After the abundant religious symbolism of the Sagrada Família and the heavy-handedness of the Palau Güell, Gaudí's whimsical Parc Güell often seems like light relief and is for many his favorite and most accessible work. Although it's now officially a public park, in 1900 the Parc Güell began as a real-estate venture for a friend, the well-known Catalan industrialist Count Eusebi Güell, who planned to make this a model garden city community of 60 dwellings with its own market and church. It was never completed and the city took over the property in 1926.
Spread over several acres of woodland high above central Barcelona, with wonderful views at every turn, the Parc Güell is one of the most unusual man-made landscapes on the planet. It is abundant with the architect's unique vision and expertise at finding creative solutions posed by the demands of the project.
Arriving at the main entrance in the Carrer Olot, you are greeted by two gingerbread-style gatehouses. At the time they were built, Gaudí was working on some set designs for the opera Hansel and Gretel at the Liceu Opera House, so it is presumed that the inspiration for these whimsical structures came from that. Both shimmer with broken mosaic collage and are topped with chimneys in the shape of wild and toxic mushrooms. Much has been made of Parc Güell's symbolism, and it has even been suggested that these toadstool-chimneys reflect Gaudí's penchant for hallucinogenic substances. The fact is that mushroom-gathering is a national pastime and the work reflects a deep-rooted nationalism and respect for nature and Catalonia's history.
The main steps to the Sala Hipóstila (marketplace) feature a spectacular tiled lizard, the park's centerpiece. The covered would-be market supports a large platform above with 86 Doric columns connected by shallow vaults. This pagan-looking space is largely thought to be inspired by Barcelona's Roman foundations. The roof is embellished with four sun-shaped disks representing the seasons. Above, in the elevated square, a sinuous bench, said to be the longest in the world, snakes its way around the perimeter. The decoration on this elaborate piece was carried out by architect and craftsman Josep Marià Jujol. The story goes that all the workers on the park were ordered to bring Jujol all the shards of broken crockery and glass they could lay their hands on, which accounts for the work's extraordinary mixture of colors and textures. Palm trees and vistas of the skyline add to the effect.
Three kilometers (2 miles) of more rustic inspired paths and porticoes using material taken from the land itself weave through the rest of the park, which is filled with Mediterranean vegetation. In typical Gaudí style, sculptures and figurines pop up in the most surprising places. Worth hunting out is the Closed Chapel, at the highest point of the park, an archaic, six-lobed structure crowned by a cross that seems inspired by the ancient stone watchtowers or druid temples not uncommon in the Balearic Islands.
Only two homes were ever built in the colony, neither of them by Gaudí. One, designed by the architect Ramón Berenguer, became Gaudí's residence in the latter part of his life. It is now the Casa-Museu Gaudí, Carrer del Carmel 28 (tel. 93-219-38-11), which contains furniture designed by the architect, drawings, and other personal effects, many of them arranged as they were when the architect lived his reclusive life there. Admission to the house is 4€ ($5); open daily from 10am to 6pm.
- © Frommer's 2013
- Very Highly Recommended 2009
- Very Highly Recommended 2010