When Antoni Gaudí obtained the degree of architect, Elies Rogent, director of Barelona’s Architectural School quipped: “We’ve either given this degree to a lunatic or a genius. Only time will tell.”
For many people, when you think of Barcelona, images of Gaudí’s Park Güell come to mind. You might not know its name, but you’re probably familiar with photos taken from its famous viewing terrace. The colorful tiles of the iconic serpentine bench and the fantastical gatehouses in the foreground with Barcelona’s rooftops and the sea beyond. It’s synonymous with Barcelona and it’s no surprise it’s one of the top five tourist attractions in the city.
The Park’s Origin
In 1900, the Catalan industrialist Eusebi Güell commissioned Gaudí to design a British-style residential park estate for wealthy families on a newly acquired piece of land called Muntanya Pelada. The unbeatable location overlooked the newly expanded and rapidly growing city of Barcelona and the sea beyond. Unfortunately, the exclusive nature of the development, its lack of a suitable transport system, and the highly restrictive building conditions resulted in only two houses being built on the 60 triangular-shaped plots. In 1914, when it was clear that the project would not succeed, Güell abandoned work and converted the property into private estate. However, Güell did allow public events to take place in the large private garden. Upon Güell’s death, his heirs offered the park to the City Council and by 1926 it was opened to the public as a municipal park.
Visiting the Park
Park Güell is a 37-acre park, which consists mostly of a lush and peaceful garden-setting filled with curving paths, viaducts, and viewpoints. However, most visitors come to explore the park’s relatively small Monument Zone, which is where most of Gaudí’s work is to be found. Before our visit, we didn’t realize that the the majority of the park’s famous structures were clustered into less than 20% of the park’s footprint and that it is the only part of the park that requires an entrance fee. This didn’t stop us from buying a ticket or visiting the Monument Zone, but it was nice to know that we could spend a very pleasant day strolling through the rest of the park for free whenever we wanted.
Most people enter the park at the main south-side entrance, on Carrer d’Olot. If you take this most popular route, then upon entering the park, you’ll be greeted by the two famous gingerbread-like gatehouses. This is your first clue that you are in for an unusually whimsical experience. The park is filled with fantastical architectural forms and bright colors.
One of the more recognizable aspects of a Gaudí creation is the use of the trencadis technique (similar to mosaic), which uses irregular pieces of broken tile and rock to form its designs. The trencadis work in Park Güell was done by Josep Maria Jujol, an assistant and disciple to Gaudí. You’ll find this ornamentation throughout the park.
As you continue just past the gatehouses, the Dragon Stairway makes for a grand entrance. It’s flanked on each side by crenellated walls and split into two symmetrical flights that meet at a couple of landings and then split again.
At one of the landings the famous tiled dragon, “El Drac”, can be found. Although, we can’t quite tell if he’s a friendly greeter or a fearsome guardian. Whatever the case, he’s one of the park’s most beloved and photographed elements.
On top of the Sala Hipóstila sits the Greek Theater with its fantastic view and its famous multicolored undulating bench. The theater was intended as a type of amphitheater for live performances, but today people flock here because it is the prime spot to capture that quintessential Barcelona photo-op. Although, you’ll likely need to work with or around the hoards of other tourists that have the same idea. Interestingly, we read somewhere that in order to achieve the correct anatomical curve of the bench seat, Gaudí formed its shape using one of his workmen’s seated derrière as a model.
To the west is the Laundry Room Portico, so named for the Laundress sculpted into one of the arched columns. This arcade, along with others around the park, provide covered footpaths and support the roads above. These were all designed to connect the houses within the residential community that was ultimately never built. To the east of the Greek Theater is the Austria Gardens, a pleasant and relaxing plant nursery. The surrounding palm trees are filled with bright green parrots chattering away.
One house that was built on the property was inhabited by Gaudí himself and is today the Gaudi house museum. Unfortunately, entrance requires a separate ticket from the Monument Zone, so we chose not to enter. The exterior can still be admired though.
To access the Monument Zone you’ll need to purchase an €8 ticket at any of the park entrances or you can purchase online at a reduced rate of €7. Only 400 visitors are allowed within the Monument Zone per half hour. Your ticket will be scanned upon entry and exit. We’ve read that the ticket offices close after 8:00pm and that you can enter for free after that, but we can’t confirm this because we visited Barcelona in winter and there wouldn’t be much for us to see in the park at that time since it is well after sunset. It’s also worth mentioning again that the park outside of the Monument Zone is completely free.
Park Güell can be accessed using the Barcelona Hop on Hop off Bus (Blue Route), but you can also easily reach it using public buses #24 and #92. They will all take you directly to one of the side entrances. We chose to take bus #24, which we caught at Plaça de Catalunya. We exited on Carretera de Carmel next to the north entrance and, from there, made our way along the path, past the Gaudi house museum and entered the Monument Zone at the Greek Theater.
If you prefer to take the metro, then board the L3 on the Green Line and exit at the Lesseps stop. Upon leaving the metro, follow the signposts leading to the park. Beware that this route requires you to undertake a challenging 20-minute uphill walk to the park entrance.