© Ross Brinkerhoff / Fodor’s Travel
The name is a pun on the Spanish word manzana, which means both apple and city block, alluding to the three-way architectural counterpoint on this street and to the classical myth of the Apple of Discord (which played a part in that legendary tale about the Judgment of Paris and the subsequent Trojan War). The houses here are spectacular and encompass three monuments of Modernisme—Casa Lleó Morera, Casa Amatller, and Casa Batlló. Of the three contrasting buildings (four if you count Sagnier i Villavecchia's comparatively tame 1910 Casa Mulleras at No. 37), Casa Batlló is clearly the star attraction and the only one of the three offering visits to the interior.
Casa Amatller. The neo-Gothic Casa Amatller was built by Josep Puig i Cadafalch in 1900, when the architect was 33 years old. Eighteen years younger than Domènech i Montaner and 15 years younger than Gaudí, Puig i Cadafalch was one of the leading statesmen of his generation, mayor of Barcelona and, in
1917, president of Catalonia's first home-rule government since 1714, the Mancomunitat de Catalunya. Puig i Cadafalch's architectural historicism sought to recover Catalonia's proud past, in combination with eclectic elements from Flemish and Dutch architectural motifs. Note the Eusebi Arnau sculptures—especially his St. George and the dragon, and the figures of a drummer with his dancing bear. The flowing-haired "Princesa" is thought to be Amatller's daughter; the animals above the motif are depicted pouring chocolate, a reference to the source of the Amatller family fortune. The upper floors are generally closed to the public, although the Fundació Institut Amatller d'Art Hispànic holds occasional cultural events upstairs. The small gallery on the first floor, which mounts various exhibitions related to Modernisme, is open to the public free of charge; a quick visit will give you a sense of what the rest of the building is like—and a chance to buy some chocolate de la casa at the boutique. Passeig de Gràcia 41, 08007. 93/487–7217. www.amatller.org. Passeig de Gràcia.
Casa Batlló. Gaudí at his most spectacular, the Casa Batlló is actually a makeover: it was originally built in 1877 by Emili Sala Cortés, one of Gaudí's teachers, and acquired by the Batlló family in 1900. Batlló wanted to tear down the undistinguished Sala building and start over, but let Gaudí persuade him to remodel the facade and the interior instead. The result is astonishing: the facade, with its rainbow of colored glass and trencadís polychromatic tile fragments, and the toothy masks of the wrought-iron balconies projecting outward toward the street, is an irresistible photo op. Nationalist symbolism is at work here: the scaly roof line represents the Dragon of Evil impaled on St. George's cross, and the skulls and bones on the balconies are the dragon's victims—allusions to medieval Catalonia's code of chivalry and religious piety. Gaudí is said to have directed the composition of the facade from the middle of Passeig de Gràcia, calling instructions to workmen on the scaffolding, about how to place the trencadis. Inside, the translucent windows on the landings of the central staircase light up the maritime motif and the details of the building, all whorls and spirals and curves: here, as everywhere in his oeuvre, Gaudí opted for natural shapes and rejected straight lines.
Budget-conscious visitors will content themselves with the outside view of the Casa Batlló; the admission fee is ridiculously high, and you won't see much inside that you can`t also see in the Casa Milà, up the Passeig de Gràcia on the opposite side. Passeig de Gràcia 43, 08007. 93/216–0306. www.casabatllo.es. €20.35. Daily 9–9 (hrs subject to change). Passeig de Gràcia.
Casa Lleó Morera. The ornate Casa Lleó Morera was extensively rebuilt from 1902 to 1906 by Palau de la Música Catalana architect Domènech i Montaner and is a treasure house of Catalan Modernisme. The facade is covered with ornamentation and sculptures depicting female figures using the modern inventions of the age: the telephone, the telegraph, the camera, and the Victrola. The inside, presently closed to the public, is even more astounding, another anthology of Art Nouveau techniques assembled by the same team of glaziers, sculptors, and mosaicists Domènech i Montaner directed in the construction of the Palau de la Música Catalana. The Eusebi Arnau sculptures around the top of the walls on the main floor are based on the Catalan lullaby "La Dida de l'Infant del Rei" (The Nurse of the King's Baby); while the stained-glass scenes in the old dining room, of Lleó Morera family picnics, resemble Moderniste versions of impressionist paintings. (Though Casa Lleó Morera is not open to the public at this writing, check the current status with the Modernisme Centre (93/317–7652) and ask how to arrange a visit.) Passeig de Gracia 35, 08007. Passeig de Gracia.
Passeig de Gràcia 35–43, Barcelona, Catalonia, 08007, Spain