Park Güell is the most colorful place in Barcelona in opinion of our J&T travel expert. Everyone knows its colorful mosaics and fantastic spires towers. However, from the very beginning it was not constructed as a park.
Some history: a philanthropist Mr. Güell entrusted to Gaudi the plan to create an estate for well-off families in a large property that Güell had acquired in the zone known popularly as the Muntanya Pelada (Bare Mountain). Its location was unbeatable, in a healthy setting with splendid views over the sea and the plain of Barcelona. The estate made provision for some 60 triangular plots, with the complex network of path, viaducts and steps to cope with the street topography of the terrain. The building conditions were very strict: only one-six of the plot could be built upon, and the buildings could only be devoted to residential uses. Güell wanted to recreate the selective British residential estates.
The relationship between Güell and Gaudi was not simply one of artist and patron, but a true story of friendship. Gaudi undertook a profound urban-planning reflection in order to lend form to the whole, submerging himself in a strange process of artistic creation.
The building work on Park Güell progressed at a good rate in the first years of the construction. Although the conditions of acquisition of the plots, the exclusive nature of the nature of the estate and the lack of proper transport made the project unviable. Güell chose to halt the work in 1914. The economic failure of the project resulted its selling to the state authorities of Barcelona, and after it was decided to turn this area into a park. The UNESCO declared it a cultural heritage of Humanity in 1984.
Entrance and Porter’s Lodge. The main entrance to the park has some iron gates and also two pavilions, that formed the porter’s lodge of the estate. Both have roofs of great originality, clad with trencadis (tile-shard mosaic). Trencadis is a decorative system much loved by Gaudi and consisting in cladding surfaces with small pieces of broken tiles, often taken from demolition materials and disused objects.
The building on the left, which now the shop of souvenirs and books, was conceived as a porter’s lodge to receive visitors to the estate, with a spacious waiting room.
The porter’s lodge (casa del guarda) of the estate, to the right of the main entrance to Park Güell, is currently the part of Barcelona History Museum. It is one of the few examples of modest dwellings created by Gaudi, practical and simple though without renouncing formal richness, and making remarkable use of the Catalan vault style of construction. Catalan vault is a traditional technique of construction using several layers of tiles, and shows great flexibility for adopting a variety of forms.
Monumental flight of steps start from the entrance square, framed by two convex walls with merlons, with a shelter beside a conical column on the right-hand side. It is a double flight of steps divided into sections that ascends to the Hypostyle Room or Columns Room, beneath which is a tank that feeds the springs on its central axis. The flight of steps is full of details. Firstly, we find capricious shapes like gargoyles. A little higher, visitors are surprised by the sculptural features clad with tile-shard mosaic. There is a fountain in the form of a snake’s head above the shield of Catalonia. Then comes a well-known brightly coloured dragon or salamander.
Nature Square (or known as Theater Grec or Nature Theater) was meant for the holding of open-air shows. The square is partly dug into mountain and partly held up by the Hypostyle Room. The undulating bench was made from prefabricated blocks of concrete clad with tile-shard mosaic and cylindrical pieces of pottery. In the first decades of the 20th century all kinds of celebrations were held there, from sports events and a balloon flight to a wide variety of social events.
Hypostyle Room was conceived of a covered space which could serve as a market for the estate. The ceiling is formed of small domes built using the Catalan vault technique, clad with tile shards and with soffits laid out like a keystone. A covered area with 86 striated columns inspired in the Doric order and crowned by an entablature that also incorporates shapes taken from classical style. Above the cornice and standing out for its strong contrast of shapes and colours, is the ceramic bench of the upper square.
We can see from afar the two houses that were built while Park Güell was a residential estate: the white Casa Trias and the pink show-home for the estate. Antoni Gaudi lived in this last house until shortly before his death, and it is the Gaudi House Museum now.
Austria Gardens were one of the zones of the residential estate that was meant to be divided into plots for houses but was instead occupied by a municipal plant nursery when Barcelona City Council opened the park to the public in 1926. It owes its name to a donation of trees from Austria.
Park Güell is a dialogue between architecture and nature by Gaudi. His mastery of the most diverse structures and materials allows him to invent a unique world that is at the same time full of symbolic references.
Source: The guide map Park Güell, Visit to the Monumental Zone has been drawn up by Barcelona History Museum. Text: Joan Roca i Albert and Mireia Freixa.