Güell and Modernisme
Park Güell is named after the local businessman and great patron of Catalan arts who commissioned it, Eusebi Güell. Güell wanted to create a stylish modern estate for wealthy families of Barcelona, and for its eccentric and beautiful design he hired his friend Antoni Gaudí. The location he had chosen was the best around, with gorgeous views of the sea and the Barcelona Plain, and the plans were carefully made to take full advantage of the site.
The park’s design was born out of the Modernisme movement in the 1860s. This was a uniquely Catalonian aesthetic project that rejuvenated Barcelona, marrying the continental innovation of art nouveau to deep-rooted cultural foundations. Gaudí incorporated traditional Catalan mosaic techniques into the strikingly innovative style of his plans. While the departure from traditional architectural forms appears rather alien, twisting organic shapes like the turrets in the Porter’s Lodge and the palm tree gates recall the irregular lines of the natural world. The whole park is a fantastical chimera of art, nature and Gaudí’s fertile imagination.
Here be dragons
The Park's pinnacles and gardens are teeming with colourful detail. The remarkable Dragon Staircase is decorated with goblins, the Catalan crest, and the iconic salamander - known fondly as ‘El Drac’ - which has become the emblem of the park. This huge double stairway is flanked by two tall crenelated terraces with grottoes beneath, and leads to the Hypostyle Room. This is an amazing Greek-inspired chamber supported by 84 Doric columns; in an architectonic masterstroke, Gaudí hits the the straight lines and symmetrical precision of Greek architecture with a typically cartoonish, psychedelic slant.
Atop the Hypostyle Room and partly set into the surrounding rock is the Plaça de la Natura (Nature Square), a large open plaza offering a stunning view over the city, and decorated with further beautiful mosaics. From the square an iron door leads through a portico to Güell’s old mansion, which is now a school. An abandoned housing plot has become the Austria Gardens, named for the trees donated by that country in the 1970s. Its lush greenery echoes the Park’s thoughtful incorporation into the environment: Gaudí worked around the carob and olive trees already growing on the site, and carefully chose additional species to thrive in the Mediterranean climate, also installing an ingenious irrigation system that prevents the land’s erosion. Gaudí lived for some time in his own home on the estate, and this is now the Gaudí Museum.
The Park didn’t remain private for long, and housing development was stopped in 1914. The area was initially let for public events such as Catalan sardana dancing, before quickly becoming a popular local attraction; in 1984 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This spectacular place remains an essential part of any visit to Barcelona.