Barcelona, Day 3 – saving the best (yes, the most bonkers) ’till last

Tuesday September 24. The main act of today’s entertainment was to be Barcelona’s pride and joy – Sagrada Familia – the Basilica of the Holy Family. That was the afternoon’s feast, we thought, and we thought we’d try a light starter by way of a tour around the Music Palace – Palau de la Música, conveniently a few minutes walk from our hotel. If you remember that far back, I included a couple of pictures of its exterior in a post from a couple of days ago, at which point we decided that it might be interesting to see the inside. Tours are organised in a variety of languages and so we booked ourselves one for 11am and settled down for some coffee in the coffee shop, which kind of gave a hint about what awaited us.

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We joined the tour group just before Jane burst a blood vessel at the fucking idiots who weren’t interested in a photo of something beautiful unless they themselves were in it, and were taken into a space which we were told was the rehearsal room, where artists could warm up before performance in the auditorium above. A rather lovely video was shown, with lots of famous people (Barenboim, Muti, Lemper and many more) saying what a wonderful place it was, but, more to the point, showing video snippets of the auditorium, which really whetted the appetite. At this point they explained that we were allowed to take pictures and video during the tour, in direct contradiction to what’s written on the tickets. I wonder if this policy has been affected by the recent influx of people for whom life doesn’t exist unless they feature in photos and videos of the places they have visited.

Anyway, having not expected to be able to take photos, I was positively salivating at the prospect of seeing inside the auditorium. And, it is truly amazing inside. The architect was Lluis Domenech i Montana, who was a significant influencer of Gaudi, whose name is far better known, possibly because it’s rather easier to remember.

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We got two other scenes – the auditorium from the second floor, and also a salon just by the restaurant where one could get a bit closer to the pillars that can be seen from the street below.

Then we were taken to the second floor, where you could get a much better idea of the central “glow worm” light panel which is such a feature of the auditorium.

and of the auditorium itself.

Look, I could go on – but you’ll have to look at my Flickr feed to see more photos, once I’ve sorted through them. For now, we have to move to the main act of the day – Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s masterpiece and the most famous slab of architecture in Barcelona, or possibly even the world.

The place falls into, possibly even defines, the “bonkers but beautiful” Barcelona badge. I mean, look at it!

It’s not finished yet – plan is to complete it by 2026, the anniversary of Gaudi’s death (at the age of 73 and the hands – if that’s the right word – of a tram, tragically – and he was shabbily dressed and no-one knew who he was, so by the time he was taken to hospital it was too late).

The view above is of the “Nativity” façade . A typical aspect of the intricacy and interwoven nature of the design is that each façade tells a story – so the Nativity façade has a whole host of detail about the birth and early life of Christ, and is the only one that Gaudi lived to see completed.  The Nativity façade lies to the East, the Passion façade to the West, and the Glory façade to the South (yet to be completed).  Currently there are eight finished towers, of the total of 18 in the design; the most impressive will be the central one, representing Jesus Christ, which will rise to 172.5 metres tall (just less that Montjuïc, the hill by Barcelona – Gaudi said that the works of man should not exceed those of God).

Every aspect of the building – the dimensions and the relationship between them, the number of towers, the height of each and what each represents, the choice of colours in the stained glass windows, the choice of stone for the pillars that support it – is carefully considered and has a place in the overall story of the building, which is an embodiment of the story of Christ and the Holy Family – Sagrada Familia.  The fascinating thing about it is that the intricacies and detailed stories are on the outside – the inside takes its inspiration from the forest, and is a space reserved, independent of faith or denomination, for spiritual contemplation. And selfies.

Last time I was here (2008), the interior was full of scaffolding. It’s now clear and open to the (crowds of) public. Again, I could post dozens of pictures (and I will, on my Flickr page), but a couple of things among the welter of detail caught my eye as we approached the Nativity facade. For a start, someone has nicked this angel’s harp strings, and she looks well pissed off about it.

and this is the only carving I know featuring an angel playing the bassoon.

here is a video of the interior, which is simply breathtaking in its scope, grandeur and attention to detail.

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Let me share a couple more photos with you. Gaudi was obsessed with light as a component of his designs and Sagrada Familia has plenty of demonstrations of his skill in design. For example, the east- and west-facing windows have stained glass in them to emphasise the cool of the sunrise and the warmth of the sunset.

And the light from these plays on the columns wonderfully.

It is impossible to do justice to either of the buildings we visited today – it was simply wonderful to have had the chance to see inside them both. Afterwards, there was nothing for it but to go to the beach and have another great meal at Agua, after which we walked back to the hotel.

Even in this, Barcelona produced a few more quirks. Glimpsed through some trees, we saw a golden figurehead on top of some major monument. On further exploration, this turned out to be the Cascada de Ciutadella, an early work in which Gaudi was involved.

On the rest of the walk, we saw another quirky piece of statuary

and a couple of guys who looked like they were practising for some kind of gig at La Mercè.

Even though I’ve visited Barcelona before, even though I’ve seen some of its sights, the three days we’ve had here have revealed so much more of its character, culture and history. It’s been a pleasure to walk around the place and experience even more of its atmosphere and ambience. We will be back. But for now, tomorrow is the day we have to move on to the next leg of our Balearic adventure – Mallorca, here we come. I’ve cabled the authorities.

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