Detail of the dragon
Steps leading to the Hypostyle
Park Güell is like something out of a fairy tale. It’s a strange place, peculiar, even dreamlike, but it’s certainly beautiful. A walk through this park awakens even the least active imagination. The weird shapes and daring colour combinations, mingling with the plants, create a different world that visitors find irresistibly attractive.
The architect’s passion for natural shapes can be seen in every area. Gaudí wanted human creation in these woods to become an integral part of the landscape and complement it. Without doubt, he achieved just this. Snails, mushrooms, leaves, tree-trunks and elephants are constant leitmotifs in the mosaics and architectural shapes. Even the chimney-top on the caretaker’s house has an inverted mushroom shape.
Like few others, Gaudí represents the idea of the artist ahead of his time, misunderstood when he was alive. It was largely thanks to a powerful industrialist, the visionary art-lover Count Eusebi Güell, that Gaudí was able to create what his restless mind thought up. The original idea behind Park Güell began in 1900 when Eusebi Güell bought a plot of land on the side of Carmel mountain, which at that time was on the outskirts of Barcelona, to create an estate to be designed by Gaudí. The idea was to imitate the English garden city concept (hence the name Park), by creating a few dozen homes in an idyllic setting for wealthy people who wanted to move out of the crowded and unhealthy city. Three kilometres of paths, a square, steps, the concierge pavilion and even a show home were built to convince possible clients. After fourteen years the project was declared a commercial failure and abandoned. Eusebi Güell died in his house in Park Güell, and his heirs offered the park to the City Council, which bought it in 1922 and opened it as a municipal park in 1926.
Forest of the Fairies
At the entrance to the park we come across a curious house which is the first sign we are entering a fairytale world. It was the concierges’ house and is now the visitors’ welcome centre. From there, steps lead up to the park, with one of the symbols of Park Güell and Barcelona: the famous multicoloured dragon, covered in colourful tile fragments. This typical technique in Gaudí’s work can be seen throughout the park. It is known as trencadís and uses irregular tile pieces and other materials to cover objects. The pieces came from tiles broken for the purpose and waste from other buildings. Much of the trencadís covering was the work of Josep Maria Jujol, Gaudí’s assistant and outstanding disciple.
At the top of the steps, the Hypostyle room is a stone forest of 86 columns, originally designed to be the market where owners could shop without having to head into the city. Just above is the large square, with marvellous views out over Barcelona. The entire border of the square is marked out by a snaking bench covered in trencadís. The bench is not the only wavy line: all the paths through the park are winding, and the porches and raised walkways undulate, imitating the lines of nature.
Gaudí himself came to live in the show home in 1906 with his father and his niece, and lived there until 1926, when he moved to the basement of his masterpiece: the Sagrada Familia. The house is now the Gaudí Museum, which displays furniture created by him, models, drawings and other curious personal objects.
When Gaudí gained his architecture degree, Elies Rogent, head of the Barcelona School of Architecture, said: “Whether we have given a degree to a madman or a genius only time will tell.” Undoubtedly, time has opted for the second choice and Güell Park, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1984, is proof of this.