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Exploring the Beauty of Antoni Gaudi’s Park Guell

Exploring the Beauty of Antoni Gaudi’s Park Guell

Even if you are not a fan of the Silly Sand buildings that sprang from the fevered imagination of architect Antoni Gaudi­, you should visit his Park Guell next time you are in Barcelona. The skyline view is magnificent and, come October when the city puts a cap on visitors and starts to charge admission, you may actually have a clear sightline through the crowd. For now? Go at sunset when the throngs thin:

Photographs by Michelle Slatalla.

Above: Looking south, a view of Barcelona and the Mediterranean.

Above: Climb the sinuous, mosaic-tiled stairway at the park’s entrance to reach a covered courtyard filled with a forest of 86 massive columns. Here is where you can see the entire city of Barcelona splayed out to the sea.

Gardenista editor Michelle went late in the day in July (peak tourist season) and even at 8:45 pm the park was crowded. But it was nothing like mid-day: An average of 25,000 people visit the park every day, and at peak times 1,200 tourists arrive in a 15-minute period. This is too many.

Blaming the crowds for “a constant degradation of this architectural heritage,” city officials have decided to start charging admission starting October 25. Barcelona residents may visit for free (and at any time of day), but capacity will be limited to 800 tourists per hour.

Above: Intricate mosaic tiles cover the sweep of the staircase, a fountain, and a statue of a dragon at the park’s entrance. Whether you admire Gaudi’s bizarrely exuberant vision or, like George Orwell consider his work “hideous,” you have to admit he was an original.

Born in 1852 into a long line of metalsmiths, Gaudi made models with his hands rather than drawing his designs. “His mature work cannot even be imagined adequately from flat drawings,” the art critic Robert Hughes wrote in  Barcelona the Great Enchantress ($10.26 from Amazon). “Its surfaces twist and wiggle. The space flares, solemnly inflates, then collapses again.”

Above: Gaudi­ first used broken-tile mosaics at Park Guell, where the curving shapes of his designs precluded the use of standard size tiles.

Above: A second stairway leads to the upper level plaza, originally conceived as an outdoor market area. Gaudi’s intent was to build a planned residential community with 60 houses. But only two were built. After the project failed, the site became a city park.

The land on which the 60 houses were meant to sit is still open acreage. Paths wind through the park, yet the crowds are concentrated near the park’s entrance, known as the Monument Area.

Above: A border of mosaic-tiled benches snakes around the perimeter of the upper plaza.

Above: An ornately detailed fence, courtesy of Gaudí, who died in 1926 after being hit by a streetcar. “He was an old codger in a rusty black suit. His pockets were empty (except, by one account, for some orange peel),” wrote critic Hughes. “He carried neither identification nor money, and he was taken at first for one of the thousands of seedy old pensioners with whom the city abounded. Only later, as he lay dying in the public hospital, was it found that he was the 74-year-old Antoni Gaudí.”

Planning a trip? As part of Gardenista‘s Travels with an Editor series in Barcelona, you can find stories about the editors’ favorite Gardens, Shops, Lodging, and Restaurants.

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Gardenista is a one-stop sourcebook for cultivated living, a guide to outdoor design and gardening. Helmed by former New York Times columnist Michelle Slatalla, Gardenista features inspiration, garden visits, and advice for all things outdoor living, from patios and peonies, to tables and terraces. Gardens matter, and Gardenista celebrates tomatoes on the fire escape as much as rolling acres of green.


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10:31PM PDT on Sep 1, 2013


2:51PM PDT on Sep 1, 2013

Thank you for sharing.

3:40PM PDT on Aug 25, 2013

I have always been a fan of his mosaic work and have wanted to visit...maybe some day. Thank you for sharing this wonderful art.

4:13AM PDT on Aug 24, 2013

Take time to treasure what's around us

3:53AM PDT on Aug 24, 2013

I am blown away by Gaudi's work, Barcelona is very high on my hit list of places to go. The staircase he did inside one house that looks like a dragon's backbone - so fantastic. Of course, he got his inspiration from magic mushrooms, and doesn't it show!

2:03PM PDT on Aug 23, 2013

An amazing place filled with creative energy!!....
Thank you for posting.

1:25PM PDT on Aug 23, 2013

I think I'd rather go else where, thanks.

11:22AM PDT on Aug 23, 2013

What a different aesthetic.

4:04PM PDT on Aug 22, 2013

The Parc is easily in one of my top 5 places in the world

1:55PM PDT on Aug 22, 2013

I love Gaudi. La Sagrada Familia, his cathedral, is gorgeous and strange, with something to catch your eye and make you think everywhere you glance, like the Gothic progenitors it honors while modernizing. Thanks for the pictures - they brought back a wealth of memories.

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Wonderful. I wish the little guy good luck. And thanks cows!

Great suggestions.... but no walk for me at lunch... at my job I'm on my feet all day, and lunch is …

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