Thursday, December 8, 2022

Gaudi's genius is on showy display in masterful Barcelona architecture

Antoni Gaudi's La Pedrera is one of his Barcelona masterpieces, a commission done for a pair of
wealthy patrons who gave his unlimited artistic license. It is highly informed by nature. 




Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers
enjoy a moment of reflection outside
Gaudi's Casa Mila, or "La Pedrera." 


The curved "attic" of Casa Mila is a museum on its own, with
drawings, exhibits and models showing the profound
influence nature had on Gaudi's life's work.

WHEN THE brilliant architect Antoni Gaudi was struck by a tram on a pleasant June morning in 1926, he had no identification on his body. He rested unknown in a morgue for several days while officials tried to identify him. The great man was walking to his daily confessional at a nearby church when tragedy befell him.

When it was discovered that he was an internationally known architect -- one of the city's proudest sons -- he was mourned for weeks. Today, he is still celebrated as a genius.  His work is acclaimed for its grace, originality and connection to nature, evident in its nods to the sea and its creatures, and to birds, flowers, trees, and all living things.

WE SPENT a recent week marveling at Gaudi's wondrous accomplishments. He viewed the natural world as perfect, a creation from which he drew his inspiration. This connection is visible in all his work but critics believe it is most present in his masterpiece, Barcelona's famous Sagrada Familia. The cathedral has been in constant development since its foundation was laid in 1883.  Its completion -- many times delayed -- is now scheduled for 2026, on the 100th anniversary of the great artist's death.

MUCH OF Gaudí's career was occupied with the construction of the Sagrada Família, his "over the top" cathedral where pineapples and the Virgin Mary peacefully coexist. It's difficult to name a favorite of Gaudi's magnificent buildings.  Tourists flock to his famous Sagrada, but grand as it is, it is not our favorite of his works. We've spent several relaxing afternoons at his fanciful Park Güell, and at the better part of a day each at two stunning homes he designed in downtown Barcelona: Casa Milá and Casa Batlló, an important pair of modernist buildings. 

Looking to the sky, as he often way,
Antoni Gaudi celebrated light and nature
in his magnificent open-air view skyward.

This sixth visit to Barcelona, we concentrated on Casa Mila, also known as La Pedrera, which means "stone quarry" and celebrates Gaudi's Catalan heritage and

Nearby Casa Batllo's roof
 is a fanciful place, representing
scales on a dragon's back. 
love of landscape. Known today as the greatest exponent of Catalan Modernism, Gaudí is honored for his individuality and his unique style. Most of his most famous creations are in
Barcelona, one of the reasons we return so often.

Above, a storage closet in La Pedrera gives
insight into the life of a wealthy family in
Barcelona nearly a century ago. At right,
the life of Gaudi is shared in books in many
languages, with t-shirts and art for sale, too.
Some think the shapes of Gaudi's top floor art in Casa Mila represent
the scales of lizards or creatures of the sea, serpents or mythical beings.

LA PEDRERA -- meaning “the stone quarry” because of its unusual rough-hewn appearance, is more commonly called Casa Milá and is one of Barcelona’s most popular modernist buildings. UNESCO recognized it as a World Heritage site in 1984.
Built between 1906 and 1912, the magical structure came to life when clients gave him a limitless budget and reign to do something "wonderful and different." It housed several apartments and  was  Gaudí’s last private residential design.
Many consider it the most imaginative house in the history of architecture, one which continues to influence architects today. It is truly more a sculpture than a building.
The façade is a varied and harmonious mass of undulating stone that, along with forged iron balconies, explores the irregularities of the natural world.
Other Spanish artists gained fame in their experimental work, too.
MANY PEOPLE wonder if Gaudi and Salvador Dali were friends, and if they endorsed one another's work. The much older Gaudi was born in 1852 and Dali was born in 1904. One wonders, then, if either man knew Picasso, born in 1881, between the two other famed artists. 
The rooftop of Casa Mila.

While Gaudí and Dali were buddies, often complimenting each other's work, Picasso and Gaudí did not see eye to eye. Both made art their life's work, but while Gaudi didn't criticize fellow artists and visionaries, Picasso spent a lot of time dissing the Sagrada Família, Gaudí's magnum opus. Gaudi didn't return the barbs, remaining a man
La Pedrera was fashioned into several
apartments by Gaudi, and is now used
for fundraisers and as a museum.

of deep faith, honoring the credo of tolerance and forgiveness.  
He was in fact on his way to mass, his daily ritual, when he was struck by the tram. Only when his housekeeper reported him missing did officials figure out who he was.
Gaudi's architecture is distinctive
in its use of curves inspired
by his view of nature.

GAUDI'S LIFE'S work is a celebration of nature and the natural world.  The only woman he loved, historians tell us, did not return his affections. (She was a divorced teacher whom he met during one of his early projects.) Much has been written about his art -- but there isn't much to tell about his personal life since he remained single and devoted his life to his art and private commissions.

Accomplished actor John Rubinstein endows his character,
Dwight D. Eisenhower, with wit, intelligence and confidence
in a stellar performance beautifully directed by Peter Ellenstein.
BEST BET: A world premier in an intimate Los Angeles theater offers play lovers an engaging immersion in history via a close encounter with our 34th President. "Eisenhower:  This Piece of Ground" is Richard Hellesen's fascinating opus about a war hero turned world leader.  Tony award winning actor John Rubinstein endows Ike with humanity, humor and intelligence in this captivating one-man production at Hudson's MainStage Theatre.  Peter Ellenstein directs this graceful, amusing and informative immersion which explains why the five-star general is now regarded as a great president. More info:

This Brazilian guide in Porto, Portugal, took us around
the city to its bridges, museums, eateries and special
unknown corners.  Tune in next week for "free tours" tips.
UP NEXT: Free tours. From the far north of Europe to the southern reaches of Spain's Canary Islands, free tours are becoming the rage. Many cities around the world now offer no-fee walking and sightseeing tours.  The trend of ‘'free'’ walking tours began in Berlin in 2004 and has spread to over 40 cities around the world, including nearly every major tourist destination in Europe. We give pointers on finding them, and suggestions for tipping the well informed guides, who rely on and deserve generous gratuities. They live on our tips. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live. Catch us weekly for fresh spins on travel, the arts, nature, family and more:


  1. Love free tours and try them all over the world. Important to tip the guides well, as you say. They are always educated, personable and so helpful.

  2. We never miss an opportunity to return to Barcelona and Gaudi is the main reason. Thank you.

  3. Barcelonans and ExPatsDecember 9, 2022 at 1:22 PM

    Best city in Europe!

  4. Boston Barcelona VisitorsDecember 12, 2022 at 7:25 PM

    We get there every couple years. Nice memories.

  5. No one like him. Brilliant guy, nice story.

  6. Los Angeles WanderersDecember 15, 2022 at 12:06 PM

    Such a joyful artist. Great story & fabulous photos.