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Take a step into Gaudi's imagination!
Parc Güell (Barcelona, Spain)
Member Name: ms_123
Parc Güell (Barcelona, Spain)
Advantages: the square and mosaic sculptures
Disadvantages: a little difficult to get to
If you've read my previous review you'll know that earlier this year I found myself in Barcelona for a meeting with work and I tagged on a couple of days to allow myself to explore the city further. This was not my first visit to Barcelona - in the last three years I have visited 4 times either through work or on holiday with family. One of the places I really enjoyed visiting when on holiday was Parc Guell and so I decided to visit again.
Parc Guell was designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi who designed a number of other Barcelona landmarks including the Sagrada Familla and Casa Batlo. His style is quite unique and playful, drawing its inspiration from nature and Gaudi's signature was the use of smashed up tiles to decorate his creations.
The park is located some distance from the city centre in the Gracia district of Barcelona. It was originally conceived as a housing estate, by Count Eusebi Guell, whom the park was named after. The idea was that as it was located on the outskirts of the city the area would not be affected by the smoke from the factories in the city centre and therefore be an ideal place for people to live. There were plans for 60 luxury houses, however the project was unsuccessful and only two houses were actually built, neither of which were designed by Gaudi himself. Gaudi bought one of the houses and lived there until his death in 1926. The park was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1984. Entrance to the park is free, although there are a couple of museums within it that do have an entrance fee.
The nearest station to the park is Lesseps, which is probably around a mile away. The park itself is perched on a hilltop and walking towards it is quite a mission. The roads leading up to it are extremely steep and at points there is almost a 45-degree incline! It was certainly hard on the legs and in the heat of the day I found it quite hard going. Closer to the park there where the road is at its steepest there are a series of escalators to help you get up which I found quite a strange and quirky idea (where else have you seen escalators in the street?!) but one that my legs certainly welcomed!
Park Guell is not like those that are seen in the UK in that there is not a lot of grass or pretty flowers. Most of it consists of a series of dry and dusty trails that take you around the park. These trails are rough and not particularly well maintained so I'd recommend a pair of comfortable shoes and not sandals as with these your feet will not be protected and they will get very dirty! There are also some quite steep parts within the trail and some uneven steps to go up and down so it is quite physical. As I was walking around I could see views over the whole of the city - it was a particularly clear day and I could see for miles. It took me just over an hour to cover all the trails, which also took me past Gaudi's house. This now houses the Gaudi museum, which it is also possible to visit, though I didn't have enough time to do so. The trails themselves were fun to do but were not particularly picturesque. I started the trails mid-morning and by the end it was getting quite hot as there were no trees along the trail to provide shade from the sun.
**The main 'square'**
The trails finish onto a large 'square' whose focal point is the huge bench that lines the front of it. The bench resembles a sea serpent with its wavy design and is decorated with thousands of brightly coloured tiles that have been smashed up and stuck onto it as mosaics. There is space for around 40 -50 people to sit comfortably on the bench. The clever design means that each part of the wave provides seating for 2-3 people and they can sit and chat in relative privacy from people sitting in the next wave. This 'square' is still perched quite high up and sitting on the bench you can see some fantastic views over Barcelona and can see as far as the coast on a clear day. I was able to spot key landmarks such as the Sagrada Familla, Torre Agbar and Montjuic. I enjoyed spending time just sitting on the bench people watching and just soaking up the atmosphere as well as topping up on my tan!
The square itself is a hive of activity with people sitting and chatting or admiring the views. There are also street musicians/entertainers like the kind you see in most cities - the ones who dress up and stand still in various poses. There were not too many performers when I visited but there was quite an amusing incident where two performers had chosen spots next to each other and who were then arguing over the space they were working in. There was plenty of room for them to spread out and not encroach each others space but they still argued, which drew quite a crowd! I'm sure this is not the kind of attention they wanted! Along with the street entertainers were people who were selling their wares, which on the whole looked like cheap tat. I think the police in the area are cracking down on these street sellers as there were a couple of times where the sellers whipped up their stock and ran to hide in the bushes that line the side of the square!
To the side of the square are a series of covered walkways, which were originally conceived to be market areas. Gaudi's fascination with nature is also evident in their design as they consist of a series of pillars that resemble trees in a forest. Leading on from the square are a series of steps that lead you to another park entrance. As you climb down the stairs there is a sculpture of a dragon covered in small brightly coloured tiles that runs down the centre splitting the staircase into two parts. The lizard itself is actually a fountain. This was a great spot for a photo and as such was extremely crowded and I had to wait quite a while to get a good look at it. It is worth saying that it is also possible to enter the park from this entrance but it's a steep climb and there are no escalators on this side to help you up. I would recommend entering the park from the other entrance and leaving the park from here as it's always easier walking downhill!
**The fairy-tale houses**
At the bottom of the stairs, by the gates are two small houses. I guess these were originally where the gatekeeper would have sat but one now houses a gift shop whilst the other is a small museum. I did decide to have a quick look around the museum, which costs 2 euros to enter and gives some historical background to the park and displays photos and sketches of the original designs. I found the visit interesting and informative. It only took around 10 minutes to wander around and was well worth the 2-euro entry.
The houses themselves have a really unique design, with their unusual styled roofs and look rather like something out of a fairy tale. In fact they reminded me of the witches house in Hansel and Gretel which is made of sweets and cakes! There is certainly something innocent and magical about them that made me smile and also my mouth water! There is also a café with some outdoor seating opposite the small houses, which sells a basic selection of teas, coffees, drinks and snacks though I did not get anything from there.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the park. The trails were fun although quite tiring and I was able to see some spectacular views over the entire city. I really liked the design of the park; the serpent bench, the lizard on the stairs and best of all the 'Hansel and Gretel' houses. There is something quite magical about this park and it's somewhere I would certainly come back to should I find myself in Barcelona again.
This review has also been posted on ciao under my tecnomars username together with some photos.
Summary: A unique park in Barcelona
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