As a first-year university student, I made a scheduling mistake which haunted me for four months: Art History at 8:00am. The positively inhumane class-meeting time was bad enough, but my freshman folly was exacerbated by the class format.
Picture a barely-awake dweeb, sitting in a darkened lecture hall with 250 other catatonic classmates watching slide after monotonous slide of classic art and world-famous architecture. I don’t remember hearing snores, but it wouldn’t have been a surprise. And I’m sure there was lots of head-down drooling going on.
Much of the final exam was re-watching the slide show of the professor’s “greatest hits” and identifying the art or building. The attributes I should’ve been remembering were, “flying buttresses + Gothic arches = Chartres Cathedral.” What I actually remembered was, “long copper roof + funky lizard downspouts = Chartres Cathedral.”
At the time, this class was pure torture, and in that dark classroom one cathedral looked pretty much like another. But luckily, when exams rolled around, there were a few distinctive buildings that were so unique I recognized them immediately – which brings me to the Palau de la Musica Catalana (Palace of Catalan Music) in Barcelona, Spain.
At the end of the 19th Century, the Catalonia region in eastern Spain was a hotbed of nationalistic fervor. With a unique, centuries-old language and culture, the people in general, and the Modernisme Movement specifically, wanted independence and recognition as a country on par with all the other countries of Europe. And architect Lluis Domenech Montaner, designer of the Palau de la Musica Catalana, was one of the prime movers in the new architectural crusade.
Montaner and his contemporaries, such as Antoni Gaudi, wanted their buildings to be uniquely Catalonian. And there’s no denying that this distinctively flamboyant structure is certainly one of a kind.
What made Montaner’s buildings different was the extensive use of curves rather than straight lines, and asymmetrical design featuring rich decoration and detail both inside and out.
In 1905, when this concert hall was built, traditional architects probably said that this glass and ceramic balustrade, and the individually designed, mosaic columns had no “harmony.” But what a fabulous visual impact they make!
The main concert hall, which is still used today, has a spectacular stained-glass ceiling which is a show-stopper in its own right. There’s so much exquisite detail on the interior, it’s difficult to find a part of the building which isn’t a beautiful work of art.
One of the pleasures of travel is seeing the real deal; not just a slide-show photograph. I know of no other building like the remarkable Palau de la Musica Catalana. In addition to being a delight to see, it was a nostalgic flashback to a time when I definitely wish I’d paid more attention.
James & Terri
P.S. For a mind-blowing look at the interior, check out the 360° virtual tour created by The International Virtual Reality Photography Association. Montaner was definitely coloring outside the lines.
2. By jordi domènech via Wikimedia Commons
4. By Jaume Meneses via Wikimedia Commons
7-8. By Josep Renalias via Wikimedia Commons