THE GÜELL ESTATE IN AVENIDA PEDRALBES HEADQUARTERS OF THE REAL CATEDRA GAUDI (1963-2009)
Joan Güell i Ferrer (1800 – 1872), a salesman who made his fortune in Santo Domingo, in other words, a genuine Indian or American, was the owner of an extensive rustic estate in Las Cortes de Sarriá, known as Can Feliu, a farm located in the very centre of what is now the Avenida Diagonal. He built a country house with a neo-gothic chapel and an altarpiece dedicated to the Sagrado Corazón (Sacred Heart), San Juan and San Francisco, in accordance with the design project of Joan Martorell i Montells. The house had a marked Caribbean appearance with wide galleries or covered porches on either side.
It was surrounded by a park with numerous vegetables species, sculptures and garden furniture.
Joan Güell’s son, Eusebi Güell i Bacigalupi (1846-1918) extended the estate with the purchase, on 22nd of September 1883, of the farm and lands of Can Cuyàs de la Riera with a surface area in excess of 3,9 hectares.
The seller was Josep Piquet i Cuyàs 1 and the price was 80.000 pesetas. The estate had been property of the Cuyàs family since the XVII century.
The year following the purchase of the extension, Eusebi Güell commissioned Gaudi to build the three doors to the estate, two in the area close to the Les Corts cemetery, lower border of the property, and the main gates at the upper border corresponding with the Toerre Melina path which back then ran between Sarriá and Les Corts de Sarriá, currently a street dedicated to George R. Collins (1917-1993), North American gaudinian activist, professor of the Columbia University of New York. In addition, the main entrance is above the Riera Blanca, currently the Avenida de Pedralbes, but access was gained via the private Güell road, today the Manuel Girona promenade, that joined the Gironella tower, at the beginning of the Sarriá road, with the Güell estate.
A very young Gaudi, in 1884 he was 32 years of age and had 5 years experience in his profession, designed some surprising buildings around the main entrance, due to their singular external appearance and the ingenious structural systems used in their construction.
On the outside they presented an oriental appearance, of Gaudi’s own design as when a student he enthused over photographs of buildings in India. Externally they show walls of Garraf stone, with stylized plant motifs made with moulds to forge the relief in situ with lime mortar and plastering, in part decorated with trencadis mosaic using Valencia tiles, which form a collection of contrasting bright colours. In the completed work, rows of yellow brick alternate with rows of red brick, warm colours that balance the coldness of the trencadis mosaic, made with white, black, blue and green fragments.
This joyous, decorative and imaginative work graces a structure of new shapes made from traditional techniques. Some of the walls are solid and some are made with lime whitewash and padding, a technique for which he had specialist wall-builders from the Güell estate in Sucs (Almacelles, Segriá). The roofs are brick vaults in circular or hyperbolic shape. There was no layer of beams except for in the mezzanine. The entrance complex consists of the porter’s lodge, the wrought iron, the grassy area, the stables and the picador or coach-house.
The porter’s lodge is on two floors. On the ground floor there are two rooms and a great dining room enclosed by a hyperboloidal cupola with an air vent covered in trencadis mosaic at the top. A narrow stairway leads to the top floor where there are two more rooms also with cupolas in the shape of revolving hyperboloids and the corresponding air vent in the shape of lanterns or shrines.
The great door or entranceway is enclosed with the dragon’s gate, distinguished forge work that Gaudi learnt from his uncle, a Reus locksmith with a shop in Ravel de Sant Jaume. It swings on one sole axle to the side of the exposed stone pillar that, halfway up, is embossed with a “G” for Güell surrounded by eglantine roses, and a piece with embossed orange trees above with the four sides that make up the pillar forming another orange tree made of antimony, to avoid rusting. On the lower part of the grille there is an iron reticule that contains plates of iron engraved with roses. Above there is a figure of the chained dragon made from commercial round or angled iron. The head shows an open mouth with aggressive-looking teeth and a forked tongue. The wings are of metallic mesh and the four lintels for legs made of iron covered in iron shavings. Some books explain that, when the gate opens, the front left foot would oscillate menacingly. When the gate was restored in 1979, it was confirmed that the leg was attached to the body by three screws, two of which with the passage of time has caused the movement of the leg. Once the screws had been inserted once again, the dragon suffered a paralysis and has not been seen to move since.
Opposite the pillar is the labourers entrance, also made of iron grilles upon which is the bell that went missing years back but was reconstructed in bronze in the foundry of the Chuo University of Tokyo in 2008. Next to the pillar of the large door are the stables with fourteen boxes for the same amount of horses, a grassy area, a room for the horse trainer and the commune.
At the end of the rectangular stable block, covered by a brick vault, is the picador or coach-house with Sardinal brick paving, of circular disposition, around the stone drainage well that once again incorporates the letter “G” for Güell, Gaudi and is a symbol for the Real Catedra Gaudi (Gaudi Royal Cathedra). This area has three doors, the first, a double door although initially sliding, leads to the coach-house, the other two open onto the garden, one a wooden double door and the other a metal grille with the initials “J.G.F:” and “E.G.B” for the Güell father and son. Inside there are some galleries with two wooden stairways, that serve as balconies to observe the passage of the horses and also to hang permanent hooks for the collars, reins and other equine equipment.
The stables and the coach-house were the headquarters of the Real Cátedra Gaudi from 1996, although only occupied since 1977, after the execution of three restoration projects handled by the Works Board of the Barcelona University, the Ministry for Science and Education and private contributions 2.
The stable block became the archive reading room and library designated as the Discretorum, the coach-house was the library and conference room and is known as La Rotonda. The stable boy’s room was the secretary’s office and the grassy area the archives.
JARDÍN DE LAS HESPÉRIDAS (HESPERIDES GARDEN)
Neither Güell, nor Gaudi or any of their descendants ever explained the symbolism contained within the gardens and the buildings of the Güell Estate. During the construction of the grillwork in the Vallet and Piqueé workshops in calle Roger de Llúria in 1885, “El Correo Catalán”3 published a gazette in which it stated that it was all part of an ancient Catalan legend of a dragon that used to guard a garden. After visiting the pavilions time and time again and passing underneath the orange tree and repeatedly looking at the dragon, I researched the coincidence of dragons and orange trees in history or mythology. There is no case other than that of Hercules and the oranges of the Hesperides Garden.
I first published the interpretation in 1978 in a journalistic article 4 and in an academic thesis 5. The story began with the death of the first Marquis of Comillas, Antonio Lopez, father-in-law to Eusebi Güell. The Marquis was the patron of monsignor Cinto Verdaguer, to whom he dedicated the poem “L’Atlántida” in 1877, which contains a description of the eleventh work of Hercules, obliged by Euristeu the king of Mycenae, to steal oranges from the tree that cured three maidens, Eglé, Aretura and Hiperatusa and a dragon, Ladó, in an imaginary garden in the West (vesperis).
Hercules fought the dragon, defeated it and chained it up and then stole the oranges, without the Hesperides being able to do anything about it. The gods punished Ladó by turning him into the constellation of the dragon and turning the Hesperides into elms, willows and poplars. Monsignor Cinto added another verse to “L’Átlantida” in which he confirms that as well as the oranges, Hercules also stole the top branch of the tree, planting it in Spain and thereby creating a new Hesperides garden.
With the intention of paying homage to the Marquis of Comillas, who died in 1883, it was decided to convert the garden at the Güell Estate into that of Hesperides, and elms, willows and poplars were planted, the chained dragon was created and the antimony orange tree was placed upon the entrance pillar. The iron dragon, which was originally polychrome and had white glass eyes, has its head and body in the same position as the constellation of the Dragon, completed in the tail section with Ursa Minor in which the stars are represented by balls of spiked iron. All together it creates a pleasing composition based on Mythology, wrought iron, astronomy, botany and Renaissance poetry, a reflection of the humanist spirit from the glorious end of the XIX century in Cataluña.6
After the death of Eusebi Güell, which happened at his Güell Park house on 9th of July 1918, his son Joan Antoni Güell y Lopez decided to donate the house and part of the estate garden to the Spanish Royal Family. The rest of the garden remained separated by various streets and by the Avenida Diagonal. The house was modified and extended and became the Palacio Real de Pedralbes, with the intervention of the architects Eusebi Bona Puig, Francesc de Paula Nebot i Torrens, Miguel Mújica Millán and Nicolau Maria Rubió Tudurí.
The part corresponding to Can Cuyás de la Riera and location of the old entrance to the Estate with the porter’s lodgeand stables, became the property of Baron Güell and in 1950 it was expropriated by the Works Board of the University of Barcelona for the new University City. The porter’s lodge was used as lodgings for the college porter of the recently inaugurated Law Faculty, until its cession to the Cátedra Gaudi in 1967.
THE REAL CATEDRA GAUDI
The Cátedra Gaudi was created by Ministerial Order on 3rd of March 1956 7 in the Superior Technical School of Architecture of Barcelona and the council designated as its first director Prof Josep F. Ràfols Fontanals (1889-1965), biographer and disciple of Gaudi who exercised his role with efficiency and skill until his retirement in 1959. He organised specialist courses with guest speakers such as Joan Bergós Massó (1894-1974), Manuel de Solá-Morales Rosselló (1910-2003), César Martrinell Brunet (1888-1973), Josep Mª Sostres Maluquer (1915-1984) and Bonaventura Bassegoda Musté (1896-1987).
After the retirement of Prof Ráfols, Josep Mª Sostres i Maluquer nominally carried out the management of the Catedra Gaudi, although without any specific activity. Sostres was designated professor of history of art and architecture in 1962. In 1965 the history of art and architecture departments were divided and Joan Bassegoda i Nonell was Head of the History of Architecture Department and, in 1966, was chosen as President of the Association of Friends of Gaudi, which enabled him to carry out diverse Catedra Gaudi activities such as the drawing up of the Güell Estate plans (1963), of the Park Güell (1966), together with some publications.
On 23rd of April 1968, Bassegoda is designated as certified numerary professor of History of Architecture and Town Planning, Gardening and Landscaping 8 for ETSAB by Ministerial Order of 18th of April, and therefore, Director of the Catedra Gaudi, a position he held until 31st of August 2000 when he was forcibly retired upon reaching 70 years of age 9.
From 1968 onwards, the normal courses in the history of architecture, history of town planning, restoration of monuments, history of gardens and in particular the specialist and doctorate courses about Gaudi and modernism all took place. Professors Eduard Muntada lluch, lluís Riudor Carol, Joaquín Soro Lopez, Francesc Terol Tuneu, Salvador Tarragó Cid and Francesc Xavier Bernis Mateu all collaborated on these courses, as well as other national and foreign scholars. They successfully supervised 21 doctoral theses.
The Catedra promoted the declaration as national monument of 17 of Gaudi’s pieces of work which, despite difficulties due to the Heritage Law of 1933 which impeded the monumental declaration of buildings of less than one century in age, was achieved 10 on 24th of July 1969. From that moment on financial help could be obtained from the Treasury. After the completion of three works of restoration, the Catedra installed itself in the entrance pavilions of the Güell Estate in the Avenida Pedralbes where it maintained and incremented each day the contents of the documentary and graphic archive, the library of more than 15.000 volumes and the Architecture Museum, forming part of the International Confederation of Architectural Museums, a Museum that has a large Gaudi exhibition, shown on several occasions outside Spain. Fruit of the continued activity of the Catedra and it external projection, was the designation of Prof Joan Bassegoda i Nonell as Honorary Fellow of the American Institute of Architects of Washington, being invested in a solemn ceremony held in Los Angeles on 20th May 1994.
The headquarters of the Catedra and its external garden were threatened on various occasions with urban building projects, which were always overcome, although not without great efforts and difficulty.
On 12th of December 1997 the Gold Medal11 of Merit in Fine Arts was awarded to the Catedra Gaudi, which His Royal Highness the King personally handed to Prof Joan Bassegoda in a solemn ceremony held in the Royal Palace of Sevilla on 24th March 1998.
As well as this distinction and at the request of the Catedra, His Royal Highness the King also granted the title of Royal to the Catedra Gaudi on 19th October 1998 12.
On 31st August 2000, date of the end of the academic term, the forced retirement of Professor Bassegoda came into effect, carried out for reasons of age on 9th of February 2000 and on the same day the Director of the School of Architecture, Eduard Bru Bistuer designated said retired professor as Curator of the Real Catedra Gaudi and, in this way, the activities of the Catedra were not interrupted, apart from the teaching ones at the university, although they continued with the supervision of six doctoral theses as well as the publication of books and articles.
On 18th of December 2000 the Rectors of the Universities of Barcelona and the Polytechnic of Cataluña, Dr. Jaume Pagés i Fita and Antoni Caparrós, signed a collaboration agreement under the title “Gaudi Workshop” for the study of the great architect’s work.
The Managing Board of the Workshop is made up of the two Rectors, the two Directors of the Schools of Architecture, the Deans of the Faculties of History of Art and Fine Arts and Professor Joan Bassegoda i Nonell, up until the formation of the “Antoni Gaudi Foundation” on the part of the two Universities and the Caixa Foundation of Cataluña, who had already approved the Statutes.
Subsequently, given the impossibility of definitively establishing the planned Foundation, another two agreements were signed, one with the Rector of the University of Barcelona on 18th of December 2000 and a second one with the Director of the Superior Technical School of Architecture of Barcelona (U.P.C.) on 16th of March 2004, although concrete effects have yet to result from these.
Meanwhile, the activity of the Real Catedra Gaudi has continued uninterrupted in publications, conferences, exhibitions and architectural monument restoration work.
Every month a report was sent to both Rectors and Directors of the School of Architecture detailing the activities carried out by the Catedra and they continue to collaborate on the “Temple” magazine with articles, news and a chronicle which summarises the activities contained in the monthly reports. Up to the month of April 2004, 43 monthly summaries of Catedra activities had been sent out. The Catedra was also the author of the texts and provided the photographs for the Collaborators Hall in the Sagrada Familia Museum, which has on loan a good number of original Gaudi drawings.
On the occasion of International Gaudi Year 2002 the Real Catedra minted a medal with the effigy of Gaudi on the front and a bas relief of Joan Matamala of 1921 which represents the Sagrada familia. The sole gold medal was awarded, in a private audience in the little palace of Albéniz of Barcelona on 15th of March 2002, to Their Majesties King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia of Spain. The silver medals were awarded to the Cardinal Archbishop of Barcelona, Dr. Ricard Mª Carles i Gordó, to the Rector of the Polytechnic University of Barcelona, Dr. Josep Ferrer i Llop, to the Rector of the University of Barcelona, Dr. Joan Tugores i Ques and to the Director of the Superior Technical School of Architecture, Dr.Jaume Sanmartí i Verdaguer.
The Real Catedra Gaudi is made up of the Curator, an administrator, two architects and a graduate in History of Art as well as other incidental collaborators and foreign scholars. The headquarters were in the Güell Pavilions on Avenida de Pedralbes, 7 – 08034 Barcelona. As an example, the activities that took place during the 2004 academic year are detailed. Conferences were held in León, Polytechnic School of Vilanova i La Geltrú, eight dissertations in the Senior Classrooms of the University of Barcelona, in the Hotel AC of Malaga, Friends of Barcelona Gardens, Science Academy, Vertex U.P.C. building, Hotel Catalunya Rotary Club, International University of Barcelona, chapel of La Salle Bonanova and the visits of student groups from Mexico, Delf, Milan, Tokyo, Szechuan, etc were all welcomed.
Large volume Gaudi exhibitions have been planned and held in the City Hall of Sevilla, Pedro de Osma Museum of Lima (Peru) and the Museum of Art of Sao Paolo M.A.S. (Brazil), Bremen (Germany) and various cities in Mexico, as well as Rotterdam, Tokyo, Cleveland, New York and Amsterdam.
In December 2008 the Rector of the Polytechnic University of Barcelona brought an end to Professor Bassegoda’s tenure as Curator of the Catedra Gaudi. And so Prof. Bassegoda’s 50 years of teaching and research at the Catedra Gaudi came to a close.
Joan Bassegoda Nonell
1Deed of Sale authorised on 23rd of September 1883 by the Notary Lluís G. Soler i Pla.
2The definitive installation of the Catedra in the Güell pavilions took place in October 1977.
3“El Correo Catalan”, year X, nº2.913, Barcelona, 18th of May 1885, p.2
4The garden of Hespérides de Sarriá. “La Vanguardia Española”, 18th of June 1978.
5Bulletin of the Real Academia de San Fernando, Madrid, First Semestyer of 1978.
6A detailed historical and critical description of the Hespérido Garden and the Güell Estate can be seen in Juan Bassegoda Nonell’s book “The great Gaudi”, Editorial Ausa, Sabadell, pp.255-279.
7Offical State Bulletin nº 87, year XXI, Tuesday 27th of March 1956, pg 2.071
8Offical State Bulletin nº 99, year CCCVIII, Wednesday 24th of April 1968, pg 6.040
9Resolution of Forced Retirement due to age. UPC11 Nº200000000684, of 18th of April 2000.
10Decree 1794/1969 of 24th July. Official State Bulleting of 20th July 1969.
11Royal Decree 1904/1997, of 12th December. Official State Bulleting of 6th January 1998.
12Im Document 385/98 of His Majesty the King’s House