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In Barcelona, great architecture without the crowds

  • In this photo taken on Friday, Oct. 29, 2010, a general view of the Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona, Spain. Pope Benedict XVI will visit the Mediterranean port city of Barcelona to consecrate La Sagrada Familia, the Barcelona landmark, whose construction began in 1882 and is still continuing. The church is designed by architect Antoni Gaudi, who died in 1926. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti) Emilio Morenatti—ASSOCIATED PRESS

  • The Sagrada Familia Basilica, designed by Antoni Gaudi. AP

  • Tourist gather in front of Sagrada Familia church, designed by architect Antoni Gaudi in Barcelona, Spain, Friday, Jan. 27, 2017. Barcelona will curb the number of rooms for visitors in the city center in a controversial move aimed to appease residents concerned about sky-high property prices and opposed by hotel and business owners. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez) Manu Fernandez—AP



Washington Post
Thursday, November 08, 2018

Barcelona’s beloved architect Antoni Gaudí is synonymous with the Catalan capital, home to several of his modernist masterpieces. Even if you’re not familiar with Gaudí’s name, you can’t miss Sagrada Familia, his gigantic, unfinished Catholic church whose swirling, layered spires tower over the landscape. When Gaudí died in 1926, at 73, the project was far from complete. The race is on to finish the basilica, a UNESCO World Heritage site, by 2026, the centenary of the architect’s death – a benchmark that will no doubt lure more visitors to what is already the top tourist attraction in town. More than 4.5 million people a year tour the fantastical structure, which is adorned with ornate flourishes inside and out.

A few decades ago, a visit to Sagrada Familia felt reverential but today’s hordes of admirers dull that impact as they shuffle into the church and bump into each other while snapping selfies in front of panes of stunningly bright stained glass. If the crowds don’t deter you from visiting, try to purchase advance timed tickets online. Brace yourself for the frenzy.

You can find serenity at the stunning complex built by Gaudí’s onetime teacher.

The cure for tourist overload in Barcelona is a visit to the hospital – or at least the site of the former Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau (Hospital of the Holy Cross and Saint Paul). Now named the Sant Pau Art Nouveau Site (in Catalan: Sant Pau Recinte Modernista) after being transformed into a museum and research and cultural center, this stunning complex set on 40 acres is the work of Barcelona’s lesser-known but equally genius architect, Lluís Domènech i Montaner (1849-1923).

He, too, holds a high place in the canon of Catalan modernisme, Spain’s version of Art Nouveau, so much so that the hospital complex (along with his sparkling 1908 Palau de la Musica Catalana, an active concert hall) is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. (At one point, Gaudí was Montaner’s student at the Barcelona School of Architecture.)

When you enter the hospital grounds, only a 10-minute walk north from Sagrada Familia, it feels as if you’re stepping out of a bustling metropolis and into a leafy park. The complex, constructed between 1905 and 1930, was designed like a little self-contained village.

The architectural thrills start at the entrance building, which houses an iconic clock tower. Other splendid art nouveau features include dazzling stained glass windows, ceilings covered in mosaics, domes capped in glistening tiles and a vast assortment of spires and finials. Over the years, the buildings had fallen into disrepair and were vacated in 2009. (The hospital moved to a new facility nearby.)

The complex reopened in 2014, with most of its buildings restored. (Some are still in progress.)

The grounds also include beautiful gardens and seating areas designed for patients and visitors – and now tourists as well – to enjoy fresh air and sunshine.