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  • Writer's pictureSonia Cuesta Maniar, PhD

A Brief History of Casa Batlló in Barcelona

What is Casa Batlló?

Casa Batlló is an urban mansion in Barcelona’s city centre that was redesigned by Modernist architect Antoni Gaudí in the early 20th century and reflects the legend of Sant Jordi, Catalonia’s patron saint.

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Casa Batlló

Casa Batlló History

The legend of Sant Jordi (or Saint George) features a fearsome dragon that tyrannised a small village. To placate the monster, villagers were regularly forced to sacrifice an inhabitant, selected at random. One day, the king's daughter was chosen as sacrifice. As she was being led to her fate, Sant Jordi appeared, faced the dragon and defeated him, saving the princess. Jordi is Catalonia's patron saint and architect Antoni Gaudí's main inspiration for arguably the most creative house he ever built: the Casa Batlló.

Located on the so-called Manzana de la Discòrdia among other Modernist architectural masterpieces, the Casa Batlló stands out due to its deliberate asymmetry and startling originality. The present house resulted from the total refurbishment of an existing dwelling built in 1877 by Emilio Sala i Cortés (one of Gaudí's architecture professors) without any distinguishing features.

In 1903, wealthy textile industrialist Josep Batlló i Casanovas and his wife, Amàlia Godó i Belaunzáran, daughter of the owners of the newspaper La Vanguardia, purchased the house in the increasingly fashionable Passeig de Gràcia. However, Batlló wanted to own a residence unlike any other in Barcelona. To this end, he commissioned celebrated architect Antoni Gaudí (who had been working on the Sagrada Família for the previous two decades) and gave him carte blanche to remodel the building. Gaudí responded by creating what is now known locally as the Casa dels Ossos (or House of Bones), because of its inside-out quality. As in many of his other buildings, Gaudí’s work in the Casa Batlló is strongly influenced by natural forms. In this house he’s said to have paid tribute to the story of Sant Jordi with an eccentric design reflecting the skeleton and superstructure of a dragon.

The façade displays the characteristic Modernist curved shapes often found in Gaudí's work. From the building’s slender, bone-like stone columns to its curved balconies, there are practically no straight lines in sight. Notably, the architect covered almost the entire façade with trencadís, multi-coloured stained-glass pieces resembling scales. This glasswork is brought to life daily as the light shifts across the sky. The unique glow and sense of motion emanating from its surface gives the impression of a large, animalistic, living element in Barcelona's urban landscape. These natural elements are not just present on the building’s exterior. Inside, the walls, ceilings and furniture are given organic curves reminiscent of plants or caves. Particularly noteworthy is the loft, which consists of 60 catenary arches resembling the ribcage of an animal.

Harmonising with the loft's structure, the rooftop is designed to resemble a dragon’s hunched back – giving the roofline the skeletal profile of an animal at rest. This detail shows the extent of Antoni Gaudí's obsession with aesthetics, even in the most mundane elements of a private house, such as a rooftop. Despite its avant-garde design and Modernist architecture, Gaudí did not overlook functionality and comfort within the building. The architect ensured the interior had excellent lighting and an original ventilation system. Despite the criticism the new building received from contemporary residents of Barcelona, the owners were delighted by the design. Friends and family of the couple spoke of the way they never tired of discovering new features and details that Gaudí had included.

The Batlló’s children eventually sold the building in 1954, and after changing hands multiple times over the next 40 years it was acquired by the Bernat family. In 1995, the family opened the house to the public, and since 2002 (coinciding with the International Year of Gaudí) it has been used for concerts, exhibitions and other public events. The Casa Batlló remains a benchmark of the Catalan Modernist movement. A visit to Barcelona is not complete without seeing Gaudí's fantastical house.

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