As a kid, I was often caught up in the fantasies of Alice in Wonderland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and my favourite, The Magic Faraway Tree. Twenty years later, I revisit these sensations at Park Güell.
Park Güell is located on a hill in Barcelona, above Gracia, with a panoramic view over the city and sea. Artist Anton Gaudi designed plans for this space, originally commissioned as a privately financed suburb, in his Catalan style, which embraced mythology, history, and liturgy. The urban development project never eventuated; in 1923, it was turned into this park.
Gaudi modeled Park Güell on a nineteenth-century fairground: stone walls, fringed with pinnacles, are covered in mosaic tiles; the entrance combines white topped roofs with tall chimneys and windows outlined in patterned tile.
“Barcelona myth tells of Gaudi parsimoniously ordering his workmen to scavenge broken tiles from nearby building sites on their way to work. There were also reports of the workmen taking delivery of carefully transported Venetian tiles and smashing them in front of the horrified delivery man.” *
Gaudi’s design feels like a chapter from Choose Your Own Adventure. You may choose to climb a ceremonial staircase guarded by a dragon fashioned from tiny shards of tile; or meander along a pathway leading you to an outdoor hallway flanked by stone columns supporting the walkway above. Palm trees, bougainvillea, and stone sculptures serve as decoration.
All paths lead back to the main plaza, the focal point of the park designed for social gatherings. A writhing serpent sculpture slithers along the plaza’s perimeter. Here you can enjoy a glass of sangria and look upon the park, Barcelona, and the Mediterranean Sea.
Park Güell is a space unlike any place I have seen. Spending an afternoon here was as close as I’ve ever get to living in a fairytale.
Park Güell is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site. It was designed in Gaudi’s singular Catalan style, where his “deliberate programme mixed classical myth, Catalan history, Catholic liturgy and the memory of martyrdom into something completely unique.” * This program was reflective of historical gardens in Renaissance Italy as well as Gaudi’s other works, the Nativity façade of La Sagrada Familia and the crypt at Colonia Güell.
Gaudi lived in a home here from 1906 to 1926. The Gaudi Museum (Casa Museu Gaudi) since 1963, it may be visited today for a fee and contains original works by Gaudi. In 1969 it was declared a historical artistic monument of national interest.
* Gaudi. A Biography by Gijs Van Hensbergen