Robert Pimm

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A temple to faith, time, and resolve


By Robert Pimm, Globe Correspondent

Boston Globe, June 25 2006

As you climb higher, the smell of welding fades. The stairs are vertiginous: voids reveal a thousand ways to tumble to the ground. Barcelona is a city of vistas. But the view from the summit of La Sagrada Família is incomparable.


The Sagrada Familia in 2004 – Photo Robert Pimm

“The tree outside my workshop, this is my master,” said Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926), the church’s Catalan architect. Today, the warped-Gothic fantasy he began in 1884 is barely half-finished. Swarming with artisans, it seems almost to grow as you watch: as big as a mountain, yet as organic and airy as a sea shell , a colossal, exuberant explosion of color and form. Everywhere stone drips, pinnacles soar, mosaics glisten, and tantalizing balconies jut from the verticals.

Best of all, the filigree towers are riddled with staircases. From soaring buttress-bridges you can watch workers on the roof, gaze at the Mediterranean city below, or admire architectural features invisible from the ground: frogs, salamanders, shellfish, snakes, and a cedar tree packed with giant white marble doves.

Asked why there was so much detail so high up, Gaudí replied, “The angels will see it.”

When they finish Sagrada Família — possibly in 2026 — its highest tower will rise 560 feet. My advice is, visit now. Then you can tell your children you saw one of the wonders of the world under construction.


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When tourist reinvention spins out of control

Barcelona’s success in turning itself from a little-known industrial port to an international mecca is beginning to backfire, writes Robert Pimm

Financial Times, April 29 2006

The narrow alleyways of the Gothic quarter lie at the heart of Barcelona’s old city. As the afternoon sun begins to sink, shutters rise, noise levels pick up and enticing smells waft between the ancient buildings.

But not everyone is here to soak up Catalan culture. Outside a brace of Irish pubs in the Carrer de Ferran, signs advertise “Live Premier League Action”. Round the corner in the picturesque Carrer de la Boqueria, boards outside the Travel Bar promise “More drunken adventures at 9.30: 4 Bars & one club” and “Tonight: 2 pints or 2 cocktails €6, extra sexy bar staff”.

The Sacrada Familia – a world-class reason to visit Barcelona – Photo RP

The trouble with Barcelona is that it offers too much for too many people. In the 1980s, the city was synonymous with sophisticated urban living and Mediterranean flair. The 1992 Olympics brought a rash of mixed-quality regeneration and a PR bonanza. Now the budget airlines boom has made Barcelona accessible to a global pool of potential visitors. The question is how many tourists a city of 1.5m can absorb before the culture that people come for is diluted beyond recognition.


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