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Modernist architecture Barcelona
Modernism - Catalan Modernism and Barcelona Modernist buildings. Visitors to Barcelona can’t help hearing about modernism, modernist buildings and famous modernist architects Gaudi and Domènech i Montaner, but what is this Barcelona modernism and what does it represent?
You would be forgiven for thinking that it means modern buildings or architecture because it did mean that, but over a century ago. What is now known as Barcelona’s modernist era ended around 100 years ago.
The Catalan modernism, also called Catalan Art Nouveau, was an movement in architecture, art and literature movement that took place in Spain’s Catalonia region with Barcelona as the capital in the period from around 1885 and to 1920.
As the name modernism indicates, the idea of modernism was to break with the both with the past in general and with the Spanish past to create a new different and modern style of living to suit the modern Catalan sense of nation hood identity.
The modernist movement in Catalonia influenced all aspects of design and decorative arts to offer the wealthy emerging middle class a modern lifestyle that allowed them to live in a modernist way from top to bottom and morning to evening. Modernism influenced painting, sculpture, carpentry, forged iron, ceramic tiles, glass-making, silver and goldsmith work and also painting, literature and sculpture.
Everything in the most famous modernist buildings from the doorknobs to the furniture to the roof chimneys was styled and crafted by modernist artisans. Even the toilets were modernist.
Catalan modernism emerged as part of a general design trend in Europe. In other countries it has other names and styles, like Art Noveau in France. The style in Spain was different for various reasons. During this time Barcelona's medieval walls had come down and the city was expanding fast into the new Eixample area of Barcelona designed by Cerdá, called the Cerdá plan.
Rich Catalan industrialists were re-investing their huge fortunes made in recently lost Spanish colonies like Cuba and the Philippines back into the homeland of Catalonia. New fortunes were being made from the industrial revolution in Catalonia.
Also at this time there was also a strong movement towards strengthening Catalan identity and Catalan nationalists embraced the modernist movement as a way to showcase the difference between being Spanish and Catalan. Modernism was a way to create something uniquely Catalan.
All this encouraged the super wealthy bourgeois class of factory and business owners in Barcelona to compete to leave their mark on the city. The injection of wealth and support was the boost the modernism movement in Catalan needed to create the distinctive styles of Catalan modernism.
The millionaires competed to see whose architect could design the most impressive, outrageous and innovative town houses, country houses and even tombstones at Montjuic cemetery. Ordinary Barcelona residents at the time must have thought both the millionaires and their architects had gone completely mad.
Indeed the neighbours of Casa Mila petitioned to have Gaudi´s Casa Mila apartment block torn down fearing it would bring down property prices in neighbouring buidlings. Today we can thank these modernist fans and designers for leaving Barcelona a modernist legacy that has made the city world famous.
Everyone would agree that architect Antoni Gaudi emerged victorious from the design contest. Gaudi would became the most famous of all the modernist architects mostly for five of his modernist designs.
For the Guell family he designed Park Guell and Palau Guell. For the Battlo and Mila families he created Casa Batllo and Casa Mila. And to crown his life dedicated to modernism as a little side project he oversaw the construction of Barcelona’s new temple called La Sagrada Familia which would become his masterpiece.
Barcelona's biggest modernist structure is not the Sagrada Familia, but the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau by Lluís Domènech i Montaner. It covers several blocks of the upper Eixample area of Barcelona. You can find it at the opposite end of the Gaudi Avenue from the Sagrada Familia temple.
At the time many people thought the Sagrada Familia would ever amount to much and yet today, although still unfinished, it has become the symbol of Barcelona and the Catalan culture.
The economic depression of the thirties put an end to it all and the Spanish civil war from 1936 to 1939 ended with defeat for the Catalan who opposed fascist dictator Franco, who brutally suppressed the aspirations the Catalans who had envisaged independence and their own nation.
Catalan modernism became old fashioned and fell out of favour with the regime and went unappreciated for the second half of the 20th century with the many iconic modernist buildings in Barcelona in decay. It was the transition to democracy, followed by the era of mass tourism, mass media and the 1992 Barcelona Olympics that shook the dust and grime off the modernism era.
Suddenly Gaudi became world famous and today the modernist structures like the Sagrada familia temple and La Pedrera building by Gaudi and many other modernist buildings are symbols of the city.
Today vistors can see many wonderful sights from the modernist era of Barcelona. Some are very famous but if you stroll around the Eixample area of Barcelona you will also find many unknown buildings with unique modernist design and features.
Modernist Barcelona famous buildings
La Sagrada Familia
Hospital San Pau
Palau de la Musica
MMCAT Barcelona modernist museum
List famous modernist buildings Barcelona
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