In any corner of Barcelona, one encounters Gaudí. He is present everywhere with his art that shapes the city's streets.
(by ChristianSchd, CC BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)
Leaving Guell Palace by returning to La Rambla, we leave the sea behind and head to another building that falls under Gaudi’s “must-sees,” Casa Battlò, also a Unesco heritage site.
A walk of about 1.5 km through the central streets of the city to get to Passeig de Gracias at the intersection with Calle d’Aragó. Gaudi is asked to renovate an old palace from 1875 by a wealthy textile magnate Josep Battlò I Casanovas. The request is highly challenging because of the difficulty in recovering and renovating the narrow and elongated spaces available to this palace, which is precisely why the artist accepts the challenge and the palace is built between 1904 and 1906. Gaudi’s work significantly altered the appearance of the building, revolutionising the main facade, enlarging the central courtyard and raising two floors that did not exist in the original construction. On the ground floor stood the stables, later used as warehouses, and the common hallway. The second floor of the palace, the so-called piano nobile, was used as the Batlló family’s residence, while the other four floors housed eight apartments for rent.
The first thing that catches the attention of the user of the Batlló house is undoubtedly its front facade, carved in sandstone from Montjuïc. Starting from the bottom, one first finds the mighty columns at the base of the complex, resembling elephant’s legs, jutting sixty centimetres out over the sidewalk in front and sized in such a way as to amplify the spatial qualities of the building (which, in fact, seems much larger than it really is). It is also noticeable how the facade is animated by an undulating and vibrant rhythm, in the sign of a vigorous as much as complete negation straight lines.
There is nothing angular about the building; it is harmoniously undulating and rounded, recalling the waves of the sea. The facade is covered with mosaics reminiscent of fish scales. It also expresses the memory of St. George, the dragon slayer, who was influential in the history of the city of Barcelona, with the cross on the small tower that could represent St. George’s sword being thrust into the dragon. One imagines dinosaurs’ paws, the jaws of sea creatures emerging from the sea, and the macabre set of bones and skulls on the balconies to represent the dragon’s victims.
Also notable are the balconies on the facade, which-because of their bizarre and imaginative shape-have been compared sometimes to theatrical masks, sometimes to bats, seaweed or even human skulls (hence, the popular nickname “casa de los huesos,” of bones, also considering the organic, bony physiognomy of the supporting pillars).
If the exterior is jaw-dropping in its magnificence and particularity, the interior is no less. The interior also mirrors the outside look with curvilinear structures, stained glass windows, mosaics, and colourful tiles.
The access floor was entirely remodelled by Gaudi to carve out the stables (which in the mid-1990s were reconstructed into a multifunctional space for meetings and conventions), a commercial room, and a common hallway where the ramp to the main floor and the central courtyard is located.
The apartment on the piano nobile, which housed the Batlló family, is about 400 square meters in size and is divided into three zones: the first, overlooking Passeig de Gràcia, is occupied by a large living room composed of three communicating rooms; the central part, arranged around the condominium cavity (thanks to which natural light penetrates the interior of the house), contains a vestibule, kitchen, bathrooms and other service rooms; the rear façade, on the other hand, is overlooked by the bedrooms and dining room.
The interiors blend into each other, and on the walls, as with the exterior, edges and straight lines are absent. In creating the attic, Gaudí adopted an ingenious architectural solution based on the use of the so-called “catenary arch” or “balanced arch”, which allows an even distribution of loads by eliminating the need for columns, walls and buttresses. The result is an environment reminiscent of a cave or according to some, the rib cage of a large animal such as a whale.
Casa Battló, officially Museo modernista de Antoni Gaudì, is undoubtedly among Barcelona’s principal attractions and an essential destination on the path to learning about the artist.