12 – “…her infinite variety” October 30, 2012

Age cannot wither nor custom stale                                                                                                             her infinite variety.  Other women cloy                                                                                                      The appetites they feed., she makes hunger                                                                                          Where most she satisfies……           

Antony says this of Cleopatra;  I have often had the phrase, “her infinite variety” on the tip of my tongue here in Spain.  Barcelona has become the mistress of many a traveller, I am sure. It is enchantingly beautiful, varied, filled with essential pleasures as well as those hidden in the corners. My memories of Paris pale in comparison.

I went out to the outskirts today to what was built over one hundred years ago as an industrial colony.  Catalonia was and still is an industrial and economic powerhouse.  During the second half of the nineteenth century around one hundred of these colonies were built in the interior, making use of the hydro power for textile mills and to remove the workers from the powder keg of unhealthy overcrowding and political strife.  Initially factory and housing for the workers, but step by step many of amenities of life were added;  schools, churches, libraries, cultural centres, theatres, co-operatives, etc. Similar experiments took place in England and probably elsewhere.

The most interesting is the one I visited today. A wealthy industrialist, Eusebio Guell, was the patron (also Gaudi’s major patron). He moved his textile mill from the Dickensian slums of Barcelona to his farm on the outskirts and hired Guadi to design it, making use of the latest currents in architectural design.

I am very unsure of Gaudi’s work.  I am very moved by the simplicity of early Romanesque architecture.  His Sagrada Familia would not look out of place in Las Vegas, over the top as we say. I do love his Parque Guell in Barcelona.  <http://www.google.ca/search?q=parque+guell&hl=en&prmd=imvns&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=x–PUNqMHoi3hQeRuICwBg&sqi=2&ved=0CCgQsAQ&biw=1299&bih=755&gt;  It is easy to google with those two words if the link does not work.  My photos are at home. For the kid in all of us!

At Colonia Guell, Gaudi designed the church, but only its crypt was finished.

Some renovation is going on. Reminiscent of the caves he created in Parque Guell.

As a child, the natural world was where he spent every spare moment and as an architecture he sought to recreate the forms and designs of what he saw in nature in his work.  His columns simply remind us that tree trunks do not grow completely straight.  Every piece, every angle is the result of experimentation, as he struggled to arrive at the right combination so that the whole thing does not collapse.  He felt that the Gothic flying buttresses were a cop out. These ideas have been perfected in the much larger Sagrada Familia.  He designed everything, including the pews and the windows.  Every piece, every angle, for example, in the ceiling, is unique. In the next corner, it had inevitably to be done differently so that part of the roof stayed up.

He saw the symbolic in every element;  the ceramics (his designs again) in the window frame, each element has a meaning, and the window itself is framed by the alpha and omega, from the Book of Revelations.  The building lacks uniformity;  it breathes the variety found in the natural world.  And I do so love the uniformity of Romanesque masonry!

My favourite part is possibly this porch, on the front.  Attached porches are very characteristic of early Romanesque rural churches.  I have seen many; Gaudi would have been conscious of this tradition and of their integral role in communal life, a vital ‘third space’ as they say today in urban studies.

I have scores of photos of this crypt, but the town is also of “infinite variety”, with many buildings designed by Gaudi’s colleagues.  Here is Guell’s on site residence.

And a residence in the middle of the town.  Both full of whimsy.

There was a conscious effort to forge a Catalan style using elements and materials used in the villages through the centuries, with medieval and mudéjar (Moorish) echoes. There is a sunken gardens here, the closest one filled with fig trees.  You will easily be reminded of the late nineteenth century Arts and Craft movements, both in England and in the United States, as well as the work of Frank Lloyd Wright.   Fascinating! Hamlet’s line, about an “undiscovered country” also floats through my mind when I am here.  The world knows well Madrid and Barcelona, the beaches, and a bit more, but I am continually finding new treasures, secrets, charms and corners of this country.  It is a joy to share them with you.  Shall we charter a plane for next spring?  This is an “undiscovered country”;  I do come back to Canada, but will be drawn back to “feed my hunger.”  I guess if Gaudi can be ‘over the top’, so can I.  Enjoy.

4 thoughts on “12 – “…her infinite variety” October 30, 2012

  1. fearlessanalyst

    I am in awe! I just love Gaudi’s whimsical and inspired architecture. I hadn’t really been familiar with him – unlike Wright, etc…. This was a wonderful combo of photos and writing!

    Reply

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