As the UNESCO comments:
Seven properties built by the architect Antoni Gaudí (1852–1926) in or near Barcelona testify to Gaudí’s exceptional creative contribution to the development of architecture and building technology in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These monuments represent an eclectic, as well as a very personal, style which was given free reign in the design of gardens, sculpture and all decorative arts, as well as architecture.
His work is rooted in the particular character of the period, drawing on the one hand from traditional Catalan patriotic sources and on the other from the technical and scientific progress of modern industry. Gaudí’s work is a remarkable reflection of all these different facets of society and has a unique and singular character. In fact, his works are particularly associated with Modernisme, and in this sense, Gaudí can be regarded as the most representative and outstanding of the Modernista architects.
Gaudí’s work is an exceptional creative synthesis of several 19th-century artistic schools, such as the Arts and Crafts movement, Symbolism, Expressionism, and Rationalism, and is directly associated with the cultural apogee of Catalonia. Gaudí also presaged and influenced many forms and techniques of 20th-century Modernism.
(Below is the general introduction of a series of 6 posts about the 7 works by Antoni Gaudí protected by the UNESCO in and around Barcelona. If you have already read my first post “Works of Antoni Gaudí (1/7) – La Sagrada Familia” please skip the introduction part and jump below the horizontal line.)
In total there are 7 properties designed by Antoni Gaudí which are inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list. They are, Gaudí’s work on the Nativity façade and Crypt of La Sagrada Familia, Park Güell, Palau Güell, Casa Mila, Casa Vicens, Casa Batlló and Crypt in Colonia Güell.
Luckily, many thanks to the developed tourism industry of Barcelona, I was able to visit almost all the properties except Casa Vicens, which was still under reconstruction. It was a pity that I could only take a look at the exterior of the building but later on I read more about the interior on books. Hopefully when you visit Barcelona, the door of Casa Vicens will be open to you already.
In order to provide an insight into how to explore the works of Gaudí in a more organized manner, I’d like to write about these 7 properties in 6 not-too-long posts, namely “la Sagrada Familia”, “Casa Mila”, “Casa Batlló”, “Park Güell”, “Palau Güell”, “Crypt in Colonia Güell and Casa Vicens”, just in case if you only want to visit some of the 7 buildings, you don’t need to scroll down a super-long post to find out where to go or what to see.
My general structure of introducing these properties would be first of all, some practical information based on my own experience such as opening hours and buying tickets. Secondly, I’ll focus on what I’ve learnt from my visit (audio guide or books) and I’ll try offering some highlights combined with pictures. I believe in this way, it’s easier to understand the cultural and historical value of Gaudí’s works and his influence. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me or contact the Tourism Office of Barcelona directly, I assure you they will handle your questions or requests efficiently. Now, let’s start our journey of exploring the masterpieces of God’s architect, Antoni Gaudí.
In 1890, the industrialist Eusebi Güell moved his textile mill form Barcelona to Santa Coloma de Cervelló. This move triggered the creation of a new village to house the workers and their families. He built semidetached houses, an athenaeum, a theatre, a school, shops, gardens and a church. This church was commissioned to Gaudí in 1898 but the first foundation stone wasn’t laid until 1908. A church was originally planned to be built on the crypt. However, unfortunately, in 1914, the Güell family decided to stop financing this project and by that time, Gaudí only managed to complete the crypt and this project had to be abandoned. In November 1915 the bishop of Barcelona consecrated the lower nave, the only one having been built, which made the church popularly known as the crypt.
When Güell commissioned this project, he said word by word to Gaudí, “Do as you please“. He set no limits or barriers for Gaudí either in terms of the budget or of the construction method, which made this crypt, considered by many admirers, Gaudí’s most attractive project.
The church was inscribed into the UNESCO World Heritage list not only because this construction includes for the first time practically all of Gaudí’s architectural innovations but also because it served as the test bed for the technical trials that he later applied to the construction of Sagrada Familia.
As written on the official website of Colònia Güell
All of these elements constitute a set of original solutions which answer to the desire for synthesis between structural planning, construction techniques, and architectural shapes. Notwithstanding, these also contribute to the purely aesthetic and symbolic values of the ornamental elements. The Church of the Colonia Güell includes numerous examples of Gaudí’s control of the applied arts regarding both practical and purely ornamental decoration.
1. Practical information about visiting Gaudí’s Crypt
1.1 Opening hours
Winter season (01.11 – 30.04):
- Weekdays: 10:00 – 17:00
- Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays: 10:00 – 15:00
Summer season (01.05 – 31.10):
- Weekdays: 10:00 – 19:00
- Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays: 10:00 – 15:00
Closed: 1st & 6th January, 8th April (Sunday), 14th April (Friday), 25th & 26th December. (I guess these are only the dates for 2017 so if you are already in 2018 or even further please click here to check the updates information on the official website)
1.2 Various ticket types and prices
- Simple Admission Ticket: 7 €
- Ticket + Audioguide: 9 €
- Ticket + Guided Tour of the Crypt: 9.5 €
- Ticket + Guided Tour of Colonia Güell: 9.5 €
- Ticket + Guided Tours of the Crypt and Colonia Güell: 11.5 €
For third age seniors and students:
- Simple Admission Ticket: 5.5 €
- Ticket + Audioguide: 7.5 €
- Ticket + Guided Tour of the Crypt: 8 €
- Ticket + Guided Tour of Colonia Güell: 8 €
- Ticket + Guided Tours of the Crypt and Colonia Güell: 9.3 €
You can buy your ticket either on site or online. However, one thing you need to note is that at the entrance of the crypt, you can’t buy tickets. Instead the ticket office is located in the information center, which can be found easily once you step out of the FGC train station “Colonia Güell” and follow the “blue steps” on the ground.
Unfortunately, as far as I know, the guided tours of the crypt and this industrial town Colonia Güell are only available in Catalan and Spanish and only at the weekends. However, the audio guide is available in 9 languages (Catalan, Spanish, English, French, Italian, German, Japanese, Russian and Korean) and I strongly recommend you to rent one because the brochure doesn’t actually provide much information about the details of the crypt. Another tip from me is that you can first go up to the second floor of the information center, where an exhibition totally devoted to the crypt designed by Gaudí is held. In this way, you can obtain some information first and later on when you visit the crypt it will be easier for you to understand the innovations and symbolic features of Gaudí.
If you are traveling by group or school group you do get a small discount on your admission ticket and guided tours. However, a reservation 15 days before your visit is strongly recommended. If you wanna know more information about the prices of different ticket types for groups or school groups please click here. For making a reservation you can contact the Visitor Center by either phone: (+34) 93 630 58 07 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Considering the crypt is located in Colonia Güell, an industrial town outside the city of Barcelona, the most convenient way to reach it is to take a FGC (Ferrocarriles de la Generalitat de Catalunya) train (Lines S33, S8 or S4) from “Plaza Espanya”, Barcelona to “Colonia Güell” station. It takes only 20 mins and after you get off you just need to follow the “blue steps” to the information center. In this way, maybe you will also be interested in the “Combinat Güell” ticket which includes a two-way ticket valid for 2 zones, the entrance to the Crypt and an audioguide. You can buy this combined ticket from the FGC ticket office or the ATMs at “Plaza Espanya” station or of course online.
There are also other “travel packages” such as “Shopping & Cripta Gaudi”, “Montserrat & Gaudí’s Colonia Güell”, “Gaudí Espiritual Tour”, “Photo visit to the Güell Colony and Gaudi’s Crypt” and so on organized by different operators. Please click here if you wanna know more about these excursions and make your visit more adventurous.
By clicking here you will be able to book these types of tickets online directly: “Visit to the crypt and Colonia Güell with audioguide”, “Combinat Güell”, “Guided visit to the crypt and Colonia Güell” and “Visit to the crypt and Colonia Güell with audioguide for groups”.
1.3 How to get here
Address: Calle Claudi Güell, 08690 Colònia Güell, Santa Coloma de Cervelló, Barcelona, Spain
FGC Train (Lines S33, S8 and S4): from station “Plaza Espanya”, Barcelona to station “Colonia Güell”. After you get out of the station, just follow the blue footprints on the ground and you will arrive at the information center/exhibition center/ticket office.
On Saturdays and Sundays, you can travel with the FGC train decorated with Gaudi’s Crypt.
- Line S4 departure from station “Plaza Espanya” at 10:58 and Arrival at station “Colonia Güell” at 11:21
- Line S33 departure from station “Colonia Güell” at 14:11 and Arrival at station “Plaza Espanya” at 14:34
If you still have questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me or click here to contact the official website of Colònia Güell.
As for Casa Vicens, unfortunately, the interior of the building isn’t open to the public. I took some pictures of the exterior of the building and it’s really amazing. By the end of the introduction to Gaudí’s crypt, I’ll try to combine what I’ve seen on site and what I’ve read from the books to give you a brief introduction of this house.
2. Explore the work served as practice for Sagrada Familia
Why do we say that this construction includes for the first time practically all of Gaudí’s architectural innovations? First of all, Gaudí’s crypt in Colònia Güell stands out for its extremely simple but ingenious structure. Secondly, it shows Gaudí’s emphasis on the harmony between nature and architecture. Thirdly, this church demonstrated Gaudí’s skillful use of different materials for different architectural purposes and visual effects. Last but not least, it testifies Gaudí’s strong religious convictions, demonstrated by his abundant Christian symbols.
How do you feel when you just take a glance at the crypt both inside and outside? Integration isn’t it? The same integrative spirit is reflected on the inside as well as in the fusion of the building with the surrounding environment. However, how did Gaudí manage to achieve such an impression? Some obvious arrangements are that different levels of the naves are adapted to the hill’s slope and the materials and colors used are similar to those of the surrounding plants and flowers. In the next sections, I’ll focus on introducing to you how this integrative effect is achieved and how this structure was invented. In general I’ll divide my introduction into two parts, the outside portico and the inside of the crypt, accompanied by an interpretation of the abundant Christian iconography of both sites much loved and used by Gaudí.
2.1 The exterior of the crypt and the portico
Before entering the crypt, have a walk around it and take a close look especially at the walls, the cavities, the grilles on them, the portico, the porch, the columns, the vaults and the ceramic decorations on them. Can you figure out what kinds of materials are used here and can you interpret the meaning of the symbols?
The porch with parabolic arches marks the entrance to the church and on the lower level there is another portico in the form of a grotto, a leitmotif of Gaudí’s architecture. The two porticoes, carefully designed by the architect in order to create a harmonious mixture of the work of God and work of man, look like a forest of leaning columns made of basalt stone and brick. In order to fully integrate the crypt into the surrounding landscape, Gaudí designed the porches, columns and arches according to the sloping and twisting trunks of the pine tress around it. It is said that Gaudí changed the shape of the stairway in order to save a tree. He said: “I can make a stairway in 3 weeks but it takes 20 years to make a pine tree.”
As for the walls, they are covered with vitrified slag that came from the waste of the smelting furnaces, and the grilles of the cavities are made from recycled sewing machine needles. Everything, along with the trencadís mosaic, “emphasizes the idea of providing the humblest of materials with dignity“. Now take a look at the large windows or cavities. Almost all of them are with dust covers. The walls are covered with dark bricks and stones, arranged in an irregular way, giving the whole a rural feeling. This arrangement made by Gaudí is again for the purpose of integrating the crypt into the setting easily.
Now let’s take a look at the Christian iconography that Gaudí carefully integrated into this crypt. One of the keystones of vaulting of the portico is decorated with the anagram of the holy family: Jesus (the cross), Joseph (carpenter’s handsaw) and Maria (central M). Besides this, numerous symbols of trencadís mosaics can be found in the portico. For example, the Alpha and Omega (God, the beginning and the end of things), the fish (secret symbol of the christians under the Roman Empire) and the monogram of Christ (XP, monogram of Christ in Greek). Nevertheless, the most carefully designed and meaningful part of Christian symbolism is over the gate of the entrance.
If you raise your head and look carefully, you will see Charity (cross in flames), Justice (plummet), Father (P), Temperance (wine bottle), Faith (torch), Hope (anchor), Spiritus Sanctus (SS), Caution (oil lamp and amphora), Son (F), Fortitude (helmet). Isn’t it amazing to see so much just from the top of the entrance gate?
2.2 The interior of the crypt
Why do we say that Gaudí can be compared to Leonardo da Vinci for his continuous inventions? It is because that he didn’t restrict him to only drawing his projects. Instead, in the design of this church, he invented a bold but ingenious procedure.
He calculated the loads that the arches and columns would bear and made a series of small canvas bags filled with lead shot which were 10,000 times lighter than the original calculated load. He hung these bags on interconnected strings to create the actual shape of the arches on a scale of 1:10. In this way, Gaudi harnessed the geometrical properties of this type of curve which he transformed into the catenary arch. He took a photograph which, when placed upside down, created the correct functional shape of the arches. In other words, he built the arch with the exact shape of the pressure curve.
Actually I saw the model that Gaudí made in the museum of Sagrada Familia. At that point, I didn’t really figure out how the completed work would turn out to be. Amazingly, I saw the result of the experiment here. On the second floor of the information center, you will see the exhibition dedicated to Gaudí’s crypt, including the model explaining the principles of his design. If you didn’t go there before hand, I strongly recommend you go and have a look after your visit of the crypt. You’ll have a much more deeply understanding of what this crypt means to the world of architecture.
Instead of load-bearing walls, vertical columns and horizontal wrought ironwork, curved and undulating surface was applied here inspired by nature. The whole crypt is like a tortoise’s shell, ready to carry the weight of the church intended to be built. The pillars are made of brick, basalt or limestone, depending on the weight they have to carry, another proof of Gaudí’s skillful use of materials. Did you notice that the pillars or columns inside the crypt looked like they had just been quarried? This is not because Gaudí and the workers didn’t have time to polish them but because Gaudí wanted to give an “impressive expressionistic effect“. Gaudí said that in the book of Exodus, God said to Moses from the burning bush: “if you make an altar of stone for me, do not build it with dressed stones, for you will defile it if you use a tool on it.” This explains why the builders worked not he stones with wooden mallets.
I believe, without me mentioning, you’ve already noticed the amazing stained-glass windows, which look like flower petals or maybe butterfly wings. The light penetrates the cavities and is filtered by the stained glass to flood the interior with colors. Originally designed by Gaudí, the pews and stained-glass windows were damaged in 1936. What you see now are a copy of the originals, restores in 1960 and 1980.
3. The exhibition devoted to Gaudí’s crypt
This exhibition devoted to Gaudí’s crypt is located on the second floor of the information center, which is around 3 mins away from the crypt. As I emphasized again and again above, in order to understand the work of Gaudí, especially the crypt, it is a must-visit place.
As you can see from the pictures above, the most interesting item on the second floor is a reproduction of the model designed by Gaudi to visualize the church’s structure in three dimensions. Right next to it is a video clip, explaining the principles of this design. Later on, this technique is also used in the construction of the Sagrada Familia. Besides this model you can also see various kinds of materials used during the construction of this church as well as the interpretation of the symbols in it. I insist that this is an exhibition that you should not miss.
On the first floor, it’s the exhibition of the Industrial Colonies, the mill, people and Colonia Güell. If you wanna know the daily life of the workers here, you can watch a 12-min movie in the projection room, through the eyes of a young girl.
All in all, understanding Gaudí’s crypt in Colonia Güell plays a key role in understanding his genius and innovations. His symbolism, naturalism, use of various kinds of materials, and ingenious, daring ways of designing building structures keep amazing people regardless of time. As he said by himself, “had the church been finished it would have been a monumental model of the Sagrada Familia”.
Because of the rapid expansion of Barcelona, many well-off families chose to build their summer holiday houses outside the city during that period of time, among which Casa Vicens is a perfect example. These houses were usually featured in the abundance of flowers, trees, ponds, small waterfalls and wells, creating a relaxing, romantic, natural and cool atmosphere during the hottest days of the year.
Casa Vicens was designed by Gaudí in 1883 for the tile factory owner Manuel Vicens Montaner and this was also the first big project Gaudí was commissioned to and the first work he completed after being qualified as a architect. Although an early work by Gaudí, his architectural characteristics are demonstrated all over this comfortable, well-ventilated and detached building. For example, the movement of the outer walls, the application of the multicolored ceramic cladding, the rich decorations inspired by nature and so on. As you can see from the exterior of the building, the flowers decorating the façade are the ones that he found on the site before building the house. The palm tree leaves on the iron gate, the birds, insects made of wrought iron on the railing all reflect his close connection to nature. Do take a look at the angels placed on the corner balcony. They were especially designed to avoid stiffness.
Unlike the ones of Casa Battló or Casa Milà, the building solutions here are very simple with straight lines predominating the curve. However, Gaudí was able to liven it up by making some surfaces covered by strips of ceramic tiles projecting out. One funny story is that Gaudí placed balconies on the corner of the facade, which weren’t much liked by the master builder back then and when they were finished, the master builder waited all night long outside the building for them to fall off.
Unfortunately, I could not get into the house but I did read more on books about how the interior looks like. The whole building is divided into 4 floors. Respectively, the basement, ground floor, first floor and second floor were used for storage area, living quarters, bedrooms and servants’ quarters.
The interior of the house is like a fairy tale, with multicoloured wooden beams decorated with floral motifs, sgraffiti walls depicting reeds, rose bushes and other plants that were found by the neighboring Cassoles stream, and a smoking room with a flat ceiling of muqarnas which triggers thoughts of the Alhambra in Granada.
How I wish Casa Vicens could be open to the public sometime soon and I’ll make sure to fly to Barcelona again to visit the first masterpiece by Antoni Gaudí in particular.
This post is one of my 6 posts concerning the 7 Works of Antoni Gaudí protected by the UNESCO. If you are interested, please click on the following properties to read more about them.
- Nativity façade and Crypt of La Sagrada Familia
- Casa Mila
- Casa Batlló
- Park Güell
- Palau Güell
- Crypt in Colonia Güell and Casa Vicens