Dali theater museum in Figueres, Spain

Park Güell – Antoni Gaudi's tribute to nature
 One of Barcelona's most visited sights

Barcelona, Spain (2016). – What were they thinking in Barcelona a hundred years ago, when they ignored the new residential housing project of the Spanish entrepreneur Count Eusebi Güell and the planning architect Antoni Gaudí? The well thought through real estate project on the rocky hills of Muntanya Pelada (Bare Mountain) in prestigious La Salut, in the Gràcia district, had everything one would wish for when looking for a place to live, upper-class neighborhood, living in a park within a park, all the latest technological advancements for maximum comfort, the artistic touch of a genius designer on almost everything, lots of fresh air and one of the best views at the city and its bay. Nobody knows why the innovative garden city never really made it any further than the drawing board and why the envisioned success of the Count and his famous architect became an economic failure. Only two of the projected 60 villas could be sold. To make use of the land,  Güell and Gaudi converted the housing project to a municipal park and what was a failure became a great success. Almost as a late satisfaction for the two men, "Park Güell" became a rock star for the Spanish tourism business and is today one of Barcelona's most visited tourist sights. In average 25.000 people visit this fairytale park every day (!) which brings the visitor statistics to more than 9 Million visitors per year! In 1969 the park was recognized as an artistic monument and 15 years later, in 1984, UNESCO declared Park Güell a World Heritage Site.
Sculpture of Salvador Dali at the Dali Theatre Museum in Figueres
"Sometimes I think we are the only people
who like this architecture", Antoni Gaudi
 supposedly once said to his patron and friend
Count Güell during the planning stages of the
new garden city. The Count allegedly had replied:
"I don't like your architecture, I respect it."
Futuristic real estate project converted into a successful municipal garden   
When it was clear that the garden city project had failed, Gaudi already had cre­ated about 3 kilometers (close to 2 miles) of roads and walks, steps, two gate­houses and a huge plaza within the tree covered land. Plus both lived on the property, Gaudi had bought the model house, which he hadn't designed but in which he lived until he tragically died in 1926, ran over by a city tram in Barcelona, and Güell had acquired the "Larrad House" which already had been on the land when he had purchased it. Reason enough for the two men to carry on with the new plan, converting the real estate project into a municipal gar­den. Gaudi took advantage of this new opportunity and designed a tribute to nature, using natural stones, broken ceramic tiles and a huge variety of plants. Everything he created, from the pattern he used to the way he constructed, was inspired by nature. Gaudi committed to the principles of natural creation and avoided, therefore, straight lines in his work since, so Gaudi, there wouldn't be straight lines in nature either. According to Gaudi, architecture should give the impression that it is an organic part of nature.
It's like walking through the land of the Fairies   
I didn't know what to expect when I walked into the park through the impressive metal gates, designed in the shape of palm leaves, but I was eager to find out. No matter if you ever heard of Antoni Gaudi before or if you are familiar with the work of this great architect and designer, what you get to see at Park Güell is simply breathtaking: Art within nature in full harmony. Entering the park I felt like waiting for a fairy passing by and greeting me like in Disneyland because I clearly seemed to be in their homeland. Only I wasn't in something artificial but in the middle of the very real artistic and incredible work of the Catalan genius Antoni Gaudi. The two buildings at the entrance area, which are standing out with their extraordinary shaped roofs, only confirmed my feeling to be in dream land. One of these buildings, so I've learned, later on, houses a permanent exhibition of the Barcelona City History Museum MUHBA focused on the building itself, the park and the city.

Behind the main gate leads a huge staircase up to the terrace. On my way up the stairs I was greeted by the first stone sculpture, the friendly guardian "El Drac", the famous giant salamander, which Gaudi made for the park with his collaborator Joseph Maria Jujo. This little dragon is one of the most photographed features at Park Güell and it is also the first opportunity to marvel at the incredibly beautiful mosaic work the park is covered in. Gaudi used broken pottery, so-called "Trencadis" ("chopped" in Catalan), a technique, the artist would use in the following on many of his works.

The grand staircase led me to an open room full of columns, 86 pieces to be precise which support the main attraction on top, the large terrace. The so-called Hypostyle Room was originally thought to be the market place of the city garden project, a very cool place with great tiled ceiling mosaics. The focal point of the park is clearly the main terrace, originally planned as Greek Theatre and surrounded by a long mosaic bench in the form of a sea serpent. Today the huge area is used by souvenir vendors. Gaudí and Jujo incorporated many motifs of Catalan nationalism, and elements from religious mysticism and ancient poetry, into their mosaics. The view from the terrace to the city and the bay is amazing.

Even though the huge park is almost entirely free of charge accessible, only for visiting the monumental zone which covers the entrance area with the two buildings, the market hall and the curved bench area is a ticket required which best is booked online. Only 400 visitors are allowed per half hour which can cause some waiting time on busy days. My advice for a park visit: come early and bring lots of time, there is so much to see and more to discover.
Dali theatre museum in Figueres, Catalonia, Spain


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