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Palau Güell reopens on May 25th after seven years restoration work.
You’ll finally be able to see the Palau Güell, Gaudí’s first major work, the one in which all the elements present in all his later creations appear. Currently, you have to queue at the Palau for tickets, but they accept advance bookings for other days or sessions later the same day. See the details at the bottom of the page. According to Antonio González, the architect responsible for the restoration project, the Palau Güell is the most genuine of Gaudí’s buildings. It was one of the few completed to the master’s satisfaction and it has never been altered or added to, and nothing has been removed.
Gaudí's love of medieval and oriental form, the shapes and textures abounding in nature and his profound piety can be clearly seen in the Palau Güell.
Gaudí was commissioned by his patron Eusebi Güell to build a town house close to the unremarkable house his father had built on the nearby Rambla. Güell was thinking of linking the two houses through their back gardens and bought several plots on the street with this in mind. Perhaps Güell wanted to rehabilitate a district that was fast losing popularity among the wealthy –people were moving uptown to the fashionable L’Eixample at this time.
Whatever the reason, Güell threw himself into the project and made it clear to Gaudí that he was to work to no budget and the final cost of the building is not known, though it must have been astronomical.
Gaudí threw himself into it too, commissioning the best hardwoods, polished marbles, elaborate wrought iron work, exquisite marquetry… The very best artisans and artists were commissioned to work on the job, the cabinet makers Julià Soley and Eudald Puntí, master smith Salvador Gabarró and the artist Antoni Oliva who had the reputation of being able to make almost anything out of any material.
When Oliva showed Gaudí an imitation marble door on the cupboard he was making, Gaudí first congratulated him on his skill and then took him severely to task for making a fake, and finished saying “Art is a very serious business!”, before stomping off.
Gaudí redesigned the entire façade at least three times although his biographer, Martinell, says he did 25 different approaches. In any event, Güell chose the most daring with a Venetian style gallery and two massive parabolic portals with iron doors and intricate and delicate yet powerful wrought-iron scrollwork.
Work began in 1886 and the interior decoration was finished around July 1889 according to a letter Gaudí wrote to the Bishop of Astorga. The unfinished building was officially inaugurated during the International Exhibition of 1888 and a steady stream of influential visitors flowed through its magnificent hall including members of the Spanish royal family, the King of Italy and the President of the United States, Grover Cleveland.
You enter the building through magnificent parabolic arches —large enough for Güell’s guests to enter by carriage. Although the paving inside looks like stone, it is made of wooden blocks to silence the horse hooves. From the outside, passers-by can’t see through into the building, but from the inside the doors seem diaphanous, almost transparent. Between them is the shield of Catalunya with an iron dragon perched on a helm above it. When Joan Oños, the master smith, was fitting the shield on the wall under the watchful gaze of Gaudí and Güell, a passer-by remarked, “My God, what an ugly thing!” Gaudí was mortified, but Güell just smiled and said, “I like it all the more now.”
One of the building’s most innovative features is underground stables and coach house reached by a descending spiral ramp. Was this the first building ever to have built-in parking? In the basement stables massive corbelled brick columns support the building and the space has an incredibly dramatic atmosphere.
This didn’t stop the painter Santiago Rusiñol quipping in a magazine during building that Babylonian remains had been discovered in Conde del Asalto, as the street was then known. Others compared the building to a jailhouse. Costs were piling up. When Güell’s secretary complained and showed him a sheaf of bills, expecting him to stop the job, Güell shuffled through them and said “Is that all?”
The building is centred on a great, high, central salon crowned by a parabolic dome. The feeling is a strange mix of Turkish bath and noble palace. Light filters dimly from skylights and a multitude of windows in the two stories of galleries and rooms. The stained glass is of extraordinary beauty and revolutionary design for the time. The walls are richly decorated with fine hardwoods. By the gallery Gaudí’s trademark catenary arches rest on polished limestone columns. The stone came from Güell’s quarry and cement factory on the road to Sitges.
A small private chapel whose doors and frames are made of fine hardwoods sheathed in tortoiseshell is now empty, though González says that,contrary to popular belief, neither the Republicans nor the Nationals destroyed it during the Civil War. On the second floor is the organ Güell’s daughter played, now restored. The acoustics provided by the domed structure are reputed to be wonderful. Another curious space, but one that can’t be visited, is a cell, dating from the period when the building was used as a prison by the communist PSUC party. You can see a very brief shot of this in the video further down the page.
Perhaps the most striking space of all is the roof. This is where Jack Nicholson looked for María Schneider in Antonioni’s “The Passenger”. It’s also where Gaudí used his patron’s Limoges dinner service to tile one of the chimneys in broken white porcelain fragments. It seems Güell had crockery to spare and didn’t mind Gaudí trashing it in a good cause.
There are eighteen chimneys and ventilators, some plain brick, some trencadís jig-saw puzzle fragments of tiles, decorating geometrical or organically shaped caps poised on columns. Gaudí was the first Spanish architect to recover the old Moorish style of using fragments of tile to decorate a surface and on the roof of the Palau Güell, his first attempt at trencadís, he was riffing on the theme, showing off subtle variations on similar structures, playing with the effects of the changing light. It makes magical landscape against the backdrop of old Barcelona.
More than one art historian has discussed the theory that the young Picasso, who lived just a few houses away, might, could or must (according to choice) have been influenced by Gaudí’s trencadís and stained glass designs before painting his later cubist pictures…
The central spire is not covered with tile but with the vitrified linings from the lime burning ovens at Güell’s quarry and cement factory at Garraf. Repeated firings in the kilns gave the stone the grey, glassy sheen you can see today on the spire.
Parabolic windows pierce the lower part of the spire and above them are larger parabolic arches. These all let light into the dome above the hall giving its atmospheric lighting effect. Finally the spire is topped with a lightning conductor in the shape of a Greek cross and a flying bat, one of the symbols of Barcelona.
Güell was delighted with the building and Gaudí was happy to have such a a showcase for his fertile imagination and creative genius. Nevertheless, Güell didn’t use the house much; he lived there on and off until 1906 when he moved to a semi-reclusive life in the Park Güell, his failed experiment in social housing. The house was, in fact, uncomfortable and impossible in very hot or cold weather. The social current was taking the wealthy and cultured towards the elegant streets of Passeig de Gràcia and the burgeoning Eixample and the Palau Güell was stranded in a degenerating district.
After Güell’s death his daughter lived there until the building was confiscated in the Civil War and turned into a police station and jail. Later, after narrowly escaping being sold to an American millionaire and taken piecemeal to the United States, it was taken over by the Diputació de Barcelona who used it first as the headquarters of the Friends of Gaudí Society and the as a Theatre Museum. In 1984 it was declared a World Heritage site and since then has been intermittently under restoration and is now once more open to the public. Fire regulations limit visitors to 185 each session so you will need to book ahead. Details are below. To date the website is not working and the telephone number is not yet accepting booking. The Council Information service says bookings will be accepted "shortly"…
You can see a short video of the Palau Güell here…
Open: · 1st April – 30th September: Tuesday – Sunday, 10.00 – 20.00 (access open till 19.00) · 1st October – 31st March: 10.00 – 17.30 (access open till 16.30) Closed: · Mondays (unless bank holiday) Christmas and Boxing Days Price: · 10 euros; 8 euros students under 25 and EU OAPs Address: · Nou de la Rambla, 3 Telephone: 934 725 775 934 725 771 How to get there: · Metro L3, Liceu or Drassanes stations, Bus 14, 59, 91. Web: · www.palauguell.cat (Not yet accepting on-line bookings) E-mail: · firstname.lastname@example.org
Nou de la Rambla street is in the bottom section of the Ramblas, on the right hand side going down.