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A gem in Barcelona
Park Güell (pronounced gway) is a garden complex located on El Carmel hill in the upper part of the Gracia district in Barcelona. Designed by Antoni Gaudí, this green space contains interesting architectural elements and offers broad views of the city below.
Park Güell was originally meant to be a 30-acre, 60 residence gated community for Barcelona’s nouveaux riches. From 1900 to 1914, Gaudi planned and directed construction of the park for developer Eusebi Güell.
Hansel-and-Gretel gingerbread houses at the entrance to the park served as pavilions for visitors and gatekeepers. Today, one houses a gift shop, the other the gate-keeper’s museum.
The terrace was to be the community meeting place. A 360-foot-long bench, decorated with ceramic tiles, curves around the terrace, providing conversation enclaves. Gaudí developed a system to catch rainwater runoff from the terrace and funnel it into a 300,000 gallon underground cistern.
The green space begins beyond the terrace. Gaudí respected vegetation, such as carob and olive trees, already growing on the property. For new vegetation, he chose Mediterranean species requiring little water
Gaudí created viaducts throughout the park for carriages and automobiles. The cave like structures at the sides of the main entrance staircase were meant as garages for automobiles. The Pathway of Columns, designed like a surfer’s tube, was intended for cars to drive across, with pedestrians in the arcade below.
In addition to providing a natural green space and urban living, Gaudí envisioned the park with religious significance. The park’s highest point is Calvary, where a stone tower with three wooden crosses represents the hill where Christ was crucified. The walk from the low end of the park to Calvary represents the journey to spiritual enlightenment.
When I visited the park, there were street performers in several locations. The most bizarre entertainer, a man with teased hair, dressed in leopard skin tights, playing guitar and singing mostly meow sounds, was at Calvary. Although he garnered many laughs and photographs, he seemed out of place in what was meant to be a spiritual place. It was demeaning. I think Gaudí would be appalled.
In 1906, Gaudí bought the show house built by his assistant, Francesc Berenguer, and moved in with his father and niece. His father died that same year and his niece in 1912. Gaudí remained in the house until 1925, when he moved into his workshop at La Sagrada Familia. Today,the house Gaudí lived in is a museum containing pieces of furniture he designed.
Park Güell failed as a real estate venture. Only two homes were built. Complex conditions for the sales of plots, lack of a suitable transport system and the exclusive nature of the development resulted in a lack of buyers. The venture was abandoned in 1914. The park became a large private garden, which Güell allowed to be used for public events. Developer Eusebi Güell had converted the old mansion already on the property into his residence and lived there unitl 1918. The city purchased the park in 1922.
According to Barcelona City Council statistics, Park Güell averaged over 25,000 daily visitors in 2012, an 73% increase from 2007. At peak times, 1,200 people enter the park in a 15 minute period. The park was very crowded when I visited in August 2013. The monumental area, the area near the front entrance with the stairway, terrace, and columns, is the most fragile and most crowded area of the park. Until now, admission to the park has been free, but in order to regulate access and protect the park, the city will begin to charge admission to the monumental area starting October 2013. Only 400 visitors will be allowed in every half hour. Residents of surrounding neighbourhoods will have free entry.
The park was amazing to visit. I appreciated the free entry. However, I also appreciate the need to protect and preserve the park. The park is worth a visit, even with an entrance fee.
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