Casa Vicens: Gaudí’s Early Masterpieces

“To be interesting, ornamentation must present objects that remind us of poetic ideas, that constitute motifs. Motifs are historical, legendary, active, emblematic; fables relating to men and their lives, action and passion.” – A. Gaudí

This week, one of Antoni Gaudí’s most impressive –and bizarre- houses finally opened its doors to the public. Considered as his first masterpiece, Casa Vicens (1883-1888) is everything you would expect from Catalan Modernism: polychromy, curvilinear forms, wrought iron railings, geometrical and zoomorphic motifs, the interplay between light and shade, to the end of the long list, all with an unmistakable ‘organic’ twist that is a constant in Gaudí’s work.

One particularly interesting detail in Casa Vicens is the use of the ‘muqarnas’ (stalactite) decoration in one of the rooms. Guadí incorporated elements of the Islamic-influenced mudejar style in many of his buildings, but the use of muqarnas breaks the mudejar mould and betrays a clear fascination with Islamic art, not only of al-Andalus, but also of the Orient. In his notebooks, Gaudí explains:

“In the East, everything blends into the horizontal supports and vertical struts. The arch is a simple ornamental motif set within a system of pillars and lintels. Its vaults are simple spherical caps or stalactite vaults – a flat ceiling supporting stalactites as a reminder of the coolness of the cave.”

Click any image to enlarge it.

A Weekend among the Volcanoes of Olot

Olot is a charming little city in Girona, Catalonia. More than anything, it is famous for its volcanic craters which form part of the Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park, the most important such park in Spain. On a visit a week ago, we started with the crater of the Motsacopa Volcano, now all green and serene. The hill commands great views of the city and the other volcanoes. After roaming around –and down- the crater for some time (the volcano has been extinct for 10,000 years), it was time to admire Olot’s modernist architecture (Art Nouveau), specially Casa Gaietà Vila (1901) with its clear medieval air, its rich colors and its fantastic animals and plants worked in iron. Casa Gassiot (1912) is another charming building with beautiful wrought iron and gothic inspiration, and so is Casa Solà-Morales (1916), whose romantic façade was reinvented by the Catalan genius Domènech i Montaner.

In front of the neo-classical Church of St. Esteve, we enjoyed some castellers (human towers, a Catalan tradition listed on the UNESCO Intangible Heritage List) before trying Olot’s interesting ‘volcanic food’. The city’s tree-lined promenades and parks, its labyrinthine alleys and pleasant squares all invite you to explore further, but the real deal was awaiting a few kilometers away: the splendid natural reserve of La Fageda d’en Jordà, with thick vegetation and a forest of beech trees that grow at an exceptional height on cool lava from the nearby Croscat Volcano. As green as it is, one can only wonder just how colorful all these leaves would be in autumn!

Enjoy the photos, and enjoy Olot if you get the chance!

Barcelona’s Sant Pau Hospital: World Heritage Pearl

A walking distance from Gaudí’s famous Sagrada Familia is another masterpiece of Modernism, namely the Hospital of Santa Creu and Sant Pau, somehow eclipsed by its mammoth neighbor and the fame of its builder. But make no mistake: this hospital is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it comes as no surprise in a city where architecture seems to descend from heaven rather than rise from the ground!

Following years of restoration work, the hospital finally opened its doors to visitors. Long serpentine queues basked in the sun, waiting for their turn to contemplate firsthand the miracle of Lluís Domènech i Montaner, one of Barcelona’s legendary architects that championed the Modernist style together with Antoni Gaudí.

Once through the entrance, and following the initial aesthetic shock passing through the Administration Pavilion, one comes face to face with a wonderland of domed pavilions and colored towers that glitter under the sun: a symmetrical labyrinth of spikes, chimneys, chimera, gargoyles, and everything fanciful. A panoramic view of this huge space features more of a landscape/skyscape than just a fragmented group of buildings. The harmony of the complex embodies the very essence of an ‘ensemble’, and any itinerary offers a tour de force of Modernist glamour.

The construction work for the hospital started in 1903 in response to a growing population propelled by the feel-good factor of a confident city thanks to the industrial revolution. Lluís Domènech i Montaner wanted a hospital that would be not only functional, but also inspiring and cheerful. His attention to the human element was translated into a ‘garden-city’, where separate pavilions dedicated for different diseases are surrounded by greenery and pleasant walkways over a huge space. On the inside, the pavilions are no less impressive, with murals, tailor-made ceramic tiles, wrought iron lanterns, colored glass windows, and all the luxury of detail.

So far, six of the twelve pavilions have been fully restored and opened to public, and I think the photos can speak better for the charms of this site.

Cultural Walk in Barcelona (16 Nov. 2013)

From today’s cultural walk for my class in Barcelona:

Throughout its history, the city of Barcelona has always produced and attracted artists, writers and intellectuals. Whether Catalan or not, the city provided the perfect setting for all of them to be creative and leave a legacy that we can still trace today in the streets and the cafes of Barcelona.

Today we talked about such artists as Picasso, Miró, Ramon Casas and Santiago Rusiñol… architects like Gaudí, Puig i Cadafalch, Domènech i Montaner and Josep Vilaseca…writers like Jacint Verdaguer, Rubén Darío and Aribau…and other important figures like Granados, Ocaña, Subirachs, Pere Romeu, Josep Clarà, etc.

Itinerary

Passeig de Gràcia – Plaça Catalunya – Portal de l’Àngel – Carrer Montsió – Avinguda de Portaferrissa – Rambla de Sant Josep – Plaça Reial – Carrer Avinyó – Carrer Ferran– Plaça Sant Jaume – El Call – Plaça Sant Felip Neri – Plaça de la Catedral and the Roman City Walls.

Highlights:

Casa Batllò – Casa Ametller – Casa Lleó Morera – La Diosa – Monument to Francesc Macià – Els Quatre Gats – Roman City Walls and Aqueduct – Palau Moja – Escribà Pastry Shop – House of the Umbrellas – Miro’s Circular Mosaic – Cafè de l’Òpera – Lampposts of Gaudí – Generalitat – L’Ajuntament de Barcelona – The Interpretation Centre of the Jewish Quarter – Picasso’s Mediterranean Friezes – The Roman Temple of Augustus – The Barcelona Cathedral.

Key terms

L’Eixample – Modernism – Trencadís – Renaixença –Els Jocs Florals – Tertulia

L’Eixample is the name given to the XIX-century extension of Barcelona towards the mountains as a result of the population boom. It was the plan of Ildefons Cerdà in 1859, and it resulted in the inclusion of Sants, Sarrià, Gràcia and other villages/suburbs.

Modernismo is the Spanish name given to a continental style of art, architecture and literature that flourished between 1880 and 1914 and had a strong expression in Barcelona thanks to Gaudí and his colleagues. It coincided with the Catalan industrial revolution.

Trencadís refers to the broken ceramic shards that are used in Modernist buildings to cover facades and walls in colourful mosaics, lke the façade of Casa Batllò in Passeig de Gràcia.

Renaixença refers to the Catalan Renissance of the second half of the 19th century. It was golden age of the Catalan culture, championed by the likes of Jacint Verdaguer, Aribaul and Maragall. The Catalan language was celebrated and epic poems were written.

Els Jocs Florals are the Floral Games revived during the Catalan Renaissance. They were competitions between writers and poets, inspired by an old Greek tradition.

Tertulia is like a cultural salon. Tertulia gatherings were gatherings of people with a common passion for art and culture to exchange their creative works (whether art, poetry, music, etc.) and to discuss the latest trends and events. Els Quatre Gats in Barcelona was very famous for tertulia.

Poster