There are three main architects in Barcelona who get special mentions. Antoni Gaudí, Lluis Domènech i Montaner and Josep Puig i Cadafalch. They designed and refurbished three buildings on Passeig de Gracia: Casa Batlló, Casa LLeo i Morera, and Casa Amatller. We walked past Casa Lleo i Morera to reach the other two this morning. I didn’t know the significance of that building till later, but marvelled at the beauty of it as I walked past.
Casa Amatller, a house, bought by the third descendant of a family of chocolatiers, Antoni Amattler, and redesigned by Puig I Cadafaich is our first stop. The English guided tour is about to start when we get there. There is only one English tour a day. We are the only ones and get a private guided tour of the house. The young lady talks about the history, the owner, his hobbies, his daughter, the architect and designers who decorated the house. It seems that every single person involved with this house was multitalented. Antoni Amatller took over the family business and built Chocolates Amatller into one the most important chocolate industries of the period. He was a keen photographer who travelled widely and won many awards for his photographic skills. He was also an antique glass collector. His daughter continued this tradition and added to the family collection. The architect also seemed to wear many hats, the list is long and I lose track. The man who designed the flooring was an Italian opera singer who quit to become a designer.
The exterior and interior is decorated in a design reminiscent of old Victorian houses but with Catalan influence. It is currently being painfully restored by the foundation set up by Theresa, the owner’s only daughter with whom the family line ended in 1960. It is however a stark contrast to the house that Gaudí designed. The interior doesn’t do much for me. I like Gaudi’s designs which maximises the amount of light that filters into the rooms. The designer here has tried similar techniques. The bedroom and living rooms are big and airy but the others seem plunged in darkness. Even though the chocolate factory was sold off, the brand ‘Amatller’ is still used by the current owner and we can buy the confectionery from the museum shop. We get a complimentary hot chocolate drink each with warm bread at the end of the tour. It is the similar rich chocolatey drink that we had yesterday and is what an authentic hot chocolate should taste like.
Back in the Gothic quarter, we visit the MUHBA Plaça del Rei, an archaeological museum. Here we go down the lift to reach 5 metres under the King’s Square to witness the archeological remains that have been excavated between 1930 and 1960. It covers an area of 4000 square metres under the city and is the Roman city of Barcino founded by Caesar Augustus between 15 and 11 BC.
Casa Batlló is our last stop of the day and is next to Casa Amatler. We didn’t visit it this morning as we had tickets to not only visit the house but also to watch an evening jazz concert on the roof terrace. This house once again has the undulating theme that Gaudí perfected. The outside is a pale shade of blue with mosaic designs and balconies which resemble Venetian masks. Each room is designed in a unique manner. A mushroom shaped fireplace with seating areas and fireproof ceramic lining. A dining room which opens into a private courtyard. The centre of the house which is a patio of lights where the sunlight filters through the skylight and reflects on the blue tiles to give the impression that you are going underwater as you descend the stairs. The roof terrace with a dragon’s back. The whole house is a play on the senses, it awakens you, lulls you into a sense of calm and takes you to another parallel universe where you are one with nature.
Back on the roof terrace, with the dragon looking over us, the concert starts. The air is warm and the breeze cool. The sweet music flows. Tapping their feet and swaying to the music everyone sips their welcoming drink and some their chosen tipple. The sun has set and twilight arrives. The hour passes and dusk takes over. And in that hour we are allowed to enjoy the trappings of life as Gaudí intended.