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Monday, May 30, 2016

Parc Guell, Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona's Guell Park--a fanciful fantasy landscape by Antoni Gaudi.
If you've ever seen a landscape painting which you wished you could walk right into, then you know something of the nature of what might be called the greatest art media ever known--that of the landscape designer. Some might assign this designation to the art of the architect, but for the landscape designer, architecture is but one of many tools he or she has at their disposal in creating not a painted illusion of a beautiful landscape world, but that world itself. Perhaps we might go so far to say that such an artist is following in the footsteps of God himself who, after all, was the greatest landscape designer in history, known first and foremost for His legendary Garden of Eden.

Gaudi's Dragon, near the entrance to his park.
Parc Guell, in the midst of Barcelona, Spain, is no Garden of Eden (apparel is mandatory). Likewise, its designer, the famed Catalonian, Antoni Gaudi, was not God, though some might argue that his talents were, indeed, godlike. Last year (2015) my wife and I spent an extended weekend in Gaudi's Barcelona. It seldom fails that, having visited a legendary city such at Barcelona, when I return home, I find myself distressed and dismayed by what I didn't see, or worse, what I almost saw, but didn't. In Paris it was the Luxembourg Gardens. In Rome it was the Palantine Hill. In Cairo it was the Egyptian Museum. In Florence it was the Uffizi (closed the day I was there). In Venice it was the Bienalle. In Barcelona, it was the Parc Guell. Even though I try to prepare myself and my itinerary to see as much as possible in what little time I have available, in each of these cases the main cause of my not seeing each landmark was simply the fact that I was not thorough enough in doing my homework before leaving.
The art, architecture, and landscape design skills of Antoni Gaudi
all come together in what some have rated high among the top ten
parks in the world.
In Barcelona I made a point of paying homage to the great Senor Gaudi in visiting his Sagrada Familia church and his nearly as famous Casa Mila. At Casa Mila, I was less than a mile from Guell Park. Not only did I miss seeing it, I must confess, I'd never even heard of it at the time. Park Güell is a public park complex composed of gardens and architectonic elements located on Carmel Hill, in Barcelona. As he watched Barcelona grow into an industrial hub, a wealthy businessman named Eusebi Güell, in lieu of an unsuccessful real estate development, assigned the design of a park to Antoni Gaudí, a renowned architect and and the driving force behind Catalan modernism. The park was built between 1900 and 1914, though not officially opened as a public park until 1926.

Guell Park occupies the green area in the central portion of the map.
In accepting such a once in a lifetime commission, Gaudí aimed his artistic naturalism of the first decade of the 20th century at perfecting his personal style, taking inspiration from organic shapes. He put into practice a series of new structural solutions growing out of a new analysis of geometry. To that, the Catalan artist added creative liberties and an imaginative, ornamention. Starting from a sort of Baroque modernism, his works acquired a structural richness of forms and volumes, free of the rational rigidity or any sort of classical premise. In the design of Parc Güell, Gaudí unleashed all his architectonic genius, putting into practice many of the innovative structural solutions that would later become the symbol of his organic style, culminating in the creation of his masterpiece, la Sagrada Familia.

The Gaudi House, la Torre Rosa, Parc Guell, Barcelona.
Guell Park is not free. Since October, 2013, there has been an entrance fee of seven euros for adults (€4.90 for children and seniors) to visit the Monumental Zone (main entrance, terrace, and the parts containing mosaics). Admission to the rest of the park remains free. The Gaudí's house, "la Torre Rosa," (above)containing furniture that he designed, can only be visited for an additional entry fee. There is a reduced rate for those wishing to see both Gaudí's house and la Sagrada Família across town.

Gaudi's "Sea Serpent" bench winds its way around and
about the main entrance to the park.
The focal point of the park is the main terrace, encompassed by a long bench in the form of a sea serpent. The curves of the serpentine bench form a number of enclaves, creating a more social atmosphere. Gaudí incorporated several motifs of Catalan nationalism, and elements from religious mysticism and ancient poetry, into the Park. A large cross at the park's highest point offers a spectacular view of Barcelona and the bay (top). From there it is also possible to view the main city in panorama, with la Sagrada Família and the Montjuïc (a fortress) area visible at a distance.

Gaudi's columns of "The Grand Place" looking up
from the park's entrance plaza.
Gaudi had a fascination with broken crockery.

For those accustomed to straight, vertical lines,
Gaudi can be quite disorienting.


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