Park Güell, a tribute to nature according to Gaudí

A visit to Barcelona means entering the magical world of Antoni Gaudí, an architect with such imagination that influenced the creator of Dr. Seuss. The city was his canvas and he left magnificent works everywhere. His work The Sagrada Familia is the most visited tourist attraction, followed by Park Güell.

We decided to walk to the park to get to know the city and be able to contemplate the views. The panoramic landscapes of Barcelona allow you to see some of the most iconic architectural works with the sea in the background. The Agabar Tower reminded me a lot of the Gherkin building in London.

Another impressive tower is the Hotel W Barcelona which is located on the Barceloneta beach.

We bought a bottle of cava and stopped on the way to have a drink.

When you arrive at Park Güell the streets are up-hill, but surprisingly the hills are equipped with escalators for the ease of tourists.

The relationship between Gaudí and Güell

The entrepreneur Eusebi Güell met the architect Antoni Gaudí at the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1878. Gaudí had designed a showcase for Esteve Comella’s glove shop. Güell asked Gaudí to make some furniture for him and then the pavilions of the doorman’s house and the stables of Finca Güell. Having passed the test, Gaudí would be in charge of building his new home, Palau Güell on Nou de la Rambla street. A beautiful friendship was formed between both men and finally in 1900, Gaudí receives the task of designing Park Güell.

In those times, the city of Barcelona was already modern and its economy was industrialized. The engineer Ildefons Cerdà designed the Eixample plan to grow the city 10 times its current size. Güell joins the development and decides to build a garden city, a popular concept in England. Its location would be on a hill in the south of Barcelona, where people could have a balance between the city and the countryside.

It is not called “parque” in Spanish but “park” in English because they wanted to achieve an English atmosphere. Another version of the story tells that they were not allowed to put the name “parc” in Catalan, which is very similar to “park” in English.

The residential project fails

60 villas were planned but only two buildings, streets and an extensive park were completed. The architect wanted to make a residential area full of symbols of Catalonia and Christianity. The project was a total failure and its construction stopped in 1914. One of these two houses was the home of the architect between 1906 and 1925, and is currently the Gaudí House Museum. This museum opened in 1963 and exhibits pieces of furniture designed by the architect for the Batlló and Calvet houses.

The Barcelona City Council buys the park in 1922 and it becomes a municipal space. In Güell’s own life, the park was already considered a tourist destination. It was used to make Catalan events, including typical dances. Today, Park Güell receives almost 4 million tourists a year.

Buy your ticket in advance

The first time I visited the park was in 2012. At that time anyone could access any park at no cost. It seems that in October 2013 they started charging an entrance fee. When I returned in 2016 I had the bitter surprise not only having to pay, but that I needed to reserve the time of entry. They told me that there was room for the same day but that I had to return hours later and it was impossible for me to see the whole park.

Mass-tourism is a serious problem for Barcelona. The city has 1.6 million inhabitants and received 32 million tourists in 2016.

To preserve the heritage, access to the monumental area was limited to 400 people every half hour. The ticket costs in 2018 about €7.50 for adults and €5.25 for children between 7 and 12 years. If you buy the entrance to Park Güell online it is cheaper and you can enter until half an hour after the time you choose. There are additional options for private or group tours.

The park opens every day of the year. In low season from October 28 to March 24 it opens from 8:30 a.m. at 6:30 p.m. For medium and high season it opens from 8 a.m. until 8:30-9:30 p.m.

The monumental area of Gaudí

The park has an area of 17 hectares. The main entrance is located in Carrer d’Olot and is recognizable by its two small houses that seem to be part of the Hansel and Gretel story. One of these houses is a shop and the other, the Casa del Guarda that shows audiovisual exhibitions about the park’s past.

You must buy a ticket if you want to visit the famous monumental area that includes the salamander, the market and the terrace.

To climb the terrace with the best views of Barcelona you must go down a staircase guarded by a colorful salamander. You can buy a replica of the famous mosaic in any of the souvenir shops next to the entrance of the park. You will first arrive at a rather particular room called the Hypostyle Hall. You will see 86 Roman columns inclined 6 meters high that serve to support the terrace. Originally it was supposed to be a market for residents.

The terrace is called the Nature Plaza and has the ‘Banc de Trencadís’, a bench of 110 meters in length, which they say is the longest in the world. It is full of colorful mosaics, typical of Gaudí’s style.

Trencadís is a style that the architect designed using broken pieces of ceramic to make new designs. The painter Salvador Dalí said that this bench was the precursor of the surrealist movement. The terrace was built to control the fall of rainwater using a layer of sand and stone that drains through the columns reaching an underground cistern.

The free part of Park Güell

95% of the park is still free, which is mostly forests with walking trails. Keep in mind that Gaudí built the park as a tribute to nature. A labyrinth full of landscaping contains walls and pillars made of stone as if they were palm trees that support the roads.

The mountain was not leveled to build Park Güell. Gaudí used natural reliefs to integrate them into his imagination. The highest point was to be a chapel, but finally a Monument to Calvary was made. You must climb 60 meters (196 feet) to appreciate the best views of the city.

Before Gaudí’s intervention, the mountain was deforested. They planted a large number of plants and vegetation typical of the Mediterranean. As well as other species such as eucalyptus, pine, carob, oak, figs, almond trees, cork oaks, palm trees, cypresses, olives, among others.

In 1984, UNESCO included the park in the list of Cultural Heritage sites. Seven works built by the architect between 1852 and 1926 are world heritage. This list includes: Park Güell; Palau Güell; Crypt in Colonia Güell; the facade of the Nativity and the Crypt of the Sagrada Familia; Casa Batlló; Mila House; and Casa Vicens.

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