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Showing posts from February, 2014

Gaudí Week #7: Casa Vicens in Barcelona, Spain

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This week on the blog I’m celebrating works by the famous turn-of-the-century Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, who designed everything from churches to mansions to public parks. This post is the last installment in a seven-part series; check out the introduction here!

This little-touristed house is visited by none but the most dedicated Gaudí fans (i.e., yours truly), so when I managed to turn onto C/ Carolines during a sunny Barcelona siesta, I ran into only a handful of Asian and European travelers, some toting guidebooks and others cameras. I lingered for a few minutes, snapped some pictures, and headed back down a major street to get some croquetas for lunch. Casa Vicens is—surprise, surprise—still a private home, and so tourists have to be content to admire its architecture from behind iron grillework. Finished in 1889 at the request of Manuel Vicens, a man in the brick and tile business, the house has subtle nods to Vicens’ industry: warm, red bricking and happy white-and-green t…

Gaudí Week #6: The Crypt-Church of Colònia Güell near Barcelona, Spain

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This week on the blog I’m celebrating works by the famous turn-of-the-century Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, who designed everything from churches to mansions to public parks. This post is the sixth in a seven-part series; check out the introduction here!

Eusebi Güell was one of Antoni Gaudí’s most important patrons, commissioning the Palau Güell mansion in Barcelona’s old town and the popular Park Güell. For this post, however, we’re leaving crowded Barcelona for a quiet village on the outskirts of the Barcelona area, Santa Coloma de Cervelló. It was here that Sr. Güell moved his textile operations at the turn of the century, establishing an industrial estate to be run by the business on behalf of his employees. Called Colònia Güell, this company town stood out from its contemporaries because Güell actually tried to improve his workers’ lives instead of focusing on profits-profits-profits; e.g., he sponsored the construction of Mondernista-style homes as well as a parish church for …

Gaudí Week #5: Palau Güell in Barcelona, Spain

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This week on the blog I’m celebrating works by the famous turn-of-the-century Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, who designed everything from churches to mansions to public parks. This is the fifth post in a seven-part series; check out the introduction here!

The only work by Antoni Gaudí in Barcelona’s old city, Palau Güell (“Güell Mansion”) fits in with the historic feel of the neighborhood and reflects the architect’s budding creativity. Owned by the same Eusebi Güell as #3 (the park) and #6 (the church), it was Gaudí’s first commission for the textile magnate. Although the Catalan word palau is best translated as “mansion,” its cognate, “palace,” could just as easily be used to describe this *ahem* palatial home.

Residents and guests would enter from the street under one of two eye-like parabolic arches decorated in intricate ironwork. Once inside, their horses and carriages would be led down to the subterranean stable, which, despite its lowly function, reflects the elegant arches a…

Gaudí Week #4: Casa Milà a.k.a. “La Pedrera” in Barcelona, Spain

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This week on the blog I’m celebrating works by the famous turn-of-the-century Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, who designed everything from churches to mansions to public parks. This post is the fourth in a seven-part series; check out the introduction here!

Between 1906 and 1912, Antoni Gaudí worked on the most distinctive apartment block on the Passeig de Gràcia, a lovely, wide north-south avenue spanning Barcelona’s Eixample district or modern, gridded “expansion.” At the request of the industrialist Pere Milà, he created a structure that is actually two separate apartments joined by two oblong patios and an other-worldly terrace with a wavy floor and weird chimneys. It’s officially called Casa Milà, Catalan for “the Milà House,” but informally everyone calls it La Pedrera because it looks like an open-face rock quarry. Part of the reason the wavy façade is so dramatic has to do with the street grid system that covers the Eixample; at every intersection the corners are cut off like …

Gaudí Week #3: Park Güell in Barcelona, Spain

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This week on the blog I’m celebrating works by the famous turn-of-the-century Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, who designed everything from churches to mansions to public parks. This post is the third in a seven-part series; check out the introduction here!

Park Güell is one of the most famous tourist destinations in Barcelona, but first, a little background on who this Güell guy was (pronounced “gway-ee” [gweʎ]), since he shows up in two more buildings I’m talking about later in the week. Eusebi Güell made a fortune in the textile business as the Spanish region of Cataluña rapidly industrialized in the late 19th century. Early on in Gaudí’s life, the two met and Güell became one of the architect’s biggest patrons. Between 1900 and 1914, work was done on an idealized subdivision for the wealthy on land purchased by Güell, but because few of the upper class at the time cared for Gaudí’s style and/or Modernisme, and the project was halted. Still, both Güell and Gaudí ended up living in tw…

Gaudí Week #2: Casa Batlló in Barcelona, Spain

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This week on the blog I’m celebrating works by the famous turn-of-the-century Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, who designed everything from churches to mansions to public parks. This post is the second in a seven-part series; check out the introduction here!

Pronounced “buhl-YOE” [bəʎˈʎo], Casa Batlló was my favorite of the Antoni Gaudí-designed residences I got to visit in Barcelona last year. A wealthy textile industrialist named Josep Batlló had purchased Passeig de Gràcia Nº 43 but was unhappy with the house’s design, so in 1904 he commissioned Gaudí to do something about it. By 1906, the architect had completely remodeled the townhouse in his signature style.

The front façade offers a way to appreciate Gaudí-style buildings for free. From a distance, the house appears a rather drab bone-gray, but upon closer inspection, faint bacterial colonies of red, green, purple, and blue tiles emerge that bring the façade to life even as the weird balconies and windowpanes whisper a sublimina…

Gaudí Week #1: Sagrada Família in Barcelona, Spain

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This week on the blog I’m celebrating works by the famous turn-of-the-century Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, who designed everything from churches to mansions to public parks. This post is the first in a seven-part series; check out the introduction here!

Unquestionably Gaudí’s masterpiece, the Sagrada Família is a Catholic basilica that takes up a whole city block in Barcelona’s Eixample district, the new part of town where the streets run on a grand grid. The church is arguably Spain’s most significant and beautiful piece of architecture (vying with the Alhambra, a Moorish palatial complex to the south in Granada). And it is without a doubt an iconic symbol of Barcelona, much as the Golden Gate Bridge represents San Francisco or the Cristo Redentor statue does for Rio de Janeiro.

Many people assume the Sagrada Família is the city’s cathedral, but it’s actually a minor basilicaBarcelona’s Gothic-style cathedral can be found in the old town, where it has stood for the past half-doz…

Introducing the Architecture of Antoni Gaudí in Barcelona, Spain

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When I was in Barcelona a year ago this February for a weekend Sigur Rós concert, I ended up spending most of my time in the city hunting down homes and churches designed by the famous Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí (pronounced “uhn-TOH-nee guh-oo-DEE” [ənˈtɔ.ni ɣəwˈði]). Born and raised in the Cataluña region of which Barcelona is the capital, Gaudi was associated with the Modernisme or Art Nouveau movement and worked in Spain in the 19th and 20th centuries. The buildings he planned are as much a symbol of the city of Barcelona as Frank Lloyd Wright’s are of Chicago.

Gaudí was fascinated by the natural world and by geometry, two fields of study that greatly influenced his design philosophy. Flowing, organic forms appear all over his buildings, and scary math terms like paraboloids, hyperboloids, and helicoids create arches and ceilings that are at once elegant and very structurally strong. Instead of making traditional blueprints, Gaudí devised a complex set of hanging chains that he…

10 Tips for Rolling the Spanish R

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Ah yes, the infamous Spanish trilled R. Found in words like perro (“dog”), rama (“branch”), and ferrocarril (“railway”), I’m sure the double R has probably caused more grief to students of Spanish than the subjunctive, conditional, and imperfect…combined. Although most intermediate Spanish learners tend to pick up on how to “tap” or “flap” their Rs—think the way Americans pronounce the “TT” sound in the word butter—trilling or rolling their double Rs is almost always a lot trickier.

The main reason it’s so hard to trill the Spanish R is because many native speakers of English simply can’t reproduce the sound—no matter how hard they try—since the English language has no place for the alveolar trill in its set of sounds, preferring instead the R we all know and love, found in words like wrap, ream, and terabyte.

Nevertheless, everyone is born with the ability to make all the sounds in every human language, from the clicks of the Khoi-San languages to the rounded vowels of French. But in…

If You Love Castles, You’ll Love Spain’s Jaén Province

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There’s a lot to love about Jaén, the Spanish province where I lived and worked for the 2012-2013 school year. From olive oil to Renaissance architecture, to free tapas and natural parks, Jaén is one of my favorite rincones (corners) of southern Spain. I talked about all these things in a guest post I wrote on Young Adventuress a year ago, but I completely forgot to mention one of the biggest draws to Jaén, its castles!

Fun fact: the province of Jaén has the greatest concentration of fortresses and castles of any region in Europe! Due to its strategic location as the frontier between Christian Castilla and Muslim Granada in the Middle Ages, almost 90 castles in this province alone have been preserved down to the present day.

When I lived in Úbeda, I only had the chance to visit half a dozen of the myriad of castles this province holds. Most are within walking distance of major city or village centers, but a few are in isolated mountain towns that are difficult to get to without cars. …

How I Stopped Worrying About Taking Pictures and Learned to Love Siena, Italy

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After leaving Florence in December, I was really looking forward to making a pitstop in nearby Siena before continuing on to Rome. I had seen many photos of Siena that were just dripping with drama—like this one of the Piazza del Campo from high above. One photo in particular of the cathedral’s interior was so awe-inspiring it actually made me change my original travel plans from Orvieto to Siena. Naturally, as an amateur photographer, I couldn’t wait to get “my” shots of the city and reproduce some views I had seen online or in books. However, on the bus between Florence and Siena, the fog grew thicker and thicker until I could barely see even a few dozen meters in front of me. I panicked.

I was so excited to take “amazing” pictures of Siena but those plans appeared to have been shot down by the reigning fog. I paid the big €€€ to hike up the Palazzo Pubblico’s Mangia Tower in the hopes that the fog hadn’t hidden away the entire city…yet when I arrived at the summit, I emerged…

Photo Post: Cazorla, Spain, Gateway to the Mountains

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Back home in the States, I’m really fond of cities that snuggle up to the foothills of nearby mountain ranges. Although cities like Hot Springs, Ark., Jackson Hole, Wyo., or Estes Park, Colo., all have a lot to offer, they still manage to keep a really cozy, comfortable mountain atmosphere about them. I was reminded of these kinds of towns when I took a daytrip last year from Úbeda to Cazorla, which sits at the boundary between the mar de olivos or “sea of olive trees” that governs most of southern Spain and a triplet of mountain systems that range southwest to northeast. Pronounced “kah-THOER-lah” [kaˈθoɾ.la], this town of only 8,000 doesn’t feel like a sleepy, middle-of-nowhere pueblo; instead, monumental reminders of the village’s past stand alongside busy streets filled with open-air terrace bars and restaurants.

What would have been Cazorla’s major church is also, uh, open-air today. It was built in the 1500s as yet another work by local Renaissance architect Andrés de Vandelvir…