A day in Barcelona – modernism and gothic

Barcelona with its modernist and gothic districts – this is our plan for Friday. We take the train at 6:40, should arrive at 8:11, but arrive more than one hour late at 9:30. Trains in Spain – this is a special rhyme.


Barcelona’s swinging modernism
At the Passeig de Gracia station we leave the train. We refresh ourselves with two very, very excellent espressos and very, very delicious croissants… and then we start to scout for the modernist houses on the Passeig de Gracia and around it. We are in the Art Nouveau Eixample district that was plannend and built in the beginning of the 20th century.

Near the train and metro station is the block of houses that is called “La Manzana de la Discòrdia”. There are four modernist houses here and a fight (discòrdia) about which being the most beautiful of them. Gaudí’s Batlla house surely attracts the most tourists now.
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The other three houses have a lively and cheerful decoration that I prefer. This is the Casa Léo Morera built by Lluis Domenech i Montaner. We will meet this architect later in the Paleu de la Musica.
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We discover many more nicely decorated modernist houses, not all of them described in the guide books, and I cannot stop clicking:
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Even the public benches are a good match to the “swinging” modernist atmosphere here.
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The Sagrada Familia – impressive and unfortunately overcrowded
Walking in Carrer Mallorca, we see them already from far: The towers of Gaudí’s unachieved master piece, the Sagrada Familia, point to heaven like slim needles, akwardly accompanied by construction cranes, as this church has not yet been accomplished. (Gaudí had started building it in the beginning of the 20th century, then died and the construction had been stopped for some time during the civil war of the thirties and the Franco regime).
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I look forward to the museum that explains, how Gaudí wants his buildings to look like natural trees and flowers. BUT, now around midday, we would have to wait for perhaps an hour (long queue) to buy a ticket that allows us to enter the Sagrada Familia at 4pm…  No, not for us. We sit down in the park and study the richly decorated Nativity facade…
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… and then continue by metro to the Palau de la Musica.


The Palau de la Musica… a cheerful modernist music palace
The modernist Palau de la Musica Catalana is located in the Barrí Gotic amidst narrow streets. There is a nice cafeteria, where we first recover eating tasty montaditos varts.
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Then we join an Italian speaking group (they are the smallest group) to explore the modernist palace of music. The highlight is the concert hall for about 2000 people: The lamp on the ceiling is a window that lets in natural light.

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The stage is decorated with muses holding a ribbon.
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The main entry is in a narrow street. There are two large gates. The coaches used to enter the first gate, let the passengers out and then leave through the second gate. No longer today. Concert visitors enter through two huge revolving doors built into the gates.

I love this cheerful palace of music. It has been built in 1908 as a stage for the national choir (orfeo) of Catalonia. The architect was Lluis Domenech i Montaner that we already know from the Manzana de Discòrdia. And yes, this music palace has a nationalist purpose for the Catalans, but it has also become a stage for many very different renowned music artists – classic, jazz and folklore.
Let us switch times – the Gothic Cathedral is not far
Enough Art Nouveau or Modernism. We feel like more modest gothic master pieces. The gothic cathedral is not far and we walk through the narrow streets (“Gässli”) of the Barrí Gotic.

Construction of the Cathedral of Barcelona started in 1298 and lasted until 1450. The facade has been completed in the 19th century.
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The nave points to heaven with its high gothic vaults.
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The choir is in the middle – for me a heavy design somewhat offsetting the airiness of the gothic vaults. Here are the richly decorated stalls.
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“Do you believe these geese are kept appropriately to their species”, Ursula asks me. I am not sure. 13 geese walk and stand on the cloister tiles. If they wish they can have a bath in  the fountain. The 13 geese commemorate the martyr Eulalia that died at the age  of 13 years.

A lift takes us to the roof. We enjoy a beautiful view to the Mountjuïc and the church Santa Maria del Pi which is our next target.

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The narrow streets of the Barrí Gotic and Santa Maria del Pi
We continue to stroll through the narrow streets of the Barri Gotic and at the charming Plaça del Pi we have a drink. A group of musicians plays one tune of about 2 minutes five times – no, not all of them have talent.

The church Santa Maria del Pi is one of my favorite in Barcelona. We sit on the bench and breathe in the harmonious atmosphere.
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The windows have been destroyed in the Spanish War of Succession and the Rosette – one of the largest in the world – in the Spanish civil war of the 1930’s.
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Yes, the Catalans have been unlucky teaming up with the “wrong” side, and I learn that another problem was that the rich upper class not really supported the Catalan fight for their independence, but cooperated with Madrid. Hence they lost in the War of Succession shortly after 1700 and in the Civil War in the 30’s of the 20th century.


Ramblas and then Plaça Real
We join the crowds on the Ramblas of Barcelona and then turn left to say hello to the Plaça Real.
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Santa Maria del Mar – also one of my favourite churches in Barcelona
Santa Maria del Mar has been built rapidly from 1329 to 1370. I love the harmony of the homogenous style. We sit on a bench and enjoy the harmony.
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As always when in Barcelona, I say hello to the monument of the Catalans which is not far from Santa Maria del Mar. Yes, the Catalans fought bravely on the side of the Habsburgians in the war of succession in 1713/14 – but it was the Bourbons that won this war.

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The Ribera district would be great for dinner or Tapas, but now we head back to the Passeig de Gracia to catch the 19:25 train.


Returning to Hospitalet – not straightforward and again late
How does access to the Renfe trains work in Barcelona? Not straightforward…

Arriving with the metro at Passeig de Gracia we first figure out which metro entry gives access to the trains. We find this entry three cross-streets to the  north. Under the earth, we are confronted with automatic gates, but our tickets (sold in the train) do not open them.We ask and are told to press “the” button (a bell) – then someone will open a special gate. Okay, but where is that magic “the” button? Ah, here it is, the rightmost gate has such a button that could be “the” button. We press it to ring. No one opens… But then a man leaves the Renfe train area through the flipping door next to the button and we catch the moment to enter. Uff.

The train leaves precisely on time at 19:25. In Tarragona we are precisely on time. Ursula says: “Look, at 9:15 we will be at home on our balcony in L’Hospitalet.” But then the train stands for half an hour in Salou and loses another half hour, until we arrive in Hospitalet one hour late. No, no… train and Spain ARE not a good rhyme.

With a glass of Vermouth from Gallatrops we finish another beautiful sightseeing day.

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