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Visiting Catalan Modernism architecture in Barcelona

18 things to do and see

Explore the Gaudi, Domenech I Muntaner and Puig i Cadafalch Catalan modernism Art Nouveau architectural masterpieces in Barcelona.

Views: 3.2k Updated: Feb 2, 2023 by: Barcelona Travel Hacks

Description of Catalan Modernism

Catalan modernism, Modernisme, is an architectural style particular to Catalonia which has elements of Art Nouveau, gothic and modernism.

Catalan Modernism started around the end of the 19th century in parallel with the Industrial Revolution. Catalan Modernism differs from the Medieval and roman architecture found in the old gothic centre and Born areas of old Barcelona. Buildings from this period of construction predominantly used Stone quarried from the hills in Collserola and Montjuic.

Many turn of the century industrial and civic buildings were constructed in Catalan modernism style, noted for the brick walls with accents, brick curved walls, spiraled columns and decorated colour tile accents. Examples of this style Include the Palau de La Musica, Sants food Market, Recinte Modernista de Sant Pau (former grand hospital), Caixa forum (former textile factory) and Three Dragons castle (Former Restaurant built for 1888 World Exhibition).

Catalonia has always been a very wealthy part of Spain from its days as a Roman port through the medieval periods and into modern history. At the end of the 19th Century there was great social change as agrarian labour was replaced by mechanisation and workers moved to the cities to find employment in the many factories. The area East of the medieval centre of Barcelona in what is today vila Olimpica, Poble Nou, Forum and Besos neighbourhoods were mostly factories linked via railway goods yards.

In Barcelona, La Eixampla neighbourhood surrounding the medieval centre, was constructed to house the population explosion from the large influx of factory workers. Many of the Modernist masterpieces can be found in La Eixample due availability of land because it was open fields and farm land before the population explosion and la Eixampla creation.

Along with the Catalan nationalism movement there was a strong desire to modernise the society for everyone, not just the bourgeois wealthy. Politically, Barcelona was a socialist city and still retains many socialist values today. The movement was taken up by artists, poets, writers and architects. Large civic projects were undertaken like Hospital sant Pau (Recinte Modernista de Sant Pau), to improve the well being of the population. Food markets like Sants were constructed to provide for the expanding population. New railways like the FGC Valles lines were constructed. Notable stations are plaza Catalunya and provenca, both being subterranean stations with tile decoration and modernist flourishes.

When talking about Catalan modernism, the obvious name that comes to mind is Antonio Gaudi who's works include La Sagrada familia, Casa Batllo, La Pedera - Casa Mila, Parc Guell, Torre bellesguard and Palau Guell. Antonio Gaudi employed Gothic, Art Nouveau and Catalan Modernism in his works, with heavy use of Saint George's dragon (Sant Jordi is the patron saint of Barcelona) in his works. Casa Batllo has the roof shaped like a dragon with the inside white arches representing the ribs and the outside roof tiles representing the scales of the dragon. If you look closely you will make out other features of a dragon such as a body and tail (chimney). Torre bellesguard also has a dragon on the roof. you can see the eyes, body and tail.

The Catalan modernism movement had multiple pioneering architects such as Lluis Domenech I Muntaner who built the Sant Pau hospital (Recinte Modernista de Sant Pau), Palau de la musica and Three Dragons Castle. Josep Puig i Cadafalch built the Caixa Forum (former textile factory). The odd one out here is Josep Domenech i Estapa who hated Catalan Modernism style but some of his works such as Fabra Observatory and Cosmo Caixa science museum contain touches of Art Nouveau style.

Many of the Catalan Modernism buildings were commissioned by the wealthy bourgeois merchants of Barcelona and give the city a unique culture and artistic vibe to this day.

The attractions below on this page are all examples of Catalan Modernism and have common themes such as Parabolic arches, curved lines, Features that replicate nature: animals, trees and plants; Use of brightly coloured ceramics and plenty of ornate detail. Some of these buildings are on the UNESCO world heritage list.


Click on any of the images to read more and discover how to visit each masterpiece.


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