In Barcelona I took up residence at the Pension Colon on the Placa Real. The pension was a bit
of a hole, however I recommend it. At £7 ($13) per night it's within any budget, and it's close
to both the Mediterranean and the Gothic Quarter. It's also a great place to meet people: during
my week at the Pension I made friendships that lasted days. Some of the people I met are probably
still there, permanently trying and failing to obtain English teaching jobs.
Just half a mile east of of the pension, right on the sea, a tall column (right) rises from the
street to commemorate the misadventures of Cristobal Colon, a.k.a. Christopher Columbus, who sailed
from Barcelona in 1492 looking for India and whose whereabouts are currently unknown. Rather than
majestically pointing west as he plots his conquest of the New World, the statue more accurately
reflects Columbus's severe disorientation (he insisted that America was India until his death, and
threatened to kill crew members who disagreed) by pointing across the sea ... toward Lybia.
On my first day in Barcelona I wandered along the narrow and confusing streets of the Barrio Gotico
(the 'gothic quarter') looking for interesting things to photograph. I discovered the cathedral. It's
like other gothic cathedrals in the usual important ways, however in the cloisters it has palm trees.
My experiences visiting cathedrals in cooler climates hadn't prepared me for this detail. England, for
example, has no palm trees. But in Barcelona the palms dot the entire city, making it seem like a mix
of Paris and Los Angeles. The cloisters are also home to a small flock of white geese, who spent much
of my visit looking busy and irritable. Their presence, according to my guide book, has less to do with
cathedrals being great places for geese and more to do with an ancient, mystical tradition. As usual.
The Mediterranean coast.
One of the most famous people associated with Barcelona is the architect Antoni Gaudi, whose work
is striking in its modernity even though he worked mostly in the late nineteenth century. His work was
perhaps the future of architecture, and it is avant-garde even today. Gaudi liked to work with stone and colored tiles, and this predilection is reflected in may of his buildings, from city offices to the cathedral that is still under construction today.
North of the city, Gaudi planned a large park called Parc Guell. Together, with my trusty camera and a fellow resident from the Pension Colon, I spent the better part of a day in the park marveling at the unusual layout and sculptures. The tiled public areas, the unusual houses and the landscaped caverns and paths are extraordinary. Gaudi had hoped that wealthy eccentrics would want to live in this strange but unique setting, and that he would gradually populate the park with more houses and public buildings to create a very unique neighborhood. Unfortunately no one was interested, so the park was opened to the public.
I rest on the steps of Parc Guell. Perhaps the most famous sculpture in the park is the lizard sculpture behind me. The columns support a covered market, above which is a seating area.
La Sagrada Familia
Perhaps the city's most inspiring attraction is La Sagrada Familia, a new cathedral being built
northwest of the city center. 'New' is a relative term when speaking of cathedrals: construction
started in the 1880s when it was decided that a grand Catholic temple should be built for the city.
A design was approved and work begun by another architect, but during the construction of the massive
crypt the project was turned over to Antoni Gaudi. He had ideas of his own, and changed the design of
the cathedral, giving it a look that was far ahead of its time. No one knows the entirety of Gaudi's
plans for La Sagrada Familia. In the 1930s many people involved in the Spanish Civil War, and elsewhere, got the idea that it was useful to fight over ideologies, as well as burn things. Naturally Gaudi's workshop was torched; only some of his designs and plaster molds remain today. The few remaining designs have allowed work to continue, but some of the his intentions are still left to guesswork.
La Sagrada Familia dominates its local
area and can be seen from far away. The best way to describe the massive spires on the transepts of this
temple would be as perforated cigars. They are massively tall. In a century (or perhaps longer) a central
spire will rise from the center. It will be half again as tall as the existing eight spires.
The towers on the newer transcept, which were completed in the 1950s, almost exactly match the old ones raised during Gaudi's life. Note the temporary connecting bridges between the towers, which will be replaced by stone connections in the years ahead.
In 1998 I found the nave's columns being put into place. Unlike other cathedrals Gaudi's columns branch out at a hub about three-quarters of the way to the ceiling. This has an almost tree-like effect, with branches bearing the load of the roof. The ceiling itself is carved to look like a puzzle of giant geometric leaves, rendering a forest-like appearance.
Along the wall of the nave are innumerable stone protrusions beneath a series of what will one day be beautiful rose windows. This is the only part of the center of the cathedral that is currently covered by a roof; the rest has been open to the elements since building began.
The supporting columns have branches that support a canpy of stone leaves. This area will one day be enclosed and lit mostly by the light from the stained-glass windows.
A corridor along the south side of the nave, with some good examples of the modern sculpture incorporated in the walls.
The top of each spire is decorated with one of Gaudi's signature tiled sculptures - in this case a series of colourful crosses.
The new nave stretches to the right of the picture; at left is the old transept. The stone is actually identical in poth parts, but it will probably be centuries before the whole building looks homogeneous.