Saturday, June 12, 2010


After Barcelona we headed out into the Catalan countryside, to the little town of St. Julia de Llor. Lots of sun, swimming, grilling and reading.

And lots of pork. As much Jamón Ibérico as I could get my hands on.

St. Julia is near the Catalan city of Girona. Girona was first Gerunda, the main city of the pre-Roman Ausetani people. The area was conquered first by the Romans, and then the Visigoths and then the Moors, and then by Charlemagne, by the Moors again for a brief time, eventually becoming part of the countship (then duchy) of Barcelona... one of the Christian kingdoms of northern Spain. Girona was an important center of medieval Judaism until the Inquisition drove them out in 1492. The old center of town is one of the best preserved medieval Jewish ghettos of Europe, and contains some of the better examples of Spanish Gothic architecture on the continent.

All that history hasn't stopped a bit of modern architecture from popping up. Here is an interesting door to an architecture firm's offices in the center of the old part of town.

A rented 17th Century farmhouse.

We also took a day trip to the Costa Brava. Here is the town of Begur, another Roman then medieval town that is now a major tourist attraction.

One of the quiet little bays near Begur where we swam and had a picnic lunch.

We had lunch one day at Restaurant de la Riera in the little village of Saint Marti Vell. The food was slightly better than average, but the presentation was beautiful (see below) and the scenery and drive to the village was pure Spanish fantasy. I actually saw an old broke-down windmill surrounded by fields of wheat. Must go back to Spain.

The restaurant's patio.

And the meal:

Image of River Ter, Girona via skyscraper city forum

Monday, June 7, 2010


Just returned from a week and a half in Catalonia.  It was my first time and now all I want is go back and see more of Spain.  We spent a few days in Barcelona first, which is a fantastic city.  There are three major high tide marks of architectural accomplishment in Barcelona.  The most recent is actually current, with works by Jean Nouvel, Herzog & de Meuron, Norman Foster, huge new swaths of redeveloped neighborhoods, and a rare acceptance of the new and strange that can often be found lacking in other European cities like Paris; contemporary Barcelona is refreshing.  The first of these waves was the medieval, and the center of town is a maze of high Gothic wonder.  The middle period, was the most dramatic of all: the Modernista.  Antonio Gaudi was the arbiter, and the Sagrata Familia was his masterpiece.

This unfinished wonder is a tangle of over the top, intricate insanity, set to be completed by 2020... or 2030.  Or 40.  New architects and sculptors and builders are completing the stone wedding cake based on Gaudi's original plans.

Below the church, in the crypt, is the museum.  Here are old and new plaster models, original drawings and this incredible structural model.  It was made by Gaudi to determine the load and arch shape of the church.  In the model, gravity pulls the structure into shape.  In reality, the same shape distributes the load from the top down.  Truly innovative.

The model shop.  When I was studying architectural history, the Modernista movement, and Art Nouveau in general, seemed a little heavy handed and "decorative" and shallow.  Seeing it in reality was totally different.  This building is a real marvel.

Here are some beautiful renderings done in the early 80's based on Gaudi's plans.  They show the current state of the church (slightly darker set of towers) along with the future construction yet to come.  Note the glowing giant cross with beams of light at the top, and the huge flaming candelabra at the entrance.

Spectacular renderings.

After the church we had lunch at Bar Mut.  Above, tomato toast and Jamon Iberico.  The pigs munch on acorns beneath oak trees, and it gives the meat a rich, lean, nutty flavor.

Buffalo mozzarella with spring onions.

Octopus and sunchoke.

Steak with foie gras.

Another Gaudi creation, the Casa Mila.

And here is the Casa Batllo.

A fireplace niche in the library.

Pictures of the interior as it appeared originally.  My favorite is that light fixture.

Plaster sculpted ceiling fixtures.

The attic.

While the house was beautiful, I think Gaudi's architecture really works best for more dramatic, soaring, ecclesiastical structures.  These houses were incredible, and the craftsmanship exceptional... but something still came off as strange and dated.  It felt a little like looking at an earlier century's version of the Memphis collective.