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Friday Flashback: Park Guell, Barcelona

A true masterpiece, Park Guell in Barcelona is a large urban park and UNESCO World Heritage site. This stunning park features the whimsical designs of Catalan architect and modernist, Antoni Gaudi, with peaceful natural areas, winding paths, and many sculptures, mosaics, and quirky buildings. North American tourists have been known to compare the architecture to the illustrations of childhood books by Dr. Suess.

Parc Güell was originally planned as a housing estate for the wealthy by entrepreneur Eusebi Güell. The housing estate wasn't successful as only two families (including Gaudí) decided to make their homes here. Gaudí lived in the park until his death in 1926, when the park was opened to the public. For many years the Güell family lived in the large family house (now a school), while Gaudí lived in one of the two houses that were built there.

To protect the park, tourist entries are restricted. Tickets should be purchased in advance. The metro and several bus lines (24 – 31 – 32 – 74 - 92) have stops near the tourist entry gates, requiring a walk (and stair climb) of 5 to 20 minutes after leaving the bus/metro. The Barcelona City Tour bus also stops nearby. General admission costs 10€, add an additional 12€ for a guided tour (up to 25 participants). Visitors can also download a free app to do a self-directed tour.

The park is very popular, so expect crowds. Since entrances are limited, you will not be guaranteed entry if you arrive without a ticket or are late for your entrance time. Make sure you know which entrance gate you are to use and arrive within 30 minutes of your ticketed time. Wear sensible shoes as you will be climbing stairs and inclined pathways. There are no restaurants within park, although there is an (expensive) café with sad sandwiches and other touristy treats. It is strongly recommended that you bring your own water and snacks.

Since the area was originally designed as a housing estate, many of the features were built with practical daily life in mind. The main entrance is on the south side, on Carrer d'Olot. The wall of the park is stone with ceramic tiles and medallions bearing the name and crest of the Park. The iron gates, with palm leaf decor, were not part of the original plan.

On either side of the main entrance are the two pavilions that form the Porter's Lodge, with a waiting room. The pavilion on the left was the original porter's lodge, while the other was the Porter's Residence (now part of the Barcelona History Museum). Both of these have beautiful roofs with trencadis, a mosaic made from tile shards.

The Dragon Stairway features the famous 2.4-meter-long salamander/dragon fountain covered with Gaudís' trencadís-style mosaic. The stairway is divided into three sections with the fountain water supplied from a tank under the Hypostyle Room. There will be a long line of people trying to get a photo with the salamander.

The Hypostyle Room was designed to be the marketplace. There are 86 columns, with the outer columns sloping in different directions, unlike any classical column. There are some spaces without columns that create nave-like spaces. Take time to look at the ceiling, formed of small domes using a traditional brick technique decorated with original tile.

Close by is La Placa de la Natura (The Nature Square) which is a large open space ringed by a magnificent undulating tile bench from which visitors can enjoy spectacular views of the city. Originally named the Greek Theatre, this area was planned for staging outdoor events and concerts for the residents of the proposed development.

On the eastern side of the square is a pathway, known as the Laundry Room Portico, leading to the former gardens of Casa Larrard, the mansion that Güell used for his home, but has been used as a school since the early 1930s. The pathway is in the shape of a great wave with slanting columns and is considered to be one of the finest examples of Gaudí's organic style of architecture.

The area known as the Austria Gardens was originally intended to be a housing zone. When the park became a public park, this area was used by the city of Barcelona as a plant nursery. The name honours a donation of trees from Austria in 1977. There is no way to visit Barcelona without becoming aware of the magnificence of Gaudí's creativity. His style is unmistakable with curving lines and rounded shapes full of brightly coloured trencadís mosaics. Park Güell is an excellent example of how he mixed beauty and function and is well-worth spending a full day of exploration.


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