Wednesday, November 9, 2011

(No.176) Barcelona: 3 of its treasures

On the second visit Pat and I made recently to Barcelona in the Catalan region of Spain there were many worthwhile places left for us to visit -- as indeed there would be on a third, fourth or fifth visit.

One of the barcelonin best known to the world is Antoni Gaudi, the Catalan architect and designer whose church, La Sagrada Familia, is still a work in progress a century after its beginnings (see "Strange meets unusual: Barcelona's Sagrada Familia", column No. 127 posted Dec.14,2010 to Between 1885 and 1914 the work of Gaudi and Modernista movement architects help endow modern Barcelona with its unique public face.

A commercial failure with which Gaudi was associated is today a major attraction. It is the 15 hectare Park Guell. At the beginning of the 20th century Barcelona banker Count Eusebi Guell decided to construct on the slopes of Barcelona's Muntabya Pelada an English-style village of 60 homes for the wealthy to occupy.

Guell was a patron of Gaudi who took on the job and designed, among other features, a showcase home in which Gaudi actually lived for a time plus extensive landscaped gardens. The project attracted no buyers and ca 1923 Guell donated the park to the city. Only two houses were built but the park and Gaudi's designs including three curved viaducts and most of the existing vegetation were kept.

Park Guell has been an impressive and centrally located public facility in Barcelona ever since it was donated to the city. It showcases Gaudi's unique work in a nature setting. Today the spired Casa-Museu Gaudi, where the architect lived for much of the last two decades of his life (1906-1926), is a Gaudi museum which includes memorabilia and furniture he designed.

Beneath an unusual 'market square', where sellers gather to hustle stuff to tourists, is an area featuring 86 columns. The space above it is circumscribed by a "wave bench", a continuous stone bench decorated in coloured mosaic.

Park Guell is an unusual and fascinating place and, despite the crowds of tourists and barcelonin who visit, one not to be missed.

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If Park Guell is crowded with punters when one visits ( a distinct possibility, depending upon the day and time of year) the Monastery of Pedralbes will not be.

It is a quietly impressive complex of buildings the origin of which is in 1327 when the monastery was founded by Queen Elisenda de Montcado. From its inception the monastery was occupied by Poor Clare nuns, the female branch of the Franciscan Order. Today nuns of the Order still live in one part of the monastery.

The Monastery is one of the ten or so sites which are part of the Museu D'Historia De Barcelona. A ticket purchased to visit the monastery gives the visitor access to other sites.

The monastery is a fine example of Catalan Gothic architecture including the church and the three story cloister. The latter is considered to be one of the most spacious and graceful in this style anywhere.

Around the central cloister which is open to the sky are the day cells formerly used by the nuns. The garden and fountains of the cloister offer a quiet beauty and an impressive sense of religious and historical continuity. The church itself contains the tomb of Queen Elisenda, and it is appropriately lit by 14th century stained glass windows.

Also available for viewing are the abbey chapterhouse, the refectory, the kitchen, the Dormidor and the infirmary, one of the last examples remaining of a Renaissance hospital building.

The Dormidor, the nuns' old sleeping quarters, houses an exhibition "The Monastery Treasures". It is a selection of the artwork, furniture and religious objects accumulated over seven centuries.

The Monastery of Pedralbes is an impressive place to visit. The pleasure is enhanced by the quieter atmosphere provided by far fewer people wandering around than at Park Guell. The monastery lacks the celebrity appeal of the Gaudi name and in some respects this is a benefit for visitors seeking a quieter, less crowded site ( see "Antoni Gaudi of Barcelona", column No.125 posted Dec.2, 2010 to

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Since 1990 the Pedralbes Palace (Palau Reial de Pedralbes) has housed the Museum of Ceramics (Museu Ceramica). Today it also has an extensive permanent exhibition of clothes through several centuries, "Dressing The Body", plus a large exhibition on design "From The One-off Object to Product Design".

The original buildings date from the 1880s and were until ca 1918 the house of the Guell family. King Alfonso XIII of Spain had the palace built by extending the buildings between 1919 and 1924. He thought there was nowhere in Barcelona at the time suitable for royal functions.

Today the neoclassical Pedralbes Palace is surrounded by the Parc del Palau Reial with its ornamental gardens and paths, impressive and extensive. The palace and its grounds are situated directly across from what has become today the main campus of the ultra-modern University of Barcelona. The stables and porter's lodge (also know as the Pavellons Guell) were, like Park Guell, designed by Gaudi.

The Ceramic Museum has a very extensive and fine collection of Spanish ceramics (including work by Picasso and Miro). 15 of the 18 galleries cover Spanish ceramics from the Caliphiate Age through the 19th century. There are 3 galleries devoted to twentieth century and contemporary ceramics.

The range of attractions at the Pedralbes Palace encompass so many interests (i.e., the palace itself and the Gaudi structures, the gardens, the ceramic, design and textile exhibitions) that a visit is virtually guaranteed to offer satisfaction to almost any visitor.

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by Alastair Rickard



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