Barcelona – Part 2 (Day 1)

July 27, 2010

(July 23, cont’d) We set off after a short siesta for the Palau de la Musica. I never knew about this place, but Prof. A had strongly recommended it and said that the mosaics were absolutely incredible. We found it easily and paid for two tickets for a 3 pm tour. We got a bit of a discount because they had slightly lower prices for seniors (jubilados or retired people). Since it was only 1:30, we headed for the Cathedral.

The Cathedral of Barcelona (not to be confused with Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia) is a Gothic structure built in the 1400s. Inside are beautiful high arched ceilings and stained glass windows. Each chapel around the side is different and worth seeing. They are each dedicated to a saint or the Virgin and are places for votive candles and private prayers. Some are luxuriously decorated in gold leaf and highly ornamented, while others have a simple beauty. In the middle is the altar and main sanctuary, also rather lavishly decorated. The cloister area (Which for some reason I couldn’t figure out how to get into either 36 years ago or this visit but saw it through a window) contained graceful arches surrounding an inner courtyard with a garden and fountain. There is also, just under the altar, the tomb of Saint Eulalia, whose importance I know nothing about, but she must be important to this cathedral because her tomb is reached via stairway directly in front of the main altar.

Cathedral ceiling – partial view
main altar & stained glass windows
Santa Eulalia’s tomb

We also climbed to the top of the cathedral which afforded nice views of the city.

Barcelona from cathedral rooftop. In the distance is Mont Juic, where the 1992 Olympic village was located.

Outside the Cathedral we discovered a series of panels entitled Repression and Resistance. There was a map indicating the location of each of these 10 panels throughout the Ramblas and Gothic Quarter. Each panel has a large black and white photograph on one side, and on the edge there is an explanation of the picture in four languages. All of them were taken during the Spanish Civil War and the Franco era that followed. I found the two of these located there  to be as interesting as the Cathedral itself!

After our tour of the Cathedral we headed back toward the Palau de la Musica. On the way we stopped to have a coke at a sidewalk cafe.

Modern addition to Palau de la Musica

The guided tour was to begin in the cafeteria of the Palau. There were interesting pastries and other goodies there, very beautifully presented, but they were all overpriced so we simply sat down and waited for the tour. I took a couple of pictures there before I realized no pictures were allowed in the palace. The cafeteria has a glass facade with Tiffany type glass panels. The ceilings are decorated with ceramic flowers where each of the sloping arches meet at a point. Pillars are covered with decorative and colorful mosaics, mostly of floral designs. The room is spacious and lets in a lot of light.

When the tour guide came, she took us first into a room to the left of the cafeteria where there were padded seats set in several rows in a semi circle. It was explained to us that the Palau de la Musica was originally conceived in the late 1800s as a residence and rehearsal place, as well as a concert hall, for the Orfeu Catalan Choir. This choir gained acclaim just before the turn of the century as one of the most professional choirs in Spain. An architect was commissioned to design the palace and other artists were to contribute as well.

We watched a video about the Palau’s history before the guide took us to see the concert hall. The concert hall seats over 2000 people even though it doesn’t seem this large. Some of the seats on the sides are cheaper for the concerts because although the acoustics and sound are great from all parts of the theatre, these seats do not provide a good view of the stage.

The organ in the Palau is magnificent! It has over 1700 pipes and the guide had it “play” one of its “demo” pieces. The sound was incredible!

The ceiling of the concert hall is covered with glass mosaics which meet in the middle in a light fixture that hangs downward and resembles the sun. In a circle around the rim are a pattern of women’s heads made of glass. Along the edges of the ceiling are more ceramic flowers and mosaics spelling out the names of several composers (Mozart, Rossini, etc.)

Alongside the stage are statues including those of the founding director of the choir (?) and the most beautiful are the ones that surround the back of the stage. There are a series of 12 women playing different instruments representing different cultures around the world. The bust of each of these are carved statues, but each torso ends as mosaics of their beautiful dresses, so that the statues appear to melt right into the wall. It is spectacular! Many types of performances take place here – symphony orchestras, operas, choirs, recitals, etc. The rehearsal room we were in at the beginning is sometimes used for small chamber concerts.

The upper floor (above the theatre balcony) is closed to visitors because it is private – it used to be the apartments of the workers, then the choir, and now it is the managing offices of the Palau and the Orfeu Catalan choir.

The old ticket booth

Outside the Palau are several columns covered in multicolored mosaics. It is hard to take good pictures of them because even crossing the street you cannot get far enough away. Only one of the Palau’s outside facades is visible from far away, since there used to be a church there but it is no longer there and was replaced with an open plaza.

After our tour, we headed to the Picasso Museum. This museum is housed in a series of 5 large houses located on a street on which several grand houses stood (all the others are still there but have been converted to apartment buildings or offices). These buildings all date from the 1700-1800s. The inside of the building is cool because of its construction and its patios and arches. (Of course, the galleries are air conditioned!) The most interesting thing about the Picasso museum is that, by seeing paintings from his earliest (doodles in a Latin school book) to some from his most famous abstract & cubist periods, you get to know and understand the artist. He enjoyed whimsy and had a sense of humor. He liked to experiment with different forms, shapes and colors. There are a lot of paintings from his early professional life done in realist style, which are very nice. There are some from his experimentation with impressionism, a few from his blue period, and almost nothing from the period of the 1930s-1940s, but then many of these are at El Prado in Madrid.

Entrance to Picasso Museum. Photography was not allowed inside.

In the 1950s Picasso did a series of studies (over 50 in all) of Velazquez’s famous painting Las Meninas. We had seen the original work in El Prado. What Picasso did was to take each of the characters in Velazquez’s work and refashion them in his own way. There are a series of 3 paintings of the Infanta, for example, two of them very abstract, one of them more impressionistic. He did some canvases of portions of the painting, and three or four of the entire painting. If you were to see these by themselves you probably would not recognize them as being renditions of Las Meninas! However, as part of the series, they are very interesting. Dale didn’t like most of these, but I had my favorites, for different reasons.

The original Las meninas by Velazquez
One of Picasso’s renditions of Las meninas

(Note: The above two pictures were downloaded from Google, so you can make a comparison).

Dale admitted to having been somewhat disappointed with the Picasso museum, but I really enjoyed revisiting it after all these years!

There are many of these “living statues” on Las Ramblas. You never know when they are going to try to scare you!
Two more living statues

For dinner we went back to the Ramblas to a restaurant recommended by the Insight guide and listed as “inexpensive” called Egipte. In spite of the name, there was no Egyptian food on the menu. We each ordered a special that includes a choice of two dishes, a drink, bread and a dessert. I made similar choices to what I had had at our hotel in Valencia, and the food was sort of good, but the meal we had in Valencia was much better, I thought! Plus this was much higher priced. Maybe for Barcelona it could be considered “inexpensive.”

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