Monday, 29 September 2014

Palau Guell, Barcelona

I went to Palau Guell, the city townhouse of the Guell family, about eight or nine years ago when it was being restored and only the stables in the cellar and the roof were open to visitors. Restoration is complete and the whole mansion is open to view. I like the Guell family for their close association with SeƱor Antoni Gaudi and his great park in the north of Barcelona is named after them (Parc Guell).  I had no idea what to expect of the restored mansion but it was better than my dreams.

As with other tourist attractions, the Palau has discovered the beauty of the timed ticket for entry to control the flow of visitors and give us a better experience than being in an over-crowded place and not able to properly experience the mansion. Our tickets were for entry an hour after I bought them so that gave us plenty of time to walk up to the little cafe in the old hospital (now a medical school, I think) for a sit down and drink while we waited. A short stroll back down Las Ramblas and we were there just in time for the gates to open so we could go in, pick up the free audio-guide and set off on a great adventure.

The tour starts in the basement stables for the horses that were the only means of transport when the mansion was built. It uses the best of the natural light and ventilation that Gaudi could design and he created a lovely open space out of bricks and stones for the floors to create an atmospheric space for the horses and the grooms and drivers. Ventilation shafts up to the street to catch the breezes and a light well cut through the whole house to bring light not just to the rooms of the house but all the way down to the stable. Nothing is left to chance with Sr Gaudi.

We then go into the mansion proper up a majestic stairway with a red floral carpet that leads to the first floor and the public rooms of the mansions, used to entertain and impress the people of Barcelona. And they certainly impressed me. It's all about space and comfort, privacy when needed and public display of wealth and taste. The rooms are covered in beautifully carved and panelled wood, shining with polishing, with mirrors reflecting light and with interior windows to let the available light flood through the house. It's all mighty impressive and elegant in its simplicity.

Carved wooden ceilings and panelled walls just itching to be stroked and felt, and the rooms all empty except for one. The feeling of space and light was astonishing - how did Gaudi do that? To walk into that mansion after it was built and take ownership must have been an impressive feeling, for Sr Guell to think 'all this is mine' and make it his family home. I can only imagine.

We go up and up through the floors of the house, through the magnificent public rooms used to entertain and dazzle - and usually with a private area that the Guell's could use to watch their guests unseen - and higher we go. The woodwork is highly polished and decorative, a beautiful sheen on everything and we come to the main 'party' room with a musicians gallery where they could play music to dance to out of the way of the guests. This room also doubled as a shrine with holy paintings on the doors of the shrine. Such an impressive space.

Higher up we find the personal areas of the mansion, the bedrooms and bathrooms, less ornate but, I suspect, they would've been more lavish and the walls would have been covered in embroidered cloth and rooms full of comfy furniture. We, of course, see them bare of any adornments other than the stained glass windows.

Up another level takes us to the servants quarters which are laid out with a small exhibition about the mansion and the restoration. Beyond that is the roof and what wonders it holds!

Up on the sloping roof is a collection of chimneys, the best chimneys in the world. How could they be other when they were designed by Sr Gaudi? I can't begin to explain the sheer joy and glory of seeing these mundane artefacts made into art at the whim of the great artist Gaudi. What caught his imagination and made him design a mere chimney like this? Where did the original idea come from? Who knows, but it leaves us with a magnificent sight that is also full of fun and joy. I want a chimney like these on my house!

What a wonderful space that roof is and how marvellous its population of chimneys and all the details (such as the little lizard crawling down one of them). The restoration of this building is nothing short of magnificent and everyone who goes to Barcelona should go to see it. It really is a wonder to behold. The play of light and space is something to experience and the sheer joy of the chimneys at the end of the tour is great fun. If you get the chance then visit the mansion - you won't regret it.

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