothic style based on the ideas of the French architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. He, ultimately, molded his unique point-of-view and has a unique characteristic that is completely new and his own. Gaudí’s architecture is understood as a global art form, thus his creativity extended to each of the elements that make up his work, from balustrades to doorknobs.
Gaudí’s organic and unique style in architecture has influenced the world profoundly and I admire his work so much for a long time. “Organic” is such a great, and truthful word to describe Gaudí’s work. He regarded a building as a human body covered with skin, the structure itself was flesh and bones, so it’s curvy, and it has an element of randomness to the way he created art.
Besides, he always incorporated various natural elements into his sculpture, making the space he designed to look so lively and dynamic. Just take a moment and walk through his work, you will see animals, insects, plants, crops, or even sea waves, rocks, and so many others, merging organically with one and another. Nothing stands alone, nothing looks odd, there are just in harmony. You will find that Gaudí’s “obsession” with curves was getting even more intense to his later work, from the roof, chimneys, window frames, doors, staircases, banisters to furniture. I guarantee you won’t be able to find one single straight line in the entire building created by Gaudí. Having said that, the curvy lines are so well balanced that you may not even notice they are curved.
Even you don’t have much time in Barcelona, there are the must-sees – or the most famous and well-known works of art that no visitor should miss!
Park Güell (1900–1914)
I guess it took the time to shape an artist’s character and style, and it must be the reputation and incredible experience accumulated that gave patrons confidence to hire Gaudí and create something so bold and striking at that time. Historians have divided Gaudí’s works into different periods, and all 4 most recognizable works in this list are from the “Naturalist period”, a period that Gaudí explored and applied organic shapes from nature to his architectural design, in almost every aspect.
Thanks to the rich people’s support and love of art, which gave artists the freedom to explore and create something new and unique for the world to see. It is not a giant park but it is full of surprises and green. My favorite part of the park is definitely the big square – an organic, spacious balcony overlooking the cityscape of Barcelona, from where you could see the La Sagrada Família and all the way to the coast.
The Park, today, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with not only amazing, art, a huge crowd, but also a great view of the entire city’s skyline.
Park Güell Highlights:
The main entrance and Casa del Guarda: probably the most photographed houses at the main entrance of the park.
Dragon Staircase: Probably the first thing you see as you enter the park, and immediately, you can get an overview of the designer’s style with curvy shape and lots of organic elements that were incorporated.
Plaça de la Natura and Hypostyle Room: a spacious plaza (and the roof) that is the best area to just sit back and relax.
The Greek Theatre and Trencadís: appreciate the one-of-a-kind and colorful mosaic on the benches! It is also named “the world’s best bench” by Telegraph.
Laundry Room Portico and Portico of the Washerwoman: walk under the porticos and it will cool you down – especially if you are visiting in summer. It is also a great photo-taking spot.
Central Entrance: and what caught my eye was the fence, which was shaped like ferns on each and every block and you have no idea how Gaudí’s brilliant mind would go to the very last detail.
Casa Trías: walk along with the trials uphill through the Austria Gardens, and the building is at the top of the park.
Open Hours: 8:00 am – 9:30 pm
How did I get there: A short walk from Vallcarca or Lesseps stations, Metro L3.
Casa Batlló (1904–1906)
Another striking work from Gaudi was to renovate an old building in the city of Barcelona, and basically, he transformed it entirely to something most people think “radical” at that time as the building looked so different from the building standards in the city.
It was love at first sight. The house could be spotted far away on the street with its fences of balconies that look like eye masks in the Phantom of the Opera. There was a short line outside the house and I would recommend visitors to purchase tickets beforehand and skip the line for waiting.
An audio guide was included for each visitor to walk through the entire Casa. The fashionable casa was actually not big but to me, why it felt so “complete” – because the house was dressed H2T. Every corner and every turn there was a story and there was a surprise as if Gaudí had touched every inch of it.
In general, this casa is on a smaller scale; which is a good thing because it has a slightly lesser crowd to appreciate the details, and it is easier to “digest” all the concepts if you are new to Gaudí’s works. Furthermore, it took less time to complete – but don’t get me wrong, this casa is still a great and “complete” experience to Gaudí’s work and as a whole, it’s more like a summary of many many tricks that Gaudí has up his sleeves.
It is difficult to deny the amount of thought that the great architect had put into it; from the mosaic roof, the curvy tiles, the wicked staircase, the strange chandeliers…. All of them were a combination of genius math, physics, and art. It was so intense I couldn’t breathe :O !!!!
Casa Batlló Highlights:
The exterior, and the fences of the balconies! Hello?
Walk all the way to the roof and you will see a hint of his style and in fact, the design was based on a sword embedded in the dragon – can you see its spine and scales and all that?
Open Hours: 9:00 am – 9:00 pm
How did I get there: Easy enough, Passeig de Gràcia station, Metro L2, L3, L4.
Casa Milà (1906-1910)
Another mansion, better known as La Pedrera, situated on the other side of the road, a walking distance away from Casa Batlló. It was said to be Gaudí’s last civic work before he dedicated himself to La Sagrada Família. Same as Casa Batlló, it was at first mocked and judged by the locals regarding its rather “horrifying” exterior and “eccentric” perspectives. Time will tell.
Outside we saw yet another, even longer queue stood outside of the entrance and thank god we had bought tickets. 😛 Either get the Fast Track tickets or purchase a city pass beforehand so you can skip the line. But if you did neither of these, visit the casa early in the morning as it usually less crowded before the tour groups arrive.
The industrialist Pere Milà and his wife Roser Segimon commissioned Gaudí to build an apartment house on the boundary separating Barcelona from the former town of Gracia, with the aim of turning the main floor into a family residence and leasing out the rest of the apartments. Gaudí built two blocks of flats, with separate entrances, arranged around two large interlinked patios, which facilitate the entry of light to all the dwellings, with a single undulating freestanding facade whose sinuous rhythms are echoed inside as well. In addition, rather than the traditional weight-bearing walls, the building relies on a structure of pillars which allows for an open floor structure with large openings in the facade. The highly innovative construction and ornamental methods marked a departure from the traditional architectural design of the day.
Its uniqueness and artistic and heritage value have received universal recognition. Since 1962, it has been featured in the Catalogue of Artistic Heritage of the City of Barcelona, in 1969 it was declared a Historical-Artistic Monument of National Interest by the Spanish government, and in 1984 UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Casa Milà is a larger apartment building, as compared to Casa Batlló, but to be honest, not that I had just visited Casa Batlló and ruined my excitement, I found Casa Milà is a bit less exciting than the other, owing to its large size and a slight lack of focus. A few floors of the building are exhibiting the history and design of the architect’s work and technique, and therefore, I was distracted from enjoying the design of the building itself. The rooftop, however, is the visitor’s playground. Here, you will get to see the architect’s genius mind, not limited to the artistic beauty, but the functionality and thoughtfulness that makes living in the building a comfortable and amazing experience.
A tip of advice, go straight to the roof and walk your way down from the building. Everyone should have seen or remembered the crooked set of chimneys that looked like soldiers wearing iron masks. At that time, terraces were merely considered as an area of waste, or housework for the luxury apartments downstairs, but Gaudí didn’t neglect the slightest details in his work. To the modern world, it has become an urban roof-top sculpture park. It was genius and I wonder why the Milà hated it so much?
Casa Milà Highlights:
You have got to spend some time on the roof terrace as it embraces the essence of Gaudí’s aesthetics. The eccentric sculptures were actually chimneys and all of them are in different shapes. This unique space was designed to fulfill a functional role. The astonishing set of architectural sculptures placed their galls into three kinds of structures: stairwells, ventilation towers, and chimneys. Some are covered with trencadís (ceramic fragments), while elements that are less visible from the street are only roughcast-rendered and painted. The undulating balustrades conform to the shape of the facade, as Gaudí sought a harmonic solution between the rhythms of the facade and the finishings of the roof.
Other than that, drop by the Pedrera Apartments to see the interior, as well as the Espai Gaudí and the Courtyard. The Exhibition Hall showcases information about Gaudí’s work.
Open Hours: 9:00 am – 8:00 pm
How did I get there: I walked there from Casa Batlló, Diagonal station, Metro L5
La Sagrada Família
La Sagrada Familia is Gaudí’s final project in his career and he dedicated the final part of his life. The beauty of Sagrada Familia is almost impossible to summarize. I think it would take a few dates to thoroughly explain every detail and meaning of Gaudí’s design of the structure.
I am the MOST passionate (& fascinated :P) about the 2 façades – the Nativity Façade and the Passion Façade. One of them is complicated, classic, and busy. The opposite one is clean, simple, modern… The Nativity Façade depicts the birth of Jesus Christ, sculptures (plants and animals and saints) organically ornate the façade without an inch of blank space. The Passion Façade represents the Passion of Christ. The entire storyline is vividly laid out one by one on the façade with modern giant sculptures.
The 2 façades face Northeast and Southwest, forward and backward, covered and bare, hard and soft, organic and passionate, life and death…
Check out more about my favorite cathedrals at My Top 12 Cathedral in Europe (2)!
Regret that I didn’t spend more time on-site, now I just take it all in with the pictures.
Open Hours: 9:00 am – 8:00 pm
Ticketing: Do expect long queues, we all know it is the most visited attraction in the city. Pre-book tickets are recommended. Yet, it could be tricky since there are lots of tourist agencies offering skip-the-line packages. One of those is here.
How did I get there: Sagrada Família station, Metro L2, L5
La Sagrada Familia Highlights:
Must-see list of La Sagrada Familia:
- Passion Facade
Among the Fachada de la Pasion’s stand-out features are the angled columns, dramatic scenes from Jesus last hours, an extraordinary rendering of the Last Supper, and a bronze door that reads like a sculptured book. But the most surprising view is from inside the door on the extreme right.
- Main Nave
The majestic Nave Principal showcases Gaudí’s use of tree motifs for columns to support the domes: he described this space as a forest. But it’s the skylights that give the nave its luminous quality, even more so once the scaffolding is removed and light will flood down onto the apse and the main altar from the skylight 75m above the floor.
- Side Nave and Nativity Transept
Although beautiful in its own right with windows that project light into the interior, this is the perfect place to view the sculpted tree-like columns and get an overall perspective of the main nave. Turn around and you’re confronted with the inside of the Nativity Facade, an alternative view that most visitors miss: the stained-glass windows are superb.
- Nativity Facade
This is the Facade completed by Gaudí. The Fachada del Nacimiento is Gaudí’s grand hymn to Creation. Begin by viewing it front-on from a distance, then draw close enough (but to one side) to make out the details of its sculpted figures. The complement to the finely wrought details is the majesty of the four parabolic towers that for the sky and are topped by the Venetian stained glasses.
- The Model of Colonia Guell
among the many original models used by Gaudí in the Museu Gaudí, the most interesting is the church at Colonia Guell. From the side you can, thanks to the model’s ingenious use of rope and cloth, visualize the harmony and beauty of the interior.
Let’s talk about the 18 towers of the church. The building is designed to have 18 towers, each in a unique design: 12 of them represent the apostles, 4 of them represent the evangelists, 1 represents the Virgin Mary, and the final 1 represents Jesus Christ.
Something about La Sagrada Familia that you should know:
- The cathedral is currently still under construction, after 150 years – with the help of digital animation, the construction does make significant progress in the last couple of decades, and it is expected to be completed in 2026.
- Gaudí built a school on the site for children of construction workers while their fathers were sweating on building the cathedral.
- La Sagrada Familia was originally a Roman Catholic church, and then it was designated as a cathedral. In the end, Pope Benedict XVI declared it a basilica – in other words, while it is still a place of worship, it’s no longer the seat of a bishop. Where the seat of Bishop in Barcelona? The Barcelona Cathedral.
- This is also the burial place of Antoni Gaudí himself. The tomb of Gaudí is located on the underground level of the building.
The Pass used to include La Pedrera, but now it is out of the picture. Still, I would recommend the art lovers to get this great Pass to visit 6 art museums at a lower price, and most importantly, skip the line! http://articketbcn.org/
Other must-see Gaudí’s buildings in Barcelona
- Casa Vicens: the very first major design work of Gaudí
- Palau Güell: A mansion commissioned by Eusebi Güell
- Colònia Güell: Another project commissioned by Eusebi Güell, and a workers’ colony.
- Bellesguard: A manor house constructed in the same period of Casa Batlló and Casa Milà.
- Casa Calvet: A “tone-down” version of Casa Batlló but you could see the resemblance from the outside.
- Colegio Teresiano de Barcelona: one of the other early works of Gaudí.