Palau Güell

Top choice palace in El Raval

Image by Manfred Gottschalk Getty Images

Palau Güell 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 (Old City), 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, leading to its long-term disrepair.

The tour begins on the ground floor, in what was once the coach house, and from there heads down to the basement, which has squat mushroom-shaped brick pillars; this is where the horses were stabled. Back upstairs you can admire the elaborate wrought iron of the main doors from the splendid vestibule, and the grand staircase lined with sandstone columns. Up another floor 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.

Above this, the main floor, are the family rooms, some of which are labyrinthine and dotted with piercings of light or grand, stained-glass windows. The roof is a tumult of tiled mosaics and fanciful design in the building’s chimney pots. The audio guide, included in the entry price, is worth getting not only for the detailed description of the architecture, but for the pieces of music and its photographic illustrations of the Güell family's 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.