Santa Maria Del Mar

After a steady diet of Gaudi, it was such sweet respite to find this church. Yes, I found another gothic church to sit in – it’s an excellent place to rest weary feet and souls. There are plenty of cafe chairs to occupy in Barcelona, but they require the purchase of a drink or some tapas, and city benches are sparse. So church it is!

As you can no doubt tell, I love to see gothic arches. There is something about the rhythm of them that just makes me happy. And this church, Saint Mary of the Ocean, is a fine example of 14thC Catalan Gothic. Its architecture has a lot of harmony because it was built in 60 short years. Eight euros got me a lovely guided tour, and a chance to climb one of the towers. I was able to walk along the rooftops, feet away from all the pretty windows. What a thrill!

A side aisle:image

The nave and rose window from the choir behind the altar:image

Over the altar:


Some stained glass, up close:

image image image

Main view of the nave:image

One of the reasons the nave is so simply adorned is that during the Spanish Civil War, the church was one of many set on fire. All of the wooden ornamentation inside burned, and some of the windows melted. The wood has never been restored, alowing the clean lines of the Catalan Gothic to be seen.


The windows, from the roof!

image image

A more recent bell tower:

image image image

The facade – it’s on a tiny square, so hard to fit into a camera frame!image

This church was built for the sailors and merchants of the area, and the stones were carried from Montjuic, nearby, by the port stevedores. I think this might be my favorite in Barcelona.


Park Guell, part two – the mosaics

The top of the park is a great plaza, which was designed by Gaudi and Guell for community gathering. The entire area was supposed to be a planned community for the upper classes, but was unsuccessful at the time as the movers and shakers wanted to be downtown, where the moving and shaking was going on. A hundred years later, the area has become one of richer housing – yet another example of Gaudi being a bit ahead of his time.

Around the plaza is a massive, undulating bench, covered in mosaic. COVERED. Gaudi used the same teams of artisans for his projects, so some of these motifs appear in his other buildings. The bench isn’t just decoration, either. It was carefully designed to channel rain runoff, and curves to your back in an ergonomic way.

Here are some of the areas of tile work I found interesting and inspiring. I can’t imagine the amount of raw materials needed on hand to play like this… I assume the tilers had access to the cast offs from every tilemaker in the district!

image image

Back curve and runoff channel:


I liked the positive/negative space play in this section:

image image

A rare 3D element:


This is the BACK of the seats:

image image image image image

A rare animal head in the designs:

image image

A lot of han-shaped elements: (modeled by Dione, a fab British gal I met on a walking tour!)image image image image

In some places it looked like full tiles were just flattened into curves to fit the shape:

image image

Lots of motifs we’ve used in quilting:

image image image image image image

Many different shades of white and cream and pale tones of blues and pinks on the columns:image

Gaudi’s Park Guell

I braved two Gaudi sites yesterday, and it will take more than a couple of posts to share all the pictures. To be in Barcelona is to be surrounded by Gaudi, it seems – if not the buildings, then the souveneirs, all done in his style. I feel sorry for anyone who was trying to work during the same period, or since, for that matter, as they will always be eclipsed by the fanciful shapes that Gaudi created.


His style is incredibly unique, to the point that anything that has a bit of curve in it will probably always be considered some type of derivation. The only architect I can think of (with my sadly limited knowledge) who has played with curves in a way that feels fresh is Frank Gehry. And I would have to say with both of these men, having seen one building full of their moves sort of numbs your sense of awe to seeing more of it. I say this knowing that, while in Barcelona it would be nuts to miss seeing the inside of the Sagrada Familia, yet not quite up to the task after the thorough dousing of Gaudi yesterday!

I think what makes any art truly brave is a total commitment to the concept, dectractors be damned. And Gaudi managed this in spades. He loved his curves, his religious symbology, his fanciful shapes, and his mosaic surfaces. He was a huge student of nature, using those lessons to inform the structures of his buildings. He paid attention to the precious commodities of light and space, and interiors were just as important as exteriors.

He was very, very fortunate to have a patron in Guell, who paid for Gaudi to play. While I might be a bit oversaturated in it all today, I can honestly say I’m so grateful that a committee didn’t get the chance to dilute his visions. Those buildings rarely stand the test of time well enough to create a tourism industry.

Here are a few shots from Park Guell – just the major structures and such. I’ll cover some details of the mosaic work in the next post.


Look at the interplay between the trees and the structure (and the umbrellas!):image image image

The outer ring of columns lean in:

image image

I love how the nails are delineated in mosaic:

image image

Fanciful, like gingerbread houses!

image image image

Heart shaped window whimsy:

image image

A New Plague

Some years back, I noticed a bunch of locks on a bridge in Italy, and discovered it was a tradition for a couple to write their name on a padlock, lock it to a bridge, and toss the key in the river, all as a symbol of eternal love.

The tradition is speading to other romantic European cities, and now the plague is taking hold on Paris.


Six years ago (the last time I was here in Paris) there was nary a lock in sight. This year, the authorities are having to close bridges to remove a significant tonnage of them – the sort of tonnage that is damaging the integrity of the structures.

This lock affair is neither cool, nor romantic. It’s really pure vandalism. We come to cities such as this to experience the different view of life and beauty they have to offer. And what we offer in return should not be to despoil their cultural capital, nor pollute their water with rusting metal. And besides, sticking a lock on a bridge is hardly going to make your relationship more likely to weather the inevitable storms of love.


If you really love Paris (or any other city you are lucky to visit), for heaven’s sake, don’t damage the place. Leave it better than you found it. Leave behind your kindness, appreciation, awe, and a few extra euros for the people that make it possible for you to be here. Vandalism should not be your legacy, especially if you want cities like this to be around for you in the future. We don’t have a right to be here, we are privileged to have the opportunity, and very fortunate that the citizens put up with us.

As my class friends and I were walking by a bridge discussing this, a couple had just tossed their key into the water. “I was here and I just had to,” said the fella.

No sir, you didn’t.

Notre Dame du Travail – Our Lady of Labour

A few nights back, when I had the opportunity to chat with Heather Stimmler-Hall, of Secrets of Paris, I asked her if there were any churches or museums off the beaten path that were worth a look. She reponded that I should go see Notre Dame du Travail.

The church is a short walk south of the Montparnasse Tower, close to where I’m staying. It’s off the beaten path enough that there are no multiple language pamphlets inside, the sort that explains the history of the church to tourists like me.

Heather was quite mysterious when she talked about it. All she would say was “It was built plainly for the comfort of the working people in the area, and beyond that, you’ll have to see for yourself.”

From as much as I can glean from the parish website (no English), she’s right on. It was built between 1897 and 1906 for local workers as the next big parish was too far away to serve their needs.

The building is really interesting because it is NOT made of opulent materials. Instead of vaulted stone, there are iron girders. The stained glass is simple: a few religious scenes but mostly just pattern. The floors are made of worn wood. There are no major works by the glitterati of the art world, just plain paintings done by a couple of locals, and simple but effective sculpture. Instead of bands of patterned and carved marble around the walls (in a hundred different designs), there are simple, repetitive flowers and plants. The saints depicted are those of the trades of the workers.

image image image image image image image

The austere and simple decoration was also part of lack of funds. The energetic Father Soulange-Bodin raised captial for the church, but also spent a good part of the money making sure his flock were taken care of. I like that… what good is the building if its parishoners are dying of starvation?

As for the idea that the simple folk would be more comfortable in a simple building,  I’m not so sure. I will admit to it being a welcome respite from the excessive display of wealth in most big churches, but I hardly think that people of the working class are any less able to appreciate beauty than the rich. And this church really does illustrate the amount of wealth pumped into the richer churches. Yes, the idea was that worship of God demanded and deserved the best a parish could offer, but I find myself wondering if these parishes would really have been better served by a church that fed its people and schooled its children, rather that making over-the-top displays of piety in the form of massive paintings and walls of decorative marble. And yes, I have not forgotten that the marble was carved by people that needed a wage to feed their families also.

This church raises so many interesting questions. Good art always does.