Most people who know anything about architecture or have been to Barcelona are familiar with Antoni Gaudí. Now you can walk the Gaudi route, visiting the most emblematic buildings such as the Sagrada Familia, Casa Batllo, Casa Mila, or the Park Güell. The magic of this architect lies in his control of physical forms, his imagination and fantasy, and the prevalence of the curved lines, with nature as his greatest inspiration. For Gaudi, Spain was his canvas, and the city of Barcelona was his masterpiece.
If he came back and saw all this today, the man himself would probably be amazed at his modern celebrity. Now the Sagrada Familia is the most-visited monument in Spain and seven of his works are UNESCO World Heritage sites.
If you’re headed to Barcelona during a trip to Spain this summer, here’s a collection of Gaudi trivia you can roll out to sound smarter than the bus tour crowds snapping photos.
He Was No Standout Student
The man who would become Barcelona’s most successful architect in the late 1800s didn’t do very well while studying. He passed with middling marks and the director of Barcelona Architecture School supposedly said: “We have given this academic title either to a fool or a genius. Time will show.”
He Didn’t Like to Draw
Unlike most architects, Gaudí wasn’t a fan of sketching out ideas. He preferred to mold them as 3-D models and revise the shapes and forms as he went until he was satisfied.
He Was a Fasting Vegetarian
The artist became a vegetarian early in his life and stuck with it. He was also fond of fasting, though sometimes to the point of the fasts becoming life-threatening. He lived to 75 years old though, still working, which was not a common thing in the 1920s.
He Lived on Site in His Unfinished Masterpiece
Gaudí is best known for his most ambitious work, the Sagrada Família—Church of the Holy Family. In 1910 he stopped working on virtually every other project and holed up on site while work was proceeding. The church itself ended up being his last home as he raced against time. He only got to see one tower go up on top.
He Died From a Traffic Accident
Perhaps he was daydreaming, or trying to work out a structural problem in his head. Whatever the reason, the artist’s means of death was by public transportation: a trolley car hit the pedestrian and he never recovered from his injuries.
Gaudí Died a Bachelor
His coppersmith father eventually came to live with him for a time, as did a niece, but the architect never married. People like to speculate that he was gay, more likely he went from being an awkward, sickly child to being a socially awkward adult consumed with his work. (And he became increasingly more religious as he aged.)
International Fame Took Quite a While
While he was the most famous architect in his home city, that was about as far as it went in his lifetime. Apart from a few admirers abroad, especially the surrealists, Gaudí was almost an unknown outside of his region. He had few admirers during the last couple decades of his life as different styles gained favor. It wasn’t until the 1960s that his buildings started growing as tourist attractions.
For what it’s worth, Barcelona wasn’t always a big tourist draw either…