Last week I had the pleasure of visiting Barcelona for a few days and while I was there I got the opportunity to tour one of Europe’s most iconic green spaces: Park Güell, otherwise known as the Gaudí Gardens.
Park Güell was the collaboration of Antoni Gaudí and one of his major patrons, Eusebi Güell. One of Spain’s preeminent artists and architects, Antoni Gaudí’s vision has left an indelible impression on Barcelona to this day.
Born in 1852, Gaudí lived through the reign of four Spanish monarchs, including Isabella II, and led Spain’s Art Nouveau movement to maturity with iconic achievements like the Sagrada Basilica.
Although his work spanned a range of disciplines, including ceramics, metalwork, and carpentry, he was consistently inspired by his chief loves of architecture, nature, and religion. The Sagrada Basilica is perhaps the single greatest expression of his style which often encompassed gothic characteristics alongside modern construction techniques, but Guell Park represents a true marriage of these three themes.
A Union of Ideas
Gaudí was known for being inspired by organic shapes and using a variety of techniques to incorporate them into his designs. It could be said that he sought ways of fusing nature with artifice. Using a keen understanding of geometry he was able to create voluminous shapes and curving forms that were liberated from the rational ‘straight-lined’ architecture that ruled modern thinking.
When he and Güell conceived of the park, they imagine a residential community that, far from clearing a path through nature, would be designed with nature in mind. Both proud Catalonians they also seeded the site with the symbolism of their unified political ideals.
As someone used to the curated lawns, tarmac pathways, and fenced-off streams of Regent’s and Hyde Park, Parc Guell was a revelation. This was owing as much to the vision of its designers as to the climate of Barcelona. Parakeets shrieked from palm trees overlooking and enrounding the central plaza, itself enclosed by psychedelic mosaics and a pillared balustrade overlooking the rest of the city.
The arid forest that climbed up the banks at the perimeter was interspersed with foot trails and paving alike but, crucially, trees were not uprooted nor boulders moved to clear space for these walkways. They were left for the visitor to navigate.
Beyond the plaza, down equally kaleidoscopic stairs, lay the pillared Hypostyle Room. 86 striated columns spread across a marble floor the color of eggshell and support a series of small domes reminiscent of a flower’s stamen inverted. Another flight of stairs took me past ‘El Drac’, a mosaic lizard that breaths forth torrents of cool water and casts a vibrant gaze on those entering Parc Güell from the south.
Finally, we have the Laundry Room Portico on the West side, hemmed in by several fairytale houses, where Gaudí originally had his mansion and which features a series of slanting columns that uphold a symbolic wave overhead.
Arguably the highest expression of Gaudí’s form captures both the living waters of ‘El Drac’ and their frozen counterpart as a nearby tempestuous swell that pilgrims of the deep can pause inside for a moment without being washed away.
Suffice it to say, my memories of this sublime place will not soon be washed away either, I only hope they’ve inspired you to pay a visit to Parc Güell yourself.