Gaudi in Context – A Walk through Catalan Modernisme

Casa Terrades, Barcelona

Recently, I was offered an opportunity to join a Context guided walk on Modernisme architecture in Barcelona.

What is Context, you ask? Here’s their introduction:

Context is a network of scholars and specialists—in disciplines including archaeology, art history, cuisine, urban planning, history, environmental science, and classics—who, in addition to our normal work as professors and researchers, design and lead in-depth walking seminars for small groups of intellectually curious travelers.

So a walking seminar, then – not a walking tour.

The walks

Context offers a number of walks in Barcelona, focusing on the Gothic Quarter, the Spanish Civil War, farm-to-fork, chocolate, and more. I’m quite taken with Art Nouveau, Jugend, just about everything fin-de-siècle, so I chose a walk called Gaudi in Context.

The Catalan version of Art Nouveau is Modernisme and it’s about more than architecture. Modernisme is an entire movement closely linked to Catalan culture and identity. Yet, it is through architecture this movement is best known, especially the works of Antoni Gaudi.

Our Context specialist is Biel Heredero, an art history student from the University of Barcelona who wrote his thesis on Catalan artists. Biel is enthusiastic, passionate even – both about Catalonia and his field of expertise.

in Casa Asia, (Cadafalch) - Barcelona

A unique feature of Context’s guided walks is the small groups (max six people). We’re only three, leaving plenty of time and opportunity to satisfy everyone’s whims and questions. Our little group is possibly above average demanding, but Biel answers everyone’s questions – no matter how silly – with patience and humour.

As we amble through the centre of Barcelona, we learn how Gaudí’s works was inspired by turn-of-the-century Catalan society. We learn about Catalan history, about the city’s expansion and about Ildefons Cerda, city planner extraordinaire (think von Haussmann and Paris).

The works of Gaudi is protected by UNESCO, and the World Heritage listing comprises seven of his works scattered around Barcelona. I was familiar with a few of these: the still-not-finished cathedral La Sagrada Familia, and the intriguing public space that is Parc Güell. So I was keen to take a closer look at some of the other, lesser known works of the eccentric architect.

La Pedrera, Gaudi - Barcelona
La Pedrera

The Gaudi in Context-walk includes a comprehensive visit at the slightly absurd, yet utterly fabulous apartment building Casa Milá, better known as La Pedrera. I love the plaster ceilings, the wrought-iron details, the peculiar structures and the views from the roof…

Casa Pedrera, Gaudi - Barcelona Casa Pedrera, Gaudi - Barcelona
Gaudi ventilation – and a view of La Sagrada Familia from the roof of La Pedrera

According to UNESCO, the seven properties comprising the World heritage site

testify to Gaudí’s exceptional creative contribution to the development of architecture and building technology in the late 19th and early 20th centuries…

But Modernisme isn’t only Gaudi

Biel introduces two other important Modernisme architects: Lluís Domènech i Montaner and Josep Puig i Cadafalch.

Modernisme in Barcelona, signed Cadaflach
Casa Terrades (Cadafalch)

I was already familiar with Montaner. A year ago, when I last visited Barcelona, I stopped by Hospital de Sant Pau, (which I’ve been meaning to write about, and will soon), yet another World Heritage site in this city, and Montaner’s creation. Cadafalch is new to me, and clearly Biel’s favourite. I’m especially intrigued with the political statements he added to his buildings.

The walk includes a visit inside one of Cadafalch’s buildings as well, Palau del Baró de Quadras (now housing Casa Asia).

Palau del Baró de Quadras

Our walk ends on the busy Passeig de Gràcia, where four Modernisme architects (our three, and Enric Sagnier) are gathered together on the Block of Discord (Illa de la Discòrdia in Catalan). Here’s Cadafalch’s Casa Amatller and Gaudi’s Casa Battló, in supremely clashing styles:

Cadafalch and Gaudi, Passeig de Gracia, Barcelona

Casa Battló, Gaudi - Barcelona Cadafalch

My verdict
Three educational and entertaining hours packed with interesting discoveries. A Context walk in Barcelona costs €65 p.p., perhaps a bit steep, but I think good value nonetheless. Entrance to La Pedrera is included, which otherwise costs €16.50.

Have you ever taken a guided walk?

unesco logo

Casa Milá and Casa Batlló are part of the UNESCO World Heritage site Works of Antoni Gaudi.

Here are more UNESCO World Heritage sites around the world.

Disclosure: I joined this guided walk as a guest of Context. As always, all opinions are my own.



61 Responses to “Gaudi in Context – A Walk through Catalan Modernisme”

  1. Anita 31 October 2012 2117 #

    A absolutely love all Gaudi buildings, they are so fascinating. This Context walk sounds like something interesting (espacially as I am an urban planner) however, so far I’ve never attended a similar kind of guided walk. Thanks for sharing your experiences 🙂

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 1 November 2012 1228 #

      As an urban planner, this would definitely be interesting for you, Anita. In fact, all of Barcelona would be …

  2. Natasha von Geldern 1 November 2012 0020 #

    Sounds like my kind of guided walk! And some new reasons to visit Barcelona again apart from Gaudi.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 1 November 2012 1228 #

      Yes, I was pleased to see a focus on other architects as well.

  3. [email protected] 1 November 2012 0331 #

    After having taken a guided walk through Harlem with Context, I wish I had done the same in Barcelona. It’s the little additional bits of history that the docents pass on that make the tours so interesting. I would have loved to have learnt about the Montaner and Cadafalch buildings.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 1 November 2012 1229 #

      A guided walk in Harlem – that sounds interesting. Have you written about it?

  4. Leigh 1 November 2012 0415 #

    I took a guided walk in Charleston, South Carolina and found that I learned so much history in the two hours that it was very worthwhile. It wasn’t quite as steep a price but this walk sounds like it’s being led by such knowledgeable people I can hardly fault them for wanting to make a buck. Barcelona is endlessly fascinating isn’t it.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 1 November 2012 1232 #

      Barcelona can be a bit overpowering, I think – it’s so huge. Very helpful with a good guide

  5. Jackie Smith 1 November 2012 0428 #

    What a great sounding tour. Will need to keep it in mind when we get back to Barcelona. Loved your photos, especially the first one.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 1 November 2012 1232 #

      Thanks, Jackie 🙂

  6. jan 1 November 2012 0516 #

    Yes I have. Definitely the way to learn about a place. I really love bicycle tours as well. Gaudi and the other modernists have certainly stamped themselves on Barcelona.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 1 November 2012 1234 #

      Bicycle tours (and Segways) sounds fun and something I’d like to try. And yes, very unique architecture in Barcelona.

  7. Natalie 1 November 2012 0704 #

    I would like to do a guided walk anywhere. Seems so much better having someone explain rather than shifting through history and guide books. Gives you chance to ask questions as well

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 1 November 2012 1235 #

      I especially like hearing the little titbits you really can’t find in guidebooks.

  8. Steve 1 November 2012 0744 #

    Gaudi was one strange dude, but I get the feeling my appreciation of his work might improve if I spent three hours with somebody who not only understood Gaudi, but could explain him to me. Of course the same thing applies to the entire female gender, but I’m not holding my breath to find somebody who can explain them to me.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 1 November 2012 1237 #

      Certainly helps to have an expert along 🙂

  9. Muza-chan 1 November 2012 0956 #

    Palau del Baró de Quadras looks amazing 🙂

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 1 November 2012 1238 #

      A very interesting building, indeed.

  10. RyukyuMike 1 November 2012 1057 #

    Interesting concept, I’ve never heard of, before. And love the photography !

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 1 November 2012 1238 #

      What? No guided walks on Okinawa?

  11. ItalianNotes 1 November 2012 1104 #

    Normally I’m allergic to all kinds of tours, but this sounds great. And look at those buildings and details.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 1 November 2012 1239 #

      It really is very different from what one would normally expect from a tour – no being rushed about like a bunch of sheep…

  12. InsideJourneys 1 November 2012 1657 #

    I like the idea of a context walk – they really flesh things out a bit. Sounds like they took their time and you got a real education out of it instead of a quick hit or miss kinda thing. I’ll put this on my list. Thanks for sharing!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 1 November 2012 2329 #

      Would be interesting to do a walk like this through Kingston in Jamaica – some interesting history there.

  13. Love guided walking tours and take part whenever I can! I’m not usually a fan of modernism but am very intrigued by Gaudi’s work. Thanks for sharing the architecture and info on a great walking tour.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 1 November 2012 2331 #

      I do like eccentric architects – Gaudi here in Barcelona, Hundertwasser in Vienna, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis in Wales…

  14. Cathy Sweeney 2 November 2012 0330 #

    Context does such a good job in their walking tours. I got a taste of Modernisme when I was in Barcelona, but didn’t get a chance to tour inside any of Gaudi’s buildings. I’d love to walk on the roof of La Pedrera! Great photos and interesting commentary, Sophie.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 4 November 2012 2141 #

      They really do. I’d like to try one in another city as well – with a different focus, perhaps.

  15. Laurence 2 November 2012 1023 #

    65pp is quite a bit, although entry to La Pedrera is around 20 euros, so I guess if you consider the expertise of the people, and the small size of the group, it sounds like an actual bargain!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 4 November 2012 2142 #

      Quite good value, I thought.

  16. I really enjoyed guided tours when visiting a new place – I learn so much more than just reading about it and searching it out on my own. So this sounds wonderful!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 4 November 2012 2142 #

      It does make a difference, I think. Especially hearing all the little side-stories only a local would know…

  17. Michele @ Malaysian Meanders 2 November 2012 1321 #

    That Context guided seminar sounds divine. I like that it’s in-depth and a small group. I remember looking at some of these places in Barcelona and would have loved to know more.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 4 November 2012 2143 #

      Yes, I often find myself spotting an interesting building, or statue, or market even – and wanting to know more, but having difficulty finding out.

  18. Andrea 2 November 2012 1735 #

    So interesting to hear about an architect other than Gaudi in Barcelona – great post!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 4 November 2012 2144 #

      He certainly isn’t the only one 🙂

  19. Kelly 3 November 2012 1407 #

    This is SO going on my bucket list!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 4 November 2012 2144 #

      Good 🙂

  20. Christina 4 November 2012 1709 #

    This sounds great! I’d do it. Always wander around and can’t be bothered reading much about it before/after, so a tour would be perfect. Sounds like they’re really knowledgeable and show you the more hidden gems as well.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 4 November 2012 2145 #

      Yes – and it’s the walking part that makes the difference. That – and having time to appreciate it, rather than rushing past in a bus.

  21. Izy Berry - The Wrong Way Home 4 November 2012 2115 #

    I went only on free walking tours and I loved them. You pay at the end how much you think the guide deserves for his/her work. The disadvantage is that it’s so popular that there are too many people in the group… even up to 50 people.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 4 November 2012 2146 #

      50 sounds a bit crowded… – but very generous to offer free walks nonetheless.

  22. Golfzoo 5 November 2012 0341 #

    Feast my eyes with these wonderful views! Barcelona is so beautiful..

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 5 November 2012 1619 #


  23. Ana O 5 November 2012 1353 #

    I took a guided tour of the town of Paraty in Brazil Very interesting history: slaves, free masonry, trade and the like. And beautiful too.

    You know I always have something to say about Barcelona… here goes: my maternal great- great grandfather was a stonemason and worked in the construction of La Pedrera. Sorry, I had to share it 🙂 .

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 5 November 2012 1431 #

      How exciting, Ana! It’s wonderful how you have personal connections to Catalonia. La Pedrera must hold special meaning to you. And it’s such a unique structure, too. Must have been inspiring to work on.

  24. jade 5 November 2012 2211 #

    I haven’t joined one of their tours but it sounds really interesting. When I was in Barcelona in Feb. I walked all around the city- love seeing all the art. It seems like it is hard not to stumble upon something beautiful there!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 9 November 2012 1305 #

      Around every corner… 🙂

  25. nomadic translator 7 November 2012 1942 #

    I found the architecture in Barcelona, beyond Gaudí, to be absolutely gorgeous. I can’t wait to come back. So much architectural porn! ;D

    – Maria Alexandra

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 7 November 2012 2132 #

      Barcelona certainly has that 🙂

  26. Lesley Peterson 8 November 2012 0539 #

    A Context tour sounds like something I’d really enjoy. It’s always a great idea to access local experts and it sounds as though Context tours go well beyond the superficial. I’ll be checking their website. Really enjoyed this post and pics!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 8 November 2012 0750 #

      Thanks for reading, Lesley 🙂

  27. Mary @Green Global Travel 8 November 2012 2149 #

    Great post! Love the photos.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 9 November 2012 1306 #

      Thanks, Mary 🙂

  28. PurpleTravelKate 15 November 2012 1348 #

    Lovely post, I’ve been back to BCN a few times and have always revisited those Gaudi houses!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 15 November 2012 1558 #

      Thanks. So unique, aren’t they…

  29. Andy 16 November 2012 1831 #

    Gaudi certainly has a very unique architectural style. When you see his works they are almost always the most distinct buildings within the block. Good pictures Sophie!

  30. Paul Krol 19 November 2012 2118 #

    I have never taken a guided tour and still am not convinced that I would want to. I much prefer to be in control and do whatever I wish, I guess. Having said that, I probably miss out on a lot of useful information, etc. Maybe one day 🙂

  31. Eco Mobile Tour 20 November 2012 0951 #

    Thanks for your article Sophie.
    We made this video in parc guell of gaudi architect, if you wanna use it go ahead!
    thanks 🙂

  32. Andrew Graeme Gould 21 November 2012 2329 #

    I’ve always loved Gaudí’s fantastic style, Sophie, and your series of images here really shows it off so well. And to answer your question, no, I’ve never been on a guided walking tour, but I can see just how much one could benefit from it in a situation such as this.

    PS. I’ve just got to say that when I see a Gaudí facade, I imagine that there’s a Catalán version of the Adams Family living inside!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 22 November 2012 0931 #

      Love that image of the Catalan Adams family 🙂

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