Atlantis Alumni

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Barcelona - Modernismo

Photos 1 & 2: Palau de la Musica, photos 3,4, & 5: Gaudi's Sagrada Familia


One of the strong impressions one takes away from Barcelona centers on the development of ‘modern architecture’ during the last years of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th century. In the rest of Europe the style is often called ‘Art Nouveau’, but here in Catalonia it’s known as ‘Modernismo.’ The most famous practitioner was Antoni Gaudi, the man responsible for fantastic designs in cement, mosaic and pure exuberance. On previous trips we have visited his Casa Mila, a big apartment house with sentry-like warriors’ heads on the roof. The ‘warriors’ are actually chimneys. Also his Casa Battlo is famed for its dragon-back roof, made of bright green tiles. Dragons, symbolic of Catalonia’s devotion to St. George the dragon-slayer, also decorate slopes in the quirky Parque Guell. This trip we decided to re-visit his last masterpiece, the unfinished cathedral of the Sagrada Familia, or Holy Family. Jim had never seen the interior, and he was surprised at the unique organic columns and windows, all cast in flowing cement, rounded and elegant. Stone sculptures of the saints and wondrous plants decorate both outside and inside. A contemporary glass artist has fashioned marvelous multi-colored windows, flooding the insides with blue, green and red light. Like many of the ‘Modernismo’ architects, Gaudi was fascinated by light and natural forms. In the morning we visited, for the first time, the amazing Palau de la Musica Catalana (Palace of Catalan Music), a concert hall by one of Gaudi’s brilliant contemporaries, Domenech I Montaner. This master worked in ceramic, stucco and bright colored glass. Roses, other flowers, peacock feathers, knights and ladies jostled together in enormous profusion in the hall itself, though visitors are not allowed to take photographs. The outside, however, is similar, and there Jim was able to photograph some of its wonders. After World War I ‘Modernismo’ was mostly over, which is a pity. It is some of the most original of all modern architecture, and if it had developed further, it might have been a more dominant influence. Rich in fantasy, ecological awareness and invention, there is nothing to compare anywhere else. After enjoying such treats, we had a leisurely lunch at the Barcelonetta, a seaport part of the great city.

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