Gaudí’s unfinished urbanistic dream, listed UNESCO World Heritage in 1984. The most ambitious urban planning operation of Barcelona in the late 19th century was idea of Gaudí’s main patron, Eusebi Güell, who in 1899 bought an old rural estate of 15 hectares called Can Muntaner de Dalt for conversion into a luxury garden city inspired in Ebenezer Howard’s model (and so the name was -and still is- spelt the English way: “Park”, as opposed to “Parc”, in Catalan). Predictably, the person entrusted with carrying out Güell’s landscape planning scheme was Antoni Gaudí.
Gaudí’s project involved the construction of a housing estate of 60 private plots and large common greens. Gaudí devised the idea of a bucolic retreat for the highest bourgeoisie of Barcelona. Its location on the hillside and far from the city was ideal to symbolise the metaphor of the ascent to paradise, to Eden. The project, however, was a total failure. Development of the estate began between 1900 and 1904 and was definitively halted in 1914. One plot was purchased by the owner of the construction company developing the works, and two more plots were sold to a single purchaser, who had only one villa built. As for the common facilities, three crosses were built to mark the place where the chapel was to be erected, but only the two entrance pavilions, the retaining walls and all the road infrastructure around a large square supported by columns were completed. As a result of this financial disaster, the heirs of Eusebi Güell, who died in 1918, sold the site to the City Council, and it was decided to preserve it as a public park. The prodigious structures raised among the typical Mediterranean vegetation are a curious mixture of fantasy and spirituality, which the staunch patriot Gaudí interspersed with Catalan emblems. A work, in short, where Gaudí gave up his habitual historicism and boldly chose a language of his own ranging from naturally-inspired forms to a surprisingly avant-garde plasticity. The main gate of Park Güell, featuring a brick wall decorated with mosaics, is protected by a wrought iron railing and flanked by two evocative pavilions that reproduce the story of Hansel and Gretel, which was performed as an opera at the Liceu in late 1900, the same period Gaudí began to design the Park Güell. The smaller one on the left with a double cross on the roof, is the house of the children Hansel and Gretel: it currently has a bookshop and souvenir shop on the ground floor. The bigger house on the right, crowned by a poisonous toadstool-shaped dome, represents the Witch’s dwelling and was the former house of the Park’s guard, although it is now home to the Interpretation Centre of the Park, part of the Barcelona History Museum. The free-access ground floor has information on Gaudí’s work. The free-access ground floor has information on Gaudí’s work, but you must pay a fee to go upstairs to see the original house of the guard and the exhibition “Gaudí and Park Güell. Architecture and Nature”. Beyond the two pavilions, on the right one can see a kind of grotto supported by a central column that becomes wider at the top, as if it were a wine glass, meant as a shelter for carriages and horses on rainy days. The main staircase is parted by a small waterfall featuring the famous multi-coloured dragon of glazed ceramic trencadís. The stairs lead to the hypostyle hall, also known as the Hall of the 100 Columns though it only has 86. This hall, originally intended to be the market of the future housing estate, was decorated by Gaudí’s assistant Josep Maria Jujol, who was given carte blanche to do so. The result was exceptional: an undulating ceiling of mosaic with varied incrustations forming capricious spirals. When this zone was restored in 1992 lights were added at the base of the columns, which create a spectacular resemblance to a Greek church at night. From the hypostyle hall two paths lead to the great circular square, a marvellous belvedere overlooking the city. According to Gaudí’s initial design, this square was to collect rainwater, channelled down inside the columns of the hypostyle hall to be collected in a huge cistern holding up to 12,000 cubic metres (not open to the public). The square is surrounded by a winding bench of trencadís in which the imagination of Gaudí and Jujol achieved an extraordinary boldness, considered by some specialists a forerunner of abstract art. The bench is a symphony of colours: greens, blues and yellows are used in different combinations, forming moon shapes and stars and abstract flowers. Colour, however, fades away gradually from left to right, and at the far right the bench is mainly white, the symbol of purity. The bench seems to hint that human life is a kaleidoscope of colours that culminate after death in heavenly white. The white of this part of the bench is not, however, a pure white: here Gaudí used materials that had been rejected in other buildings, such as Casa Batlló, precisely because of the “impurity” of this white. The restoration of the bench in 1995 aimed to maintain this imperfection by using up to 21 different hues and shades of white to replace the deteriorated parts. Other unusual features of the Park Güell are its bridges and viaducts, with twisted, grotto-like columns. The fourth portico that connects the upper part with the lower part is perhaps the most Surrealist structure, with the leaning walls and arches that recall images by Dalí. The summit of the park is crowned by a monumental Calvary formed by three crosses at the place where Gaudí had planned to build the chapel. Even here the feverish architect had symbolic fantasies. If we look toward the east -toward Jerusalem, as it were- the perspective seems to merge all three crosses into one. This is the final point of the ascent: the cross is the ultimate symbol.
The planned actions for waterproofing Nature Square were completed in 2019 (with a new drainage system for collecting water), as was the waterproofing of the ceiling of the Hypostyle Room and strengthening the vaults that support it.
Work was completed in 2020 to restore sections of the bench that had been damaged by using original stored pieces and manually constructing new pieces. In the Hypostyle Room, work focused on completely restoring the ceiling. The action also helped to restore a space that had not been accessible until now, the Sarva Fountain, as well as to return the Lower Viaduct to its original look by ensuring the stability of the construction features.
Actions on Modernista Heritage City Council Programme Barcelona, posa’t guapa (Barcelona, get pretty)
Restoration of the central staircase.
Until 12 February 2021: from 9.30 am to 5.30 pm
From 13 February to 27 March 2021: from 9.30 am to 6 pm
From March 28 to October 30, 2021: from 9.30 am to 7.30 pm
From 31 October to 31 December 2021: from 9.30 am to 5.30 pm
Prices and discounts
Ticket with Modernisme Route discount: €8.
Discount applicable only on the general admission rate, and cannot be combined with other reductions and rates.
Timetables may vary.
Get the Guidebook of Barcelona Modernisme Route
The Barcelona Modernisme Route is an itinerary that takes you through the Barcelona of Gaudí, Domènech i Montaner and Puig i Cadafalch, the architects who, together with others, made Barcelona the world capital of Modernisme. This Route enables you to get to know thoroughly impressive palatial residences, amazing houses, the temple that has become a symbol of the city and a huge hospital, but it also includes humbler and more everyday buildings and items such as chemists’, shops, lampposts and benches - modernist works which show that Art Nouveau put down strong roots in Barcelona and today Modernisme is still an art that is alive and part of life in the city.
The Guidebook of Barcelona Modernisme Route can be acquired in our centers of Modernisme.