In any corner of Barcelona, one encounters Gaudí. He is present everywhere with his art that shapes the city's streets.
(by Canaan, CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons)
During the Universal Exposition in Paris in 1878, Gaudì met the person who would allow him to realise any of his projects, the prominent industrialist Eusebi Guell.
A culturally vibrant and economically carefree man with broad liberal and intellectual horizons, Güell marked a decisive stage in Gaudí’s architectural career. The young genius was able to place himself at the service of a patron willing to satisfy his aesthetic whims and bear the high prices that might have been generated. As a result, a relationship of friendship, admiration and shared passions was born, allowing him to externalise all his artistic qualities.
From this moment, the masterpieces followed one after another, the Bellsguard Tower, the Park Guell, and the Casa Batlò until arriving in 1883 with the commission to build the Sagrada Familia, a project so grand and vital that today, after 150 years, it has yet to be completed. However, the realisation of this project also absorbed him deeply from a religious point of view to the point of isolating himself and leading a socially null life.
Retracing our steps, after walking down La Rambla, we find ourselves at the entrance of the Guell Palace. The “Palau Guell” was built between 1886 and 1890, desired by Eusebi Guell and commissioned to Gaudi with no expense spared. It is the first significant work commissioned by Gaudi. The palace has a roughly rectangular shape, measuring 18×22 meters, with an attached building in the southwest part, measuring 6×20 meters. The structure is supported by the load-bearing walls of the facade, made of natural stone, and the interior brick walls, which discharge onto the stone pillars of the basement floor. Originally the middle part of the building’s eastern elevation was adorned with a fresco (now disappeared) by Aleix Clapés depicting Hercules in the Garden of the Hesperides, in reference to the poem L’Atlàntida by Jacint Verdaguer. The building consists of a basement with the stables, a ground floor with the entrance, concierge, garage and several service areas, a mezzanine with the administrative area, the main floor with the living area, the second floor for the sleeping area, which is more private (bedrooms and toilets), the third floor with the service area, kitchen and laundry, and finally the roof. In total, the building covers an area of 2,850 square meters.
The building is constructed of limestone from Garraf, where Güell owned a country estate, “las Bodegas Güell.” Given the narrowness of the street in front, it is difficult to observe the elevation in its entirety, despite its marked monumentality. Particularly prominent from the layout of the facade are the entrance doors, bearing at their top wrought-iron grilles adorned with snakes that, in the mutual intertwining of their tails, form the letters E and G (by Eusebi Güell). The particularly impressive entrance was sized to allow visitors to enter by carriage: stables were available for horses on the basement level, accessible by an ingenious helical ramp designed by Gaudí himself.
The design, in general, follows stylistic directions already present in works such as the Vicens house or the Güell pavilions, with a predominance of Arab, Byzantine, or Mudejar-inspired forms. Gaudí designed with particular care both the exterior and the interior of the building, adorned with a sumptuous Mudejar-style decorative apparatus and a coffered roof of wood and iron, without neglecting aspects related to, for example, natural lighting, ventilation or sound insulation.
The palace’s interior is so sumptuous and memorable that it was included in the World Heritage List in 1999. An interior visit is recommended to admire the natural and playful forms expressed by Gaudì. Extreme details include the fantastic roof terrace, chimneys, ventilation ducts and the splendid roof created by the artist in which he plunges the visitor into the “otherworldly” sky he imagined, from which Barcelona can be admired from above. The lower part of the palace and stables, on the other hand, is deliberately very dark and gloomy to reproduce hell.
The palace housed the Guell family until they moved to Parc Guell, and then in 1945, Eusebi Guell’s youngest daughter donated the palace to the city of Barcelona.