Three Barcelona icons that will blow your mind

A deeper look at Gaudi’s architecture…

Barcelona’s most famous Catalan Modernism artist-architect, Antoni Gaudí made a livelihood from constructing (or deconstructing) ‘fantasy homes for the rich’ and dreamt of completing a ‘cathedral for the poor’. His legacy lives on through some of the most recognised icons of Catalonia. You’ve seen the pictures. Now dig deeper into his craft.

Sagrada Família: Reinvented house of worship

The number-one tourist attraction of the city is the eternally unfinished Expiatory Temple of the Sagrada Família. Curiosity builds up with each surreptitious flash from between buildings and trees. Face-to-face with the giant unfinished stone masterpiece, you’re transfixed momentarily. A church, a spaceship or a theme park! Unusual ice-cream cone spires touch the skies at 394 feet. Dizzying verticality!

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A heavily ornate facade decorated with incredible statues…masked figures, cloaked figures, figures clinging to columns. Harsh and angular sculptures, faces capturing intense emotions…grief, compassion, betrayal are portrayed perfectly. Statues of Roman soldiers with robot-like jawlines…out-of-place in a church, yet, fitting in so right. Try not to cringe as you crawl along the long queue. 3 million annual visitors to this gigantic construction site contribute about 25 million euro towards the completion of Gaudi’s obsessive project. At the entrance floor, sketch-like drawings depict different stages of Jesus’ life…so simple and unpretentious, as if from a child’s hand. 

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But the interiors will really blow your mind. All the ingredients of a medieval cathedral…stone, light and height…yet an end result that disorients you. Contemporary, stylized, geometrical. Like a modern art painting, it is abstract and interpretative. Scale, shapes, colours…everything is fanciful, magical, exaggerated, even fun, like a sci-fi movie set. Bone-like twisted knotted columns imitating tree-trunks, branching out upwards like an enormous forest. Vast geometric stars decorating the ceiling, punctured by open hyperboloids…a glimpse of heaven? Shifting bright patterns on stained-glass windows decorated by seashells, fruits and flowers. Nature and organic inspirations everywhere. You are in an enormous spaceship in a different galaxy. There’s a magical spiral staircase with metal railings. Pillar shapes that start as squares, change into octagons and finally become circular. Sagrada Família is so dramatic and visually distracting that you doubt whether it can ever be a real place of worship?

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Several generations of workers, artists and architects have contributed to the creation of this timeless monument. Many of them will witness the grand unveiling in 2026…what a moment that would be! Gaudi challenged the limits of creativity. He reinvented the concept of a church that some people love, and others hate with a vengeance. What about you?

Casa Mila: Star Wars in Spain

La Pedrera (Casa Milà), is one of the quintessential examples of Gaudi’s unusual experiments with residential design. The white wavy stone walls exterior give an impression of being carved out of a huge rock, almost a cave house. Stare hard and long…the concave-convex wall shape creates a strange illusion of movement effect…of course, it isn’t moving at all. The rather plain windows stare back at you with multiple unblinking eyes of an hybrid undersea creature. And an almost messy hotchpotch design of wrought iron grills on the balconies…what is that…maybe a bunch of Moderisme flowers?

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Through a pretty crochet lace-like ironwork and glass gate, you step into a central courtyard flooded with natural light where large stone columns support an unimaginably lovely, hazy spray-painted ceiling…like Monet’s garden landscapes! Complete a audio-guided tour of the apartment, studying the rooms and their furnishings, trying to get a sense of how the owners lived here…carpets, chandeliers, bedspreads, crockery, paintings, every little detail was meticulously in place. No conventional weight-bearing walls…instead steel, arches and pillars have been used for an innovative circular design. A small Gaudí museum in the building shows the biography of the famous artist along with various small exhibits.

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The most fascinating element is not inside but over the building…a never-seen before undulating rooftop that ebbs and falls in random slopes, like the landing site on some unknown planet somewhere in the cosmos. 30 bizarre chimneys of varying sizes poke out at different spots…eye slits, pointy hair peaks and all! Star Wars again. When the owners had commissioned their house to Gaudi, they had no clue that it would be declared a world cultural heritage site someday, with an entrance fee of 22 € and people would be tramping in and out of their cosy home all through the year! Surprise!

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Casa Batlló: Humpback dragon castle

Casa Batlló is an even bigger surprise package. The grandiose facade hits a home run instantly…like a beautiful coral, its indigo, aqua, brown and green tinted rough spray of coloured mosaic glisten in the sun. Masquerade mask-shaped balconies, weird bone-like columns and a tile-scaled humpback roofline that resemble a dragon’s back. Kudos to Gaudi for converting buildings into works of art! Again, the familiar inspiration from nature is obvious, as also a childlike innocence, creating dream worlds and adventure lands where mythical is reality. 

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One step inside and you stop short…pastel walls blended into a ceiling which curves and slides randomly…and a solid mahogany staircase led up to the next floor, where a joyful spectacle full of fantasy, organic elements, symbols and colours awaits. This is a children’s storybook and you are 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea! Porthole windows are inspired by submarines, doors are inspired by waves and the stained glass designs are inspired by corals and marine life. An amazing ceiling and scone…like a whirlpool seen from under the sea. A central blue-tiled light well gives a sense of being in the depths of the deepest ocean, from where rays of light pierce the surface of the water. Archways in the attics evoke the image of a rib cage of a giant sea animal.

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On the roof, the shades of dull multi-coloured mosaics fade into each other from dark to light, as if they had discoloured with time…the dragon back that you observed from below looks real, extra authenticity added with a line of curved tiles along the length…like the dragon’s spine! A large garlic shaped chimney turret with a cross represents the sword of St. George (patron saint of Catalan) piercing the dragon’s back.

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Gaudi gave wings to his limitless imagination and he flew high, sky-high…without stops! The pragmatic and the idealist in him coexisted in harmony. His work and passion merged as one.  Nutcase or genius…his headmaster is said to have debated when Gaudí received his architectural degree in 1878. You decide!

 

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Gaudi's Barcelona: 3 mindblowing creations you need to see

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94 thoughts on “Three Barcelona icons that will blow your mind

  1. I visited the Casa Batlló in 2011, and absolutely LOVED it! The architecture was absolutely stunning to me. I also went to the cathedral, but maybe because it wasn’t finished, I didn’t think it was as impressive as some of the completed homes. I’m sure when it is ready it’ll be spectacular as well!

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  2. I’ve heard so much about Gaudi’s work in Barcelona. Unfortunately I haven’t had the opportunity to visit. Every picture looks so intricate and interwoven that it is hard to understand how he could contemplate on such masterpieces.

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  3. We stayed a few hundred meters from Casa Milà last time in Barcelona. It looked amazing but 80 euros entry for a family was not an option. La Familia is amazing I often say you have never seen a church till you have seen this one.

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  4. Your pictures of the detail on the cathedral are amazing. I really like the look of (and name of) the humpback dragon castle-my kids would jump at a chance of seeing that too! Maybe next time we are in Barcelona we will have a look!

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  5. We were recently in Barcelona and managed to miss all of these. I was really gutted to miss out on these places because I planned to do but travelling with a kid means plans change too many times. Your pictures are proving I really missed out.

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  6. You’re right – the interior of the Sagrada Família really did blow my mind! I was so glad that we pre purchased our tickets online, because when we got there the time slots were all sold out! We were like phew! The interior was so stunning, I got a sore neck from looking up at the stained glass windows so much!! I heard that they foiled a terror plot to actually blow the church up, which I’m so glad didn’t happen, because it’s such a stunning piece of architecture, and a true cultural icon.

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  7. Casa Batlo and Park Guell were my favorites, even though I went all around the city and tried to visit all Gaudi’s landmarks. Such a dreamer he was, that’s what I always admire. I’ve enjoyed reading your post, it reminded me on good times I’ve had in Barcelona, thanks! 🙂

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  8. Lovely photos, brought back memories ! Its really an amazing city. Barcelona’s architecture is almost synonymous with Antoni Gaudi’s name and, while the spectacular Sagrada Familia is his most famous legacy, sites around the city including Parc Guell, Casa Mila and Casa Batilo are well worth visiting…. I definitely need to go back and visit more spots 😉

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  9. One of my biggest regrets when visiting Barcelona is not visiting the Sagrada Familia. I think it was the queues that put me off and I would definitely purchase in advance when I visit next. Gaudí has amazing work around Barcelona and you just stand there admiring his work. These are places are must see and as you say they blow your mind away!

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  10. When I first looked at the unfinished Expiatory Temple of the Sagrada Família, I thought why it is the icon of Barcelona but you are absolutely right, the interiors did blow up my mind. Such beautiful intricate medieval art.

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  11. Loving the post and brought back memories. For some reason, the city didnt blow my mind, not sure why, but maybe I didnt spend long enough there to see what was on offer. Think I need to return.

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  12. Gaudi’s creations and imagination are indeed futuristic and unique and they come across with all their innovation in this post. I was really intrigued as I always am on seeing the pictures of the Sagrada Familia. The exterior somehow reminded me of buildings I used to build with a toy building set I had got as a birthday gift. The interiors look incredible.

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  13. As everyone else said, Sagrada Familia is just mindblowingly beautiful. Gaudi is truly a master. I LOOOOOVVVVVEEE Barcelona and really think your short list is a pretty concise read…ya chose some good ones! The whole city is increidble!

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  14. Crazy architecture coming out of Barcelona! I’ve heard gobs about Sagrada Familia, but the others deserve just as much hype. They’re stunning! I love Star Wars, so of course Casa Mila will always have a soft spot in my heart. Simply amazing eye candy!

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  15. I like the way you describe Gaudi’s work. Unfortunately I don’t visit quite often because the ticket prices are just ridiculous. Never saw Casa Batló inside but I know how to see the house’s back façade and patio for free (and without the crowds) 😉 And it’s a pity that we don’t appreciate Gaudi’s work as much as foreigners do: I studied architecture in his same school and never got a Gaudi’s course!

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  16. Gaudi’s work is so unique, I love how you call the spires at the top of Sagrada “ice cream cones”! That is exactly what they look like. I went to Barcelona years ago and saw these places from the outside. I should have gone in…they are stunningly weird.

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  17. You have given the perfect title to this post. Actually, it looks unreal, part of some sci -fi movie and they blow your mind. I am short of words to say how impressive each one looks in your pictures. They are real architecture marvels and I can’t decide which one I liked the most. All are amazing.

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  18. Fantastic treatment of Gaudi’s creations!! I pinned this so I can study it again before I go to Barcelona. I have seen many photos but have not read a description like yours before. Thanks so much for creating this post and sharing it!

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  19. The shape of the balconies on the Humpback Dragon Castle are so unique! & I’m in love with the mosaic patterns! That takes a lot of detail and work that you can’t help but appreciate.

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  20. I love seeing how Sagrada Familia changes these days so quickly. I visited about 10 years ago and many of the elements you describe and show in your photos didn’t exist when I was there. I can’t wait to finally see it finished!

    Happy continued travels!
    C

    Liked by 1 person

  21. I’ve been fortunate enough to see all three of these! I love the Sagrada Familia but I’m ready for the work on it to be done so we can get good pics with no cranes and scaffolding! I love all things Spain but Barcelona is especially great.

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  22. I love beautiful architecture so I definitely find these very interesting! The details and the designs are amazing I read up quite a bit on Gaudi a long time ago (for business purpose) and really admired him. He really has a major influence on Barcelona’s architectural. Hope to see them for myself soon.

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  23. In my opinion, Gaudi is a compelling argument for the true nature of architechture – creating spaces that fit the environment seamlessly, challenging the traditional yet being fully functional and liveable! I haven’t seen his work other than in photos, but I find it such a refreshing change from the same old, same old we see everywhere else! Your comment about whether such an attention grabbing work as the Familia could ever truly be a place of worship is interesting – for me, cathedrals are about so much more than religion and in this one, it looks like people can get whatever they want out of it! Fascinating blog post!!

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    1. Thank you for such a generous and elaborate comment. When I first saw the pictures of Sagrada Familia, I found them ugly. But Gaudi’s Barcelona really impressed me for all the innovation in design that’s out-of-the-box. That man really knew how to express his individuality.

      Like

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