“Here in Barcelona, it’s the architects who built the buildings that made the city iconic who are the objects of admiration — not a bunch of half-witted monarchs.”
– Julie Burchill (contemporary English writer)
Arrival in Barcelona
Our ship landed in Barcelona on a Sunday in early April, at the end our two-week cruise from Brazil.
We had a very nice apartment in the “Eixample” district of Barcelona. The name translates as “extension,” reflecting the neighborhood’s origins in the early 19th century, a time when Barcelona expanded rapidly outside the confines of the old walled city. The Eixample is characterized by orderly, wide streets and beautiful Belle Époque architecture.
Ah, Barcelona! After months of traveling in Central and South America, it felt great to be back in the grandeur of Europe.
Wow, Gaudí, Who Knew?!
On the morning of our first full day in Barcelona, armed with tickets purchased the night before, we headed straight for the Casa Batlló, only a few blocks from our apartment.
This was the first of several Barcelona buildings we visited that were designed by the famed architect Antoni Gaudí early in the 20th Century.
Gaudí was known for his intense creativity. His structures have a kind of flowing, watery, psychedelic look, a bit like a 1960s rock show or pop art poster. Besides the grandeur of his architectural designs, he also was attentive to the smallest details, such as railings and door handles.
But what also impressed at the Casa Batlló on our first morning in Barcelona was the durability and practicality of Gaudí’s projects.
He was as accomplished a structural engineer as he was a designer.
In the top floor of the Casa Batlló, where the laundry and servants quarters were located, Gaudí designed a corridor with parabolic arches that let in air and light to the building below, even as they support the roof.
Gaudí’s buildings have held up remarkably well with the passage of time, both aesthetically and structurally.
Our eyes were opened to the legacy of this genius of Barcelona.
Given how contemporary all of Gaudí’s designs still look, it is remarkable to contemplate that it was 100 years ago when this man was at his creative peak.
We hope the pictures of Casa Batlló, below, will illustrate our point.
The Majesty of Sagrada Família
As impressed as we were with Casa Batlló, our visit there was just a warm-up for our tour of the Sagrada Família, Antoni Gaudí’s great masterwork in Barcelona.
The “Church of the Holy Family” is a Roman Catholic basilica that has been under more-or-less continual construction since 1882. Gaudí took over the project in 1883 and made it his life’s work.
It is scheduled for completion in 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudí’s death. That, at least, is the aspiration in Barcelona.
The interior of Sagrada Família, however, is largely complete, and is a thing of wonder. Again, it demonstrates Gaudí’s prowess not only as an artist but as a structural engineer. The columns holding up the roof are of Gaudí’s design, inspired by trees. The stained glass windows and other design aspects allow natural light to illuminate the interior.
We climbed one of the towers and toured the interior of the massive church. Pictures are better than words for capturing our experience. Below is a montage of photos, some of which we took, others borrowed from the internet.
The Sagrada Família is phenomenal!
Here are pictures of the 400 concrete spiral steps in one of the towers of Sagrada Família:
The Gothic Quarter
Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter, as it is known, covers the footprint of the old Roman walled city, down near the waterfront. It is really charming, consisting of beautifully preserved medieval buildings, portions of the ancient Roman wall, and old narrow streets.
The city restricts vehicle traffic in the old quarter, so it is accommodating for pedestrians.
We spent a lot of time wandering around there, touring the old cathedral and sampling tapas and sangria in the restaurants.
We kept finding ourselves drawn back to the old quarter.
Adjacent to the Gothic Quarter is La Rambla, a main thoroughfare, mostly now a pedestrian mall, leading uphill from the waterfront to the newer Eixample neighborhood where we were staying.
We remembered our friend Bill Jones’s cautionary tale about losing his wallet to a pickpocket on La Rambla, but thankfully we had no such difficulty. We enjoyed mingling with all the tourists.
Perhaps because Barcelona has functioned continuously as a great seaport for thousands of years, or perhaps it’s something about the people, but we found the city to be exceptionally open and welcoming, and language somehow was not a hindrance.
On The Hilltop, High Above All Barcelona
One windy, sunny spring day we took the subway up toward Park Güell, yet another Barcelona landmark featuring a large array of structures built by our old friend Antoni Gaudí in the early 20th century.
From the subway stop, we still had a long uphill trek, which included an outdoor escalator ride up a portion of the slope toward the park.
When we arrived at the park entrance, however, we learned that tickets are required to enter the Gaudí area.
The ticket vendor told us that the next available time slot for entering was in two and a half hours — much longer than we were willing to wait.
So, we made our own fun, as the saying goes.
The Gaudí area occupies only the lower portion of the park, so from up above we caught a few glimpses of the fantasy-land he had constructed down below.
But even better for us was a network of progressively narrower trails that wind their way to the remote hilltops, high above the park. We climbed steadily, leaving the crowds behind. After weeks of relative inactivity on the cruise ship, it felt invigorating to hike uphill, getting fresh air in our lungs, and pausing now and then to take in the views.
The vistas up there, looking down on Barcelona and the Mediterranean beyond, were ever more spectacular, the higher we went.
Oh, Barcelona! Oh, yes! Barcelona!
We were so happy to be back in Europe again.
And we felt that there was no better place than Barcelona to begin.