IT WASN'T ALWAYS MAGICAL. The building we now call Casa Batlló had existed for nearly 30 years before metamorphosing into the jewel we behold today. Built in 1877 by Antoni Gaudi, the property was just another building on Passeig de Gràcia, possessing none of its current features. 1904 marked the beginning of its transformation, having been purchased by Josep Batlló, who then commissioned Gaudi to rebuild the house into something creative. Gaudi convinced him that a renovation would suffice, and two years later emerged a terrific, fantastic creature of a building unlike anything on the glamorous avenue.
For its eclectic elements, Casa Batlló has been dubbed "house of bones", "house of masks", "house of yawns" and "house of the dragon". Ultimately, it took on the name of its founding father Josep Batlló. From the outside, the building draws attention with bone-like pillars and mask-like balconies protruding from a mosaic called trencadís. Crowning the building is a dragon-like roof, impaled by a flower-petal cross. The symbols allude to the legend of Sant Jordi, patron saint of Catalunya, who slew a dragon that terrorized the land.
Inside are curling rails, swirling ceilings, rib-like arches and light wells glimmering in an ocean of blue. Floral motifs abound, as do reptilian influences, all amidst a cornucopia of organic forms. The Noble Floor was opened to the public in 2002, and following unexpected popularity, other parts of the house were made accessible in subsequent years. Casa Batlló was listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2005, and has since been recognized by various institutions for its achievements in conservation.
Four winters since moving to Barcelona, I remain convinced that the city's treasure is its architecture, particularly the Modernisme marvels that nurture tourism and patrimony. Of course there is the exuberant lifestyle, and the spirited drinking and dining culture that grows only richer with new trends. But these things can be adopted elsewhere. Architectural heritage is something that belongs uniquely to its home city. In Barcelona, Modernisme breathes the city's soul.
It's easy to take these buildings for granted when you live here, walking past them on the daily commute. Which is why I still tour the sights every now and then. Years pass but true gems don't lose their luster.
Casa Batlló, Barcelona. www.casabatllo.es Photos by Lady San Pedro and Jaime Sese.