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Palau Güell Review
Gaudí built this mansion in 1886–89 for textile baron Count Eusebi de Güell Bacigalupi, his main patron and promoter. Gaudí's principal obsession in this project was to find a way to illuminate this seven-story house tightly surrounded by other buildings in the cramped quarters of the Raval. The prominent quatre barras (four bars) of the Catalan senyera (banner) on the facade between the parabolic (looping) entrance arches attest to the nationalist fervor that Gaudí shared with Güell. The dark facade is a dramatic foil for the treasure housed inside, where spear-shape Art Nouveau columns frame the windows and prop up a series of detailed and elaborately carved wood ceilings.
The basement stables are famous for the "fungiform" (fungus- or mushroomlike) columns supporting the whole building. Note Gaudí's signature parabolic arches between the columns and the way the arches meet overhead, forming an oasislike canopy of palm fronds, probably little consolation for political prisoners held here during the 1936–39 Spanish civil war, when the space was used as a cheka (Russian for Republican secret-police dungeons). The patio where the horses were groomed receives light through a skylight, one of many Gaudí devices and tricks used to create more light: mirrors, skylights, even frosted-glass windows over artificial lighting, giving the impression of exterior light. Don't miss the faithful hounds in the grooming room with rings for hitching horses, or the wooden bricks used as cobblestones in the upstairs entryway and on the ramp down to the basement grooming area to deaden the sound of horses' hooves. The chutes on the Carrer Nou de la Rambla side of the basement were for loading feed straight in from street level overhead, while the catwalk and spiral staircase were for the servants to walk back up into the main entry.
Upstairs are three successive receiving rooms, the wooden ceilings progressing from merely spectacular to complex to byzantine in their richly molded floral and leaf motifs. The third receiving room, the one farthest in with the most elaborate ceiling ornamentation, has a jalousie in the balcony over the room, a double grate through which Güell was able to inspect and, almost literally, eavesdrop on his arriving guests. The main hall, with the three-story-tall tower reaching up above the roof, was the room for parties, dances, and receptions. Musicians played from the balcony, and the overhead balcony window was for the main vocalist. A chapel of hammered copper with retractable kneeling pads and a small bench for two built into the right side of the altar is enclosed behind a double door. Around the corner is a small organ, the flutes in rectangular tubes climbing the mansion's central shaft.
The dining room is dominated by a beautiful mahogany banquet table seating 10, an Art Nouveau fireplace in the shape of a deeply curving horseshoe arch, and walls with floral and animal motifs. Note the Star of David in the woodwork over the window and the Asian religious themes in the vases on the mantelpiece. From the outside rear terrace, the polished Garraf marble of the main part of the house is exposed and visible, while the brick servants' quarters rise up on the left. The passageway built toward the Rambla was all that came of a plan to buy an intervening property and connect three houses into a major structure, a scheme that never materialized.
Gaudí is most himself on the roof, where his playful, polychrome ceramic chimneys seem right at home with later works such as Park Güell and La Pedrera. Look for the flying-bat weather vane over the main chimney, symbol of Jaume I el Conqueridor (James I, the Conqueror), who brought the house of Aragón to its 13th-century imperial apogee in the Mediterranean. Jaume I's affinity for bats is said to have stemmed from his Majorca campaign, when, according to one version, he was awakened by the fluttering rat penat (literally, "condemned mouse") in time to stave off a Moorish night attack. Another version attributes the presence of the bat in Jaume I's coat of arms to his gratitude to the Sufi sect that helped him successfully invade Majorca, using the bat as a signal indicating when and where to attack. See if you can find the hologram of COBI, Javier Mariscal's 1992 Olympic mascot, on a restored ceramic chimney (hint: the all-white one at the Rambla end of the roof terrace).
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