Barcelona’s artistic side
Art and architecture rule in this Spanish seaside wonder transformed a century ago by Gaudi and the Modernistas.
La Pedrera, designed by famed Barcelona architect Antoni Gaudi, is hard to miss on Paseo de Gracia, one of the city's most beautiful streets. (Rosemary McClure / For The Times)
Besides, I had a ticket for one of the city's hop-on, hop-off bus companies. That would get me out of the weather. I walked to a bus stop, and a few minutes later, I climbed aboard, my plan intact.
The bus climbed the verdant slopes of Montjuïc, a mountain within the city that contains parks, a castle and some of the region's finest art collections. I got off and entered Fundació Joan Miró (the Miró Foundation), a spacious, light-filled complex focusing on Barcelona's best-known 20th century artist. The foundation, launched by Miró himself, contains more than 14,000 of his colorful paintings, sketches and sculptures.
Miró influenced some of my favorite artists — Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock and Alexander Calder — so I had looked forward to seeing the museum. Like the Picasso Museum, it included early, more realistic paintings, such as the "Chapel of St. Joan d'Horta," which I could contrast with Miró's later Surrealist works. I strolled through the galleries, enjoying the lively, dream-like images. His work seemed, at turns, both childlike and sophisticated.
By the time I emerged, the afternoon was sliding into early evening and it was colder but still dry. I walked a few blocks to the majestic Museo Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (the National Museum of Catalonia), known for its Romanesque treasures. I did a quick tour, then hurried back outside to catch the last bus.
I had pushed my luck too far, I thought as a curtain of rain fell. I sought refuge under a huge tree, hoping the bus driver would round the corner before I floated out to sea. Three minutes later he arrived, just as the tree began to gush.
Puig had inspired me to visit the city's art repositories (72 museums in all). Now it was time to seek inspiration and advice from another Barcelona artist.
I found Rotterdam painter Rein de Lege at a juried art market held on weekends in Barri Gòtic, the Gothic Quarter, a beautifully preserved neighborhood of ancient streets, Gothic buildings and medieval squares.
De Lege, who has lived in Barcelona for 20 years, is a masterful technician who paints faces and figures in crowd scenes.
I wanted to ask him about the city, but before I could, a friend who had come with me bought a painting from him. Then a third friend who had accompanied us bought a painting. De Lege was so busy selling and wrapping that my question had to wait.
At last, De Lege had time. The sea, the city and its people have always fascinated him. "And," he added, "the beautiful architecture. The architecture is spectacular."
His words became my cue: The second phase of my tour would take me to the city's architectural wonders. I began with the fascinating winding streets of the Gothic Quarter, which stems from a medieval-era building boom that enlarged the city's Roman core.
During its heyday, Barcelona was the capital of a Catalan empire that included much of modern Spain and parts of the Mediterranean. Its medieval power and influence are evident in the quarter, one of Europe's most impressive Gothic legacies.
I took De Lege's advice and wandered through the atmospheric area, beginning with the 13th century Barcelona cathedral and ending with visits to modern-day tapas bars and shops. The quarter — like the city itself — exudes soul and vitality and quickly became one of my favorite places to explore.
But, like most visitors, I also fell in love with the Modernistas, who splashed their colorful Art Nouveau designs across the city a century ago. With architect Gaudí leading the way, they left an impressive, whimsical heritage.
Again I bought a bus ticket and hopscotched across the city, beginning this time with La Sagrada Família (Temple of the Sacred Family), Gaudí's magical masterwork. The church, with its iconic dizzying spires, has been under construction for nearly 120 years and won't be completed for more than a decade. But Mass is now celebrated here, and work continues on the cathedral, which is financed partly by the tickets it sells that allow people to see it.
Facades on the front and back have been completed, but the interior is still a work in progress. I felt as though I were getting a course in Cathedral Construction 101 as I dodged work tools, sacks of cement and areas cordoned off by do-not-enter tape. But the construction didn't detract from the ambitious feat being accomplished.
I took a tiny elevator into one of the stylized spires, its exterior crowned in pinnacles covered in ceramics, for an outstanding view of the city.
The sky was deep blue when I went into La Sagrada. Now, 90 minutes later, clouds were slipping in and temperatures had fallen into the 30s.