Sagrada Familia still under construction!
We certainly didn’t exhaust Barcelona’s riches in our five days in Barcelona. The city is an open air museum with one of the most beautiful medieval old towns in Europe and neighborhoods filled with gorgeous 19th and early 20th century townhouses festooned with Art Nouveau touches. And looming over it all--Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia. I’ve never been a fan of Art Nouveau in general and Gaudi in particular, but somehow seeing Gaudi in Barcelona—a city he loved and which loved him back—made a difference. To my surprise, I enjoyed Gaudi’s monuments –and all the echoes of Gaudi throughout the city.
It’s worth seeing the Cathedral of Seu before seeing Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s Art Nouveau riff on a Gothic cathedral. The exterior of Sagrada Familia with towers echoing Seu has always struck me as grotesque, but the interior was a wonderful surprise—all the light streaming through the many clear windows, the playful details.
We did the usual Gaudi tour combining Sagrada Familia with nearby Parc Guell. Parc Guell was really way over the top with its gateway in the form of a giant penis--no mistaking Gaudi’s intention here. But the Gaudi sculptures were in a beautifully landscaped park and I really enjoyed that bank of lavender and rosemary in full bloom.
Finally, Casa Mila, an eccentric apartment house designed by Gaudi. I felt a little guilty dragging Rick to this. He is no Gaudi fan, but ever since I saw the scene with Gaudi’s bizarre sculptures on the rooftop of Casa Mila in Woody Allen’s Vicky, Christina, Barcelona I really wanted to see Casa Mila. Up close, the sculptures struck me as kind of silly but the views of Barcelona from the roof top of Casa Mila were spectacular.
We barely scratched the surface of Barcelona’s artistic treasures and never made it to the acclaimed Picasso Museum. We had hoped to go there when we returned to Barcelona for one last day before flying home, but decided we preferred the open air museum. During the general strike all the city’s museums were closed, giving us less time for museums, but since walking around Barcelona is such a delight, we really didn’t mind the inconvenience of one less museum day.
The Catalunya Museum was the one museum open during the general strike—apparently most of its workers decided not to participate in the strike. It has an amazing archeological exhibit—the runs of the ancient Roman city Barcena which had all the attributes of the good life, Roman style—the baths, the sanitation system, the gorgeous mosaic floors.
Another must-see museum is the Palacio Nacional housed in a gigantic 19th century neo-baroque monstrosity. There is an impressive collection of Old Masters and a much appreciated feature more museums should install—a vast open space with many huge incredibly comfortable couches filled with exhausted museum-goers taking a nap. Like many other elderly tourists, we took advantage of this opportunity for a much needed rest.
We also went to the Joan Miro Foundation—a museum built by Miro to house his personal collection. Unlike my experience of appreciating Gaudi more after seeing him in his city, seeing Miro in his own museum in his native Barcelona did not lead to greater appreciation . I don’t find Miro’s paintings visually appealing and I just don’t get the point.
Finally we went to the Mies Van der Rohe Pavilion built for the 1929 World’s Fair and recently reconstructed. This was for Rick, who whenever he’s in a place with a structure built by Van der Rohe, will go out of his way to see it. I’ve never been a fan of modernist architecture—although a few trips to Chicago did increase my admiration. Because Mies Van der Rohe’s style has been so fully absorbed by 20th/21st century architecture, it’s hard to fully appreciate how original, how radical it once was. It wasn’t until we went to Vienna and I saw all that heavy, over-opulent architecture that I finally got what Mies Van der Rohe and the Bauhaus school were doing; I understood what they were rebelling against.
This is just a small sample of Barcelona museums and cultural attractions. I would love to go back, but realize we probably won’t. If Rick and I had discovered Barcelona 30 years ago when we started traveling together, we would in all likelihood have made some return trips. If we don’t return, it’s okay—I’m grateful for this opportunity to get to know Barcelona. That day in 1969 really didn’t count.