An Architectural Walk through Barcelona

An Architectural Walk through Barcelona

My name is Charlotte, and I’m a sophomore currently studying abroad in Granada, Spain. Along with about 23 other UNH students, I am taking part in the UNH-managed Granada Program, offered through COLA’s Center for Study Abroad. I am sharing some of my experiences and observations of Spanish culture throughout the semester here on UNH Tales. You can read all of my previous posts here.

We recently had a week off from classes here in Granada. Some of our group stayed in the city, exploring and viewing Easter week (Semana Santa) festivities, while others set out on adventures all around Europe. I had plans to visit Budapest and Prague, but a strike among French air traffic controllers meant that my flight was cancelled. Since I was already in Barcelona to catch my flight, I decided to just stay there for the week instead.

Barcelona Spain Plaza Real

Obviously, the change in plans was a bit of a disappointment, but Barcelona quickly made up for it. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I ended up falling in love with the city. The most compelling aspect of Barcelona has to be the varied styles of architecture all over the city. There are Baroque buildings, an entire Gothic quarter, and, of course, the incredible works of modernist Antoni Gaudí.

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Strolling around Barcelona’s Gothic quarter, found within the Ciutat Vella (“Old City,” in Catalan) feels like a walk back in time. You can’t miss the incredible Gothic cathedral, which was constructed over the course of two centuries — from the 1200s to the 1400s.

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The cathedral contains many characteristics of ornate Gothic architecture, including intricate detailing, pointed archways, and even gargoyles. The cathedral also incorporates other architectural periods, including a neo-Gothic façade constructed in the 19th century and several Baroque chapels.

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The other main architectural influence is the modernism movement, active around the turn of the 20th century. Barcelona is in a region of northeast Spain known as Catalonia, which has an especially distinct history and identity. Around the start of the 1900s, Catalonia underwent a renaissance of sorts, or Renaixença as they say in the native Catalan language. Antoni Gaudí was one of the principal architects of this movement, and arguably, the most famous. His iconic buildings have come to characterize modern-day Barcelona. Pictured above is Casa Batlló, a private residence designed by Gaudí.

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Barcelona’s most iconic landmark is La Sagrada Familia, Gaudí’s masterpiece. The construction of this basilica began in 1882, with Gaudí taking over the design and direction one year later. In fact, the basilica is still in the process of construction. It is projected to be completed in 2026, with final ornamental decorations finished by 2032. His vision combined Gothic principles with Art Nouveau styles.

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Catalonian modernisme shares many artistic principles with the Art Nouveau movement that occurred throughout Europe at the same time. The movement favored curves over straight lines, drew heavy inspiration from nature, used ornamentation and bright colors, disregarded principles of symmetry, and included many examples of symbolism.

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The intricate ceiling inside La Sagrada Familia.

It is easy to see these elements at work within the Sagrada Familia, but it is equally evident that Gaudí’s vision transcends any specific classification and can only be fully appreciated by acknowledging his incredible creativity and innovation.

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Colorful stained glass windows of La Sagrada Familia.

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Gaudí’s other significant architectural undertaking in Barcelona, Parc Güell, comprises gardens and interesting architectural elements. It opened as a public park in 1926.

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The park includes several unique homes designed in Gaudí’s eccentric modernist style, as well as architectural elements such as a mosaic patio and stone archways.

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The park is situated on a hill, from which you can look out on all of Barcelona.

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The electric spirit of Barcelona is palpable even from this isolated spot among the trees. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to experience the unique architecture and vibrant character of this city.