All over the world, all throughout time, buildings tend to be different from each other. This variety is one of the principal reasons traveling to new places feels new—much of a location’s identity is tied to its architecture. Thus, architects often play as much a part stamping a city’s place in the world as emperors, artists, popes, poets and queens. Of all of the above, you’d be hard-pressed to find an individual as groundbreaking, extraordinary or esoteric as Antoni Gaudí.
Eccentric to the point of peculiar, wholly dedicated to his craft and pious to the degree of earning the nickname “God’s Architect,” his genius was arguably without equal—something easily recognized in his work. Gaudí was multi-faceted: architecture, sculpture, furniture, you name it—every detail of his project he meticulously thought of. The final results are part cathedral-Gothic, part Art Nouveau, and somehow, part Alice-in-Wonderland. The city lucky enough to harbor the majority of his masterpieces? Barcelona.
Whether you’re a student of architecture looking to take in some of Gaudí’s genius, or just visiting the city and hoping for an Instagram-worthy snapshot, here are a few sites offering an unequivocally good look at Gaudí’s creations.
Commonly known as La Pedrera (“The Stone Quarry”), Casa Milá earns its nickname with its aesthetic—the undulating stone façade and distorted wrought-iron balconies create the sense of a stone quarry, its varying layers alternating between jutting and smooth all the way up. At the top of the building are a series of small towers that the untrained eye would diagnose as alien beehives; trained eyes would most likely concur. Whether you’re just admiring the exterior, or venturing past the wrought-iron gate to gaze upon the magnificently painted walls and open-air courtyards, Casa Milá makes for a memorable Barcelona discovery.
Nicknamed “the House of Bones,” Casa Batlló is far more magical than morbid in appearance. Technicolor tile patterns climb up the exterior wall like a scaly vine from a fever-dream. The roof is tiled akin to a rainbow fish and its peak a notched dragon’s spine as if mid-rear to breathe a blast of fire. As striking a sight as it is, none of it should be surprising for those who know Gaudí—he was often quoted for saying “originality consists in returning to the origin.” Or, getting to the bone of the matter, the organic was designed by the divine, making what’s witnessed in nature the prime guiding light. The interior of the building makes for a perfect venture into this and more: The former private residence has since been converted into a museum dedicated to the architect.
This cathedral is unequivocally the magnum opus of Gaudí’s life’s work, and arguably one of the most awe-inspiring sites in the world. The many twists and turns to the story of its creation are just enthralling—and adds substantially to its grandeur.
The story goes that Josep Maria Bocabella (the founder of the project) had a dream in which a blue-eyed architect would build his cathedral, right after his current architect had resigned. In 1883, a 29-year-old Antoni Gaudí—with no major work to his name—showed up out of the blue, took on the gargantuan task and immediately scrapped all the plans (as well as all of the work) that had already been done. Gaudí foresaw something entirely new, grand and organically divine unlike anything else before it in human creation.
The exterior facades depict the tales and parables of the Bible so that anyone might enjoy them, regardless of reading capability. The interior columns are stunningly tall, branch out like ancient trees, each carrying far more weight than conventional wisdom would suggest. Light floods the building around the pillars, filtered through the many stained-glass windows and changing hue with the time of day. Walking through the inside, you can’t help but feel like you’re in a majestic forest. The entire structure, inside and out, feels as if it rose out of the ground, beckoned by the Almighty.
Gaudí was run over by a tramcar in 1926 and died several days later in the hospital. Despite this and multiple other obstacles, the cathedral’s construction has continued to this day. Much of Gaudí’s plans and models were destroyed during the Spanish Civil War, drastically slowing the construction. Then, in the 1990s, with the advent of computers and the use of aeronautical software (Gaudi’s designs were too complex for architecture software at the time) construction began to accelerate. The cathedral is slated to finally be complete in 2026, 131 years after its inception. But, to quote Gaudí, “God is the client, and God is never in a hurry.”
Eager to stroll the stunning streets of Barcelona, taking in all of the one-of-a-kind architecture unmatched elsewhere in the world? Speak with one of our travel agents. Their long-established professional relationships with leading cruise lines, like Viking Cruises, let you enjoy sightseeing without an ounce of stress.