A photographer’s guide to Barcelona’s world heritage sites
Ever since the 1992 Summer Olympics – and consequently the city being firmly planted on the map, Barcelona has since been recognised as one of Europe’s most beautiful cities to visit. A medieval city surrounded by Baroque quarters, beautiful tree-lined avenues, quaint plazas, narrow quarters in Romanic, Medieval and Gothic styles are in stark contrast to it’s cutting edge ultra-modern architecture.
Unique to Barcelona however, are the finest examples of Modernist buildings found anywhere in Europe. Having no less than 9 World Heritage Sites, Barcelona’s response to the Art Nouveau movement has been nothing less than spectacular. The works listed below were created by the most famous Catalan architects: Antoni Gaudi [1852-1926], and Lluis Domenech i Montaner [1850-1923].
With so many examples of beautiful architecture in one small city, photographing them can easily become overwhelming. For this reason it is good to plan in advance which monuments to shoot, and when. This includes saving time by purchasing advance tickets online, knowing when the light will be at the right angle, avoiding crowds and how the weather will be on the day.
In general, our photography tours go through the city’s most photogenic sites with an emphasis on street photography, fine art, environmental portraits and architecture. Unless a customised tour is requested, we do not enter Modernist sites, as we believe the time used on our tours can be more productive when visiting other locations. The list of Barcelona’s World Heritage Sites are listed below, with useful links to ensure you will arrive with your camera, ready to shoot:
The Sagrada Familia: Having 3 facades, you will need to decide at what time of day you plan to visit. Our recommendations are to shoot the “Passion” facade in the late afternoon, when the warm afternoon sun lights up the stone and towers. You could then enter the church and be greeted by the amazing display of colour filtering through the stained-glass windows. For photographers without any walking issues, you could also take the optional elevator up to shoot the amazing stone details from the bridges as well as views over the city. You will need to walk down 365 stairs to get back down, though shooting the spiral staircase will yield fantastic shots as well. We strongly recommend booking entrance tickets online, as the queues to enter can be ridiculous. Here is a link to booking advance tickets through their official website: http://www.sagradafamilia.org/en/tickets/
Casa Batllo: This building looks stunning in the early morning as the sun shines down the Paseo de Gracia. You will be greeted by a shimmering display of colour and detail from its ornate tiles and balconies. If you are positioned at the right spot, shooting silhouettes of people passing by can work when using the Casa Batllo as a background. Arriving early will give you the best chance to be one of the first visitors to enter – useful in shooting the organic shapes and textures of the interior, and the chimney stacks on the roof without other visitors getting in the way of your shots. Likewise, shooting the Casa Batllo during the blue hour when the lights come on can be just as spectacular. Bring a tripod with and position yourself across the street. You may not need to book advance tickets, as the queues are nowhere near as bad as the Sagrada Familia. An informative overview of the Casa Batllo can be found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casa_Batlló
Casa Mila: Also located on Paseo de Gracia, just further up the street from Casa Batllo, Casa Mila [also known as La Pedrera] was designed under the theme of an open quarry. As it located on the opposite side of the street to Casa Batllo, it’s facade is best photographed in the afternoon. On entering the building, you will see the level of detail adorning it’s walls and looking up reveals the structure’s open patio. When visiting the apartment, you will notice that not a single straight line is used in it’s construction. Some beautiful images can be created of the ceilings in particular. We think that the highlight for photographers is to shoot the stunning chimney stacks and ventilation ducts on the roof. These structures, when captured with good light and dramatic skies can yield extraordinary images, though the weather plays a big part in this. Info on La Pedrera can be found on their official website here: https://www.lapedrera.com/en/home
The Catalan Music Palace: One of our personal favourites, the Catalan Music Palace [or Palau de la Musica Catalana] is absolutely striking. Without a doubt the most beautiful aspect of this building is the interior’s Art Nouveau glass skylight. Designed around a central metal structure, and covered with stained glass, ironwork, mosaic, sculptures and tiles, a guided visit to this extraordinary monument should definitely be on your shortlist. Even better, is attending one of the outstanding classical music performances that some of the world’s best orchestras and conductors can be found. If you happen to have a fisheye lens with you, you will be rewarded with some stunning images. For lovers of architecture, music and Modernism, you simply cannot leave this building without being utterly in awe of it’s attention to detail, use of natural light, perfect acoustics and functionality. It is best to photograph the exterior in the morning, when the sun hits the original facade. Details of performances and guided visits can be found here: http://www.palaumusica.cat/en/the-art-nouveau-building_23602
Park Guell: Originally designed to be a housing estate for the wealthy, the famous nobleman Eusebi Guell had commissioned Gaudi to construct this hillside park. With beautiful views overlooking Barcelona, Park Guell is like walking through a Tolkien story. What photographers will find fascinating here is the synergy of nature and architecture. Upon entering the park, you will be greeted by a series of bridges in organic shapes made entirely out of stone. The underneath of the bridges are even more photogenic. Gaudi built his own house here, which seems quite modest compared to works he was commissioned to undertake. Continuing along the path leads to an open square with it’s perimeter covered with tiled benches. Underneath the square lies an open space supporting the square with columns. This area has a cool temperature during the summer months, with excellent acoustics for music shows, for which it was designed. It is important to note that the most interesting and photogenic section of the park is now only accessible by buying advance tickets. Further info can be found here: http://www.parkguell.cat/en/buy-tickets/
Palau Guell: Near the beginning of Gaudi’s career, Eusebi Guell commissioned Gaudi to create an urban palace within the centre of Barcelona, as an extension to the family home on the Ramblas. This magnificent example of Art Nouveau has an exterior covered with twisted ironwork. 2 large parabolic arches allowed the horse-drawn carriages to enter and exit the building. The interior gives the visitor a glimpse of what can be achieved with a combination of wealth and excellent use of wood, stone, iron, pottery and mosaic tiling. This building was off-limits to the public until restoration was completed in 2011, and accordingly it is not one of Gaudi’s most visited buildings. This makes a visit in some ways more enjoyable, as the crowds tend to visit some of his other works, such as those found on the Paseo de Gracia, and the Sagrada Familia church. Some of the best images captured here can be located on the roof, where the chimneys and ventilation ducts are made in the most unusual shapes, with brightly covered tiles adorning them. Info on the Palau Guell and it’s history can be found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palau_Güell
Hospital de Sant Pau: Located just further up the street from the Sagrada Familia, the stunning pavilions of the Hospital de Sant Pau is another masterpiece created by Lluis Domenech i Montaner. Because of their proximity to each other, it is recommended to visit both these sites on the same day. Built on an enormous 360 acre section of the Eixample district, it’s recent renovation process has been almost as complex as the design of the hospital itself. On first viewing, it is immediately apparent what the architect had envisioned: A tranquil setting of flora and organic structures, where patients could heal in a more natural environment, than that of typical sterile and bare hospital wards. Having 48 pavilions created in red brick, mosaics of bright reds, yellows and greens, magnificent sculptures and ceilings to name but a few, you could easily spend most of the day photographing this structure’s most intricate details to it’s entirety in panoramas. In our opinion, the best time to visit the hospital is in the morning or late afternoon, when the lower sun brings out the shimmering beauty of it’s golden mosaic tiles. A good source of information on this monument, as well as booking the recommended guided visits can be found here: https://www.santpaubarcelona.org/en/visits
Casa Vicens: Hidden within the neighbourhood of Gracia, Casa Vicens is one of Gaudi’s lesser known buildings, but also one his most important. Being his first major commission, this family home was designed in what was to become the inspiration in his future projects – the use of materials, forms and colour that represented nature. Covered in green and white tiles over deep red brick, ridged corners and straight lines, the building looks more Japanese and Indian in it’s style than the typically organic feel of what Gaudi is known for. A fabulous dragon’s head and plant motifs created from cast iron on the gates are the main give-away that this building could only be created by Gaudi. Being a private residence, it is only possible to photograph the exterior of Casa Vicens, which is best photographed in the morning as the sun hits. For anyone with a few million Euros lying around and interested in purchasing the property, info can be found here: http://www.casavicens.es
Crypt at the Colonia Guell: Located 23km from the city of Barcelona, the industrial village of Colonia Guell was one of the most pioneering of it’s kind during the 19th century. The most influential architects at the time were commissioned for it’s construction, and resulted in amenities that were aimed at improving the workers quality of life. The crypt was created by Gaudi, and is one of his most interesting works, though we find that Colonia Guell as a whole was an astonishing project. Not merely in the beautiful, spacious buildings and open spaces combining nature and architecture, but the ideas from it’s creators in how it would change people’s lives. Sadly, due to the crisis in the textile industry, the mill was closed in1973, leaving the village to decay. In the year 2000, reconstruction and repairs began on the 20 unique buildings. If you can manage to get to the Colonia Guell, you be rewarded with a truly unique insight into this project. Further info can be found here: http://www.gaudicoloniaguell.org/en