Casa Barbey – A Modernist summer house in La Garriga

Casa Barbey, La Garriga

Modernism is not restricted to Barcelona as many towns throughout Catalonia boast at least a few examples of this late 19th early 20th century architectural style. La Garriga, about 30 kilometres north of Barcelona, developed as a spa town at the same time as the heyday for this fashion and Casa Barbey is one of the best examples in the town.

I became interested in Modernism when I spent quite some time in Barcelona between working in other parts of Spain about eleven years ago and have been searching out new places ever since.

By far the biggest concentration of Modernist buildings is in the centre of Barcelona itself and the huge queues I saw last weekend indicate that it’s one of the attractions that draws visitors from all over the world and making Catalonia (according to a report released a couple of days ago) the place in the whole of Spain that has the highest increase in tourists year on year.

I’m glad I was able to visit those places in the centre of the city when I did as now not only do you have to face the queues and quite steep entry charges when you actually do get into the buildings the number of people detracts from any appreciation you might be able to get from studying the quirky aspects of each place.

I suppose it’s that quirky nature of Catalonian Modernism that attracts me to it. That and the fact that it was a child of its time. The development of industry in the city during the latter part of the 19th century meant that the materials needed for the architects and artists to realise their designs was close at hand.

The use of the materials in an imaginative way is what makes this style stand out from what went before. The wrought iron gates and window grills are a case in point, as is the widespread use of ceramic tiles and coloured glass. Guell, Gaudi’s principal patron, made his fortune out of tile manufacture and one of the reason that Gaudi used so many tiles in his designs, especially at Parc Guell, was due to the fact he didn’t have to pay for the materials. If industry had not developed in Catalonia at that time to the extent that it did it is unlikely that tourists would be flocking to Barcelona in the numbers they do now (but much of the industry has, unfortunately, disappeared).

Impressive though they are I don’t think it’s really recommended to try and visit the Sagrada Familia building site, La Pedrera or Casa Batllo in August. Instead go to some of the smaller towns in Catalonia and go on the hunt for some more humble examples. This is not as difficult as it might seem as even these smaller places have realised that they have something to sell to potential visitors.

La Garriga, the biggest town close to where I’m staying, is a case in point. They have established a route that can be followed around the town taking in the majority of the houses that were built during this period, that was virtually at an end by the First World War.

You won’t be visiting or looking for your run of the mill house. Modernism was definitely a style of and for the rich and apart from a few examples spread around the region, such as a factory in Terrassa or the old hospital of Sant Pau in Barcelona, not many of the buildings were designed to be accessible to the public. This was conspicuous consumption taken to its extreme and many of the houses were as ornate inside as they were out.

That’s the case in La Garriga, which grew rapidly as its spa status attracted the Barcelona rich who were looking for an escape from the intense summer heat of the capital city. The Ruta de Modernismo takes you to some of the houses they built for mainly occasional, summer use. Some have changed their use and one, for example, is now an English language school, but many are still in private hands.

There is, however, one that is slightly different. This is one of the biggest and is uninhabited and I’m not sure who actually owns it. It’s possible to see the outside (no access to the interior) on the monthly tours and I went on one of those last year.

This year, passing by, I noticed that the gate was open and as I searched for someone to tell them about this I took the opportunity to take some more pictures and a selection of those, and the ones from last year, are presented below as a slideshow.

One final point, nationalism was also an aspect that drove the designs of the Modernist architects so images of Sant Jordi (the patron saint of Catalonia as well as England) is often depicted. The mosaic on Casa Barbey, though, is one of the finest I’ve seen.

Guided tours take place the 2nd Saturday of each month, at 10.00, leaving from the Tourist Information Office at Carretera Nova, 46. Cost €4. For more information call 93 113 70 31 or email info@visitlagarriga.cat.

La Garriga Itineraries

‘Privatisation’ of Parc Guell?

Information Board Parc Guell

The Barcelona municipal council are considering charging admission for entry into Parc Guell, one of Antonio Gaudi´s gems, in order to get more money from visiting tourists, without improving access or services.  This is opposed both by tourists and the local residents.

Parc Guell, to the north of Barcelona, is the green area which offers one of the iconic panoramic views of the city below as well as being the place to see some of Antonio Guadi’s unique designs. If you haven’t yet been able to visit the park then you´d better do so soon if you don’t want to pay.

‘There’s money in them there hills’, according to the municipal government, now in the hands of the CiU party, the right-wing Catalan nationalist party. Every day thousands of tourists visit the park, most seemingly wanting to have their picture taken beside the dragon – which has become the symbol for the park itself. It pains the local grandees that so much money is virtually flowing out of the open gates.

So many people want to visit the area so why not charge them?

Many of the residents around the park are against this virtual privatisation as it would affect them directly and they are also angry that an increasing amount of the park has been paved over, presumably because that makes it cheaper to maintain.

As far as I can remember the park was accessible at all times but when I visited yesterday (the first time for more than 10 years) I was surprised at the substantial gates that prevent access after sunset. This restriction on access would have been instituted by the previous ‘socialist’ local government – who had had control of Barcelona City Council continuously since the death of Franco in 1975 – so a change of government would not necessarily mean a change of policy, if payment is introduced in the near future.

Especially in the peak summer months of July and August Barcelona is teeming with tourists and, as in so many other cities throughout the world, tourism is vital to the local economy. But as is becoming increasingly the case elsewhere, instead of being open and welcoming to visitors the main emphasis seems to be on how to milk them even more.

So far this policy has not had an adverse effect on tourism where surcharges have been introduced already for the mere temerity to want to visit the place, as has happened in Venice. Perhaps people will be prepared to pay ever more to see these places, perhaps not. But it is sad to read, yet again, that politicians consider that almost everything has a price. Don’t be too concerned about the pickpockets operating on the Rambla, it’s the bandits in the town hall who are after every cent you have.

It’s good that the local residents are against charging for entry to Parc Guell. However, one of the lines in their little poster to be seen in the vicinity of the park I find disconcerting. They talk about the ‘poor management of the affluence of visitors’. Does this mean that they don’t care where the tourists are fleeced as long as it doesn’t directly involve them?

March 2014 Update.

It was with a great deal of annoyance that I received the news that you now have to pay for entrance into the park. It was on the day before leaving Barcelona that I was told by Catalan friends that payment was now required to visit the Gaudï structures part of the park, the green space that is the majority of the area is still free to enter.

So the struggle against the privatisation of yet another public area has been lost. I know that the local people were against it but the state, whether local or national, and the greedy and avaricious will never give up until they lose their influence and power. They will always grind us down by their sheer determination to win – we, all too often, give in.

Not having visited Barcelona for more than I year I had missed out on the arguments. I’m sure I’d read that Güell himself had left the park to the people of Barcelona but by maintaining that the green spaces are still freely accessible and by employing a high-flying and expensive lawyer, together with a right-wing administration and judges with fingers in many lucrative pies the privateers have been able to get around whatever he might have desired a hundred years ago .

Not only do you now have to pay there is also a limit of 800 people visiting a day and if you arrive too late you might have a long wait.

Opening times:

25th October – 23rd March 08.30 – 18.00

24th March – 24th October 08.00 – 21.30

Entrance Fees:

Adults €8.00

Child (7 – 12)/Over 65/Disabled €5.60 – Under 7 free

Tickets can be bought at the ticket vending machines at Lesseps and Vallcarca Metro stations and at various ATMs close to the park, or at the park entrance itself.

7th March 2014