If Park Güell is the gingerbread fairy-tale world of Hansel and Gretel, then Casa Batlló is falling down the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland.
Walls and ceilings seem to swirl in their stillness; enchanted-looking doorways tease the imagination with what lies beyond; ocean-blue tiles morph from pale tones to the boldest shades as they rise skyward; and a fireplace the color of burning embers sits inside a nook befitting a couple of cartoon characters.
The early 20th century structure on Barcelona’s elegant Passeig de Gràcia was the home of textile industrialist Josep Batlló (pronounced bye-o). As the story is told, Batlló thought the building was dull and unimaginative and contracted Barcelona’s renowned Modernistic architect Antoni Gaudí to design a new home for his family. Instead of tearing down the original building, Gaudí proposed a complete renovation, transforming the façade, reimagining the interior and adding two levels. Battló gave Gaudí complete creative license, and the result is evident the moment you step inside. The place just oozes joy.
I had booked “early access” tickets to Casa Battló, and when we arrived – unlike our experience at Park Güell – there were no unexpected crowds already inside. Herb and I entered at 8:30 a.m. and had half an hour to explore the house with a small group before the doors officially opened and the crowds started.
We turned in our tickets, picked up the very well done audio guide and headed toward the intriguing living room windows we had been eyeing as we waited outside. The main entrance is divided into two hallways which provided separate access for the Batlló family and the residents in the apartments above. The entry is awash in earth tones – burnt oranges, golds and copper – that transition into hues of blue in the living room. Bulging, curving walls create an illusion of movement while circles of decorative colored glass play with the light that infuses the space.
The audio tour led us through the back of the house to the outside terrace. At first, the simple apricot-toned exterior seemed to be a sharp contrast to the wildly imaginative front façade. But a closer look revealed curvy iron balconies, floral borders between each floor that looked to me more like the 1960s than 1906 and the waviest of lines. It seemed as if Casa Batlló was constructed without any straight lines or traditional angles.
Back inside, we headed to the extraordinarily-designed ocean-themed Courtyard. Gaudí expanded the existing space to create a central source of light for the building as well as a communication point between the apartments. He decorated walls with glossy blue tiles that reflected the light and created the feeling of being in the sea. Watery-looking glass panels on landings and stairwells completed his vision.
According to the audio guide, Casa Batlló was a house that was meant to be touched. The wood banisters were created to feel soft…and they did. Gaudí designed every detail down to the type font on the door fronts (he used letters rather than numbers) and the door and window hardware. He even created quirky-looking doorknobs that could be comfortably used by both right- and left-handed people. As we walked from one floor to the next, the word that kept playing in my mind was fun. Casa Batlló must have been a wonderful place to come home to.
Gaudí gave as much thought to the attic of Casa Battló as he did to the rest of the house. The top floor housed a water tank and acted as an insulation chamber to protect the building from extreme temperatures. A series of catenary arches support the roof without heavy interior divisions, and rooms for doing laundry and drying clothes are decorated with bright geometric floor tiles that once again seem to foreshadow 1960s design.
Our last stop was the rooftop, where four groups of chimney stacks and ventilation shafts and a scaly tiled wall resembling the shape of a dragon hold court outside. It’s a playful space, decorated with a broad range of colorful trencadís mosaics artfully crafted in whimsical shapes. The designs are so imaginative and the colors so strong that it’s easy to forget the rooftop’s functional and structural purpose.
After the tour, we stopped in the Casa Battló gift shop – this one is really worth a look and includes items handmade in Barcelona – and then headed to Baluard Barceloneta for a coffee break. Housed in the lobby of the Hotel Praktik on Carrer de Provença, the café offers a terrific selection of breads and pastries as well as a variety of coffees. Baluard also features a take-away-only bakery around the corner and allows visitors to watch their bakers at work through a street-view window.
It was almost noon when we began our walk back to our hotel. Our bags were packed, waiting for us to take them to the port, where we would be starting our cruise to the Middle East. It had been an incredibly fulfilling two days in Barcelona. The late October mornings had been warm and inviting, with a crisp hint of fall in the air and the sun hanging low in the afternoon sky.
I couldn’t help but smile as I watched the sunlight dance through the trees along Passeig de Gràcia, making patterns in the sidewalk shadows. It was wonderful to be back in Barcelona. And I realized that moments like these are what second chances are really all about.