Sunday, 22 April 2018

Barcelona: Casa Battló

Casa Battló

Casa Battló is one of the great Gaudí buildings in Barcelona. Gaudí was commissioned in 1904 by Josep Battló, a textile tycoon, to remodel a house dating from 1870. The colourful exterior is pretty much unique and when we visited this was augmented by red roses on all the balconies in honour of St George's day (April 23rd). Apparently the modern tradition in Catalunya is for men to give roses to their wives and girlfriends, but for women to give books (this is more recent).

You begin your visit by climbing the stairs to the first floor, immediately noticing this strange fixture.

You enter the linked main living rooms and are immediately confronted by this cosy nook to sit by the fire.

You become aware that there are a lot of curves such as this door frame with a beautiful glass light over. In fact, it becomes clear that there are no straight lines.

The ceiling of the living room has this astonishing light in a swirling ceiling.

At the back of this floor is a terrace at the back of which is this rather lovely mosaic pattern

Now you climb again and this time there is a clear view of the central well which is clad in blue ceramic tiles which become darker towards the top.

On the roof, there are more of the trademark ceramic-patterned structures that we have seen at Gaudí's Palau Guell and Casa Mila. Who knows if they are chimneys, ventilation shafts, staircase accesses or what. They are undeniably striking.

The roof is sinuous which reminds some of a dragon (and the little tourelle is seen by some as symbolic of St George's lance).

In the top floor there are more of the caternary arches that were such a feature of the attic of Casa Mila.

Rating: five stars. Magical.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Barcelona: Montjuic

View from the top

When we visited the Sagrada Familia yesterday we noticed a large number of posters for an exhibition about William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement at the Muse Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (MNAC). We thought that would make a nice outing for today - and what an amazing one it turned out to be.

We headed off to the Espana metro station and emerged into a different Barcelona to what we had seen so far. A gigantic roundabout was dominated by the imposing site of the Bull Ring. I hate bull fighting as an activity, but the building was quite dramatic. A lift carried people to the roof where they could walk around.

Even more dramatic were the massive towers that straddled the entrance to the road up to Montjuic.

We headed along the Avenida Reina Cristina lined by large, but curiously anonymous, buildings towards MNAC which turned out to be an enormous building high up on Montjuic with all sorts of other structures in between.

As we got closer we spotted a sign to the Mies van der Rohe pavilion and decided to follow it - I remembered reading something about it and adding it to my (long) list of buildings to see some time. But before we got there, there was a new surprise on the other side of the road: the former Casaramona textile factory, designed by the great Modernista architect Puig i Catafalch. It is now an exhibition space.

When we reached the van der Rohe pavilion, we were not disappointed. It is a long low rectangular structure which put us strongly in mind of Mies's wonderful Villa Tugendhat in Brno, in the Czech Republic, two years ago.

The pavilion was built for the 1928 Universal Exposition and demolished in 1930 after the Exposition ended. Here is a photo of the original.

Rather wonderfully, it was rebuilt in 1986. And from time to time artists are allowed to create alterations: for example Ai Weiwei filled the two pools with tea and coffee (why?). This probably explains the mysterious towels hanging up across the main window and round the back.

It is a wonderful building with characteristic use of beautiful and expensive marble (just like Villa Tugendhat).

We climbed up towards the Museum and I was delighted to find an opportunity to photograph one of the innumerable Green Parakeets which we have seen in every park.

We then explored the extensive surrounding area and looked at the Greek Garden and the Botanic one. Here I took a first photo of a beautiful species I had only ever seen once before, the Cleopatra. This is like a Brimstone, but with a vivid orange patch on the upper wing.

I spotted a curious structure over the hill and we amble over to investigate. It turned out to be the wonderful Calatrava Tower, once the symbol of the Barcelona Olympics.

Now, finally, we  went to see the excellent William Morris exhibition. Sadly, no photos were allowed. However, a visit to the roof terrace allowed a few final shots looking back towards the city.

Conditions: hot and sunny.

Distance: 3 or 4 miles.

Rating: 5 stars. Incredible variety and almost wholly unexpected.

Barcelona: Palau de la Musica Catalana

The facade of the Palau de la Musica Catalana

We somehow missed looking inside the Palau de la Musica Catalana on our previous visit to Barcelona in 1992, but we were determined not to make that mistake again. The outside is fantastic, but as the Palau is in a rather narrow street it is very hard to photograph. The only way of seeing the inside is by guided tour, so that's what we booked.

The Palau was the work of of the great Moderinista (Catalan art nouveau) archiect Lluís Domènech i Montaner and it was built between 1905 and 1908. More recently it was restored and remodelled in the 1980s and again in 2006-08. We started our tour in the lobby and were immediately taken by the riot of colour, especially the glasswork and the ceiling.

We climbed the stairs to the first floor and on the the balcony which can just be made out on the photo of the facade. There are a dozen columns in two rows all with different, but all exquisite, ceramic designs. I managed this picture by loitering at the back of the tour group and quickly snapping it as the guide was trying to lock the door. No doubt this happens on every tour.

Now we headed into the astonishingly ornate and beautiful Concert Hall. This is a photo of a photo hanging in the lobby. There is a massive organ behind the stage (which, we learned, can now we operated wirelessly) and the massive sculptures to the right and left represent traditional Catalan music on the left (the building's original purpose) and classical music (embodied by Beethoven) on the right.

This is the right hand side illustrating the beautiful stained glass and the fan shaped structures which are above the lights.

Perhaps the most remarkable feature is the glass skylight. This is a view from more or less below, obviously bit quite from the direct centre.

And here is a view from the top of the rear seating area.

Almost everywhere you look there is beautiful stained glass. Here at the back of the concert hall ...

... and here on the stairs.

Emerging into the daylight, I struggled to get some images of the exterior. This the base of the column on the right hand side as you look at the building. The ceramic patterns are very similar to those on the balcony.

This is the upper part of that same corner, with all sorts of extravagant and striking details.

Rating: 5 stars. An absolute masterpiece. A riot of colour, but also a tour de force of craftsmanship.

Friday, 20 April 2018

Barcelona: The Sagrada Familia

The facade of the south transept

The Sagrada Familia (or The Penitential Chapel of the Holy Family, to give its full name in English) was, as everybody knows designed by the great Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. We have learned that the correct pronunciation is Gow-dee.  Gaudí started work on the church in 1883 and continued to do so until he died as the result of an accident in 1926. Apart from a pause during the Spanish Civil war work has continued ever since.

However, it turns out that Gaudí was not the original architect. A group called the Spiritual Association of Devotees of Saint Joseph raised money for the church and appointed Francisco de Paula del Villar y Lozano as architect. He prepared a Neo-gothic design and started work on the crypt in 1882, but soon resigned due to disagreements with the promoters. Here is the crypt, seen from the nave. Apart perhaps from the floral decoration on the floor, it look thoroughly conventional (the blue is a reflection of the stained glass, of which more below).

An exciting recent development has been the announcement of the planned completion of the Sagrada Familia in 2026 - the 100th anniversary of Gaudí's death. We visited the church in 1993 and have been really looking forward to seeing what it is like now. The short answer is: absolutely astonishing.

One of our key memories is that we were left unable to imagine what shape the finished church would take, but now it is clear. The plan of the church is absolutely classic gothic: a nave with an apse at the east end, two aisles on each side, transepts and a crossing tower.

However, everything above the crypt is unlike any church you have ever seen before. You enter through the south transept via a door covered in carved foliage (and if you look closely inhabited by various beetles and insects) ...

 ... with four towers above. Each of the transepts and the west end has a separate theme. The South transept's is the Nativity, the North's is the Passion and the main facade is of course the Resurrection. So the exterior of the church tells the story of the life of Christ.

This does not prepare you for what you see when you go inside. There are great columns defining the nave but these are more like a forest of trees than any normal columns.

There is a profusion of bright light from abstract stained glass in the sides of the church, the three facades and in the sides of the transepts.

Golden light enters above the altar (OK, it was a sunny day).

The ceiling has vaguely gothic bosses, but the effect is again almost without precedent.

We took the lift to the bridge above the south transept and looked at some of the extraordinary shapes. It reminded us of what we had learned about Gaudí's deep interest in the natural world.

We remembered coming down the narrow stairs in 1993 and reaching the ground with our legs like jelly - there were no landings so you couldn't really stop.

We were delighted to reach the bottom in much better shape this time - all that walking we have done since 2002 has clearly had some effect! 

You are firmly routed through the church and leave by the north transept. This is the view of that part of the church.

Rating: 5 stars. It does not seem enough for one of the world's greatest buildings.

Barcelona: Casa Mila (La Pedrera)

Casa Milà 

This was Gaudí's last residential building, built for Pere Milà and his wife Rosario Segimòn in 1906-10. It's nickname, La Pedrera means The Quarry, a comment on its revolutionary facade.

It is not obvious until you go inside, but it consists of two courtyards. Here is the initial view upwards: note the characteristic metal decorations under the windows.

You walk through into the second, smaller courtyard and there is a wonderful view of the main gate from the inside and a lovely surprise in the beautiful impressionistic frescoes on the ceiling.

The tour route first involves a lift ride up to the roof. These extraordinary shapes are actually functional (ventilation outlets and exits from the lift or stairs), but they look like ancient warriors or something out of Game of Thrones.

The next port of call is the attic with its wonderful caternary arches made of orange brick. Apparently at some point in the building's history the attic was converted to additional dwellings, but these were removed by the current owners, the Caixa Catalunya Foundation.

Now you go down by lift or stairs to see the one apartment which is not occupied by permanent residents. It is sinuous space winding around the courtyard with rooms flowing into each other. The decoration has floral and curvy motifs in a uniform style, but there is  a surprising lack of colour. I found it rather anemic.

Back on the ground floor, the tour ends with another section of frescoed ceiling, even more beautiful than what we saw at the start.

Location: Passeig de Gràcia, 92

Rating: five stars.