Roja! Xinesa! Barcelona! Part 1: Antoni Gaudí


Barcelonians aren’t afraid to speak their minds, to help you, or frankly, to get you out of their way (for efficiency’s sake, of course). They’ll poke fun at you if you’re flushed with wine. They’ll call you Chinese out in the street, when you’re actually Filipino-American. That happened more than a few times. Which is strange on many levels, one of them being that Spain colonized the Philippines for over three centuries and named the islands for their King. Eyebrow raise. This is Barcelona.

PART I: Antoni Gaudí

Maybe you don’t believe in a higher order, or in God with a capital G. That’s your own business, of course. But when you are in Barcelona, you must visit Très Cruces and Basílica de la Sagrada Família.

Although Antoni Gaudí designed these two monuments for the faithful, you don’t need to believe to be awe-struck. Go because you believe in this world in all its beauty, both natural and man-made.

Watch the setting sun at Très Cruces, Parc Güell. Its iconic dragon, the Hansel and Gretel houses, its mosaics and landscaping: These spectacular features distinguish the face of Parc Güell from the great green urban spaces of the world. One trait that’s not often mentioned is Très Cruces or Cavalry. Getting to the park and this monument can be physically challenging for some. The park entrance is a good 20 minutes from the closest metro stop, and up a steep incline. You can find a few very long escalators, but after a certain point, you have to walk. Très Cruces sits atop one of the highest points of the park. At the top of the mountain, the stylized crosses perch atop a stone tower. One of the crosses, an arrow, gives wayward souls direction. Climb up to the landing to enjoy the highest view. Below Très Cruces teems the expanse of the city, on either side, the mountains rise, and in the distance, the sea meets the dusky sky.

From Très Cruces, you’ll see the Basílica de la Sagrada Família, a massive structure that unmistakably dominates the landscape.

Sagrada is a living, breathing organism. I’m amazed at the symbiosis of the building: tower cranes like the scalpels of a mechanical surgeon work at dizzying heights above, engineers, builders and artisans among netting, scaffolding and in the workshop pursue achieving Gaudí’s vision; on the ground, thousands of daily visitors marvel, say a prayer, take pictures and buy souvenirs that finance its completion, scheduled between 2026 to 2028.

In addition to the spaces designated for prayer and worship, a former schoolhouse (built on site at Gaudí’s direction for the workers’ children) and the huge basement/workshop house architectural drawings, 3D computer-generated videos, elaborate plaster models and explanations of Gaudí’s geometry. If you love architecture, geometry, or physics, your nerd fantasies are about to come true! Hours of fun.

The Basilica's facades – one is spare, and the other, an abundance – they demand prolonged attention and careful study. As much praise as the facades rightfully deserve, for me, it’s Sagrada’s interior that is a breathtaking surprise, imaginative and fantastical. The columns gracefully arch, splinter and support, spiraling towards the stars above. The marble underfoot and of the colonnade, the stained glass windows, the apse’s high dome – all playfully embrace nature’s full color palette.

I certainly don’t want to spoil the surprise for you, if you haven’t yet visited or seen a picture of the Basilica’s interior. Can’t wait? Click through for this picture from Sagrada’s wiki page.

Don't. Don't look at it. Wait. Have your first look with your own eyes when you're there.

Barcelona itself is like its Basilica: singular and impressive from the outside, and even more magnificent inside.

Other posts in this series on Barcelona.