Palau Güell

Lonely Planet review

Finally reopened in its entirety in May 2012 after several years of refurbishment, this is a magnificent example of the early days of Gaudí’s fevered architectural imagination – the extraordinary neo-Gothic mansion, one of the few major buildings of that era raised in Ciutat Vella, gives an insight into its maker’s prodigious genius.

Gaudí built the palace just off La Rambla in the late 1880s for his wealthy and faithful patron, the industrialist Eusebi Güell. Although a little sombre compared with some of his later whims, it is still a characteristic riot of styles (Gothic, Islamic, art nouveau) and materials. After the civil war the police occupied it and tortured political prisoners in the basement. The building was then abandoned, this leading to its long-term disrepair.

Up two floors are the main hall and its annexes; central to the structure is the magnificent music room with its rebuilt organ that is played during opening hours. The hall is a parabolic pyramid – each wall an arch stretching up three floors and coming together to form a dome. The family rooms are sometimes labyrinthine and dotted with piercings of light, or grand, stained-glass affairs. The roof is a mad tumult of tiled mosaics and fanciful design in the building’s chimney pots. The audio guide, included in the entry price, is worth getting for its photo and music illustrations of Güell family life.

Picasso – who, incidentally, hated Gaudí’s work – began his Blue Period in 1902 in a studio across the street at Carrer Nou de la Rambla 10. Begging to differ with Señor Picasso, Unesco declared the Palau, together with Gaudí’s other main works (La Sagrada Família, Casa Batlló, La Pedrera, Park Güell, Casa Vicens and Colònia Güell crypt) a World Heritage site.