A visit to Antoni Gaudi’s iconic Casa Batllo in Barcelona leaves us lost in wonder

It’s a house. It’s a museum. A city landmark too. And for the interested, a quick course in design dynamics. The spectacular Casa Batllo in Barcelona is all this and more. Built by iconic Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi, it is considered his most emblematic work.

There are many great buildings this famous architect created across Spain, which find place among the country’s best-known tourist draws, and the Casa Batllo is one such, a residential building that became a celebrated work of art. It is also admired for being a space which has as much functionality as artistic value.

Originally built by Emilio Sala Cortés in 1877 (interestingly, he was one of Gaudi's teachers) it was acquired in 1903 by the wealthy Josep Batlló y Casanovas — hence Batllo House — as a family residence. He commissioned Gaudí, then a reputed architect in Spain, to work on it. Gaudí virtually reinvented the place. Between 1904 and 1906, he redid the facade, redistributed internal partitions, changed the space occupied by the well of the building and made it very ornamental. Flamboyant colours and organic shapes together with several functional features were brought into the highly creative redesign.

The Barcelona landmark attracts tens of thousands of visitors every month. It was tough making our way through the surging crowds at the entrance. Inside, it was teeming with wide-eyed visitors and a group of earnest students pausing to make notes in every room and animatedly discussing various features. Our guide showed us around with understandable pride and said: “We Spanish consider it one of Gaudi’s most inspired compositions.” As we walked through the multi-storied building, we understood why.

The facade has an amazing undulating shape. The external wall is covered with a rich mosaic of polychromatic ceramic discs and coloured glass fragments. The ground floor has remarkable irregular, oval-shaped windows. All this and the flowing sculpted stonework give the impression that Gaudi deliberately avoided straight lines.

From the entrance hall on the ground floor with its vaulted ceilings, a grand wooden staircase leads up. The family's private residence area has its own courtyard in the centre of the block, accessed through the dining room. Further up, a large gallery projects onto the street giving a fine view of the city below and around. The catenary arches add allure to the interiors. The windows were smaller on the higher floors compared to those on the lower areas to ensure ideal light distribution, and below them were wooden slits for ventilation. In the centre of the light well is the lift with its original wooden cabin still intact and functioning. We took it twice to save time in our rush through the building's various floors.

Glass panes and iron pieces make up a large skylight in the centre through which natural light floods the entire house. We noticed iron balconies and bone-like columns suggestive of skulls. A spiral staircase leads to the terrace whose most prominent features are the dragon’s back with its iridescent scales and the tall, colourful chimneys.

The attention to detail is noticeable everywhere — one of the reasons why Gaudi came to be celebrated as a great architect. Casa Battlo is richly ornamental in design. There are multicoloured ceramic tiles, eye-catching stained-glass windows, doors with embossed patterns, decorative pieces of masonry created from Montjuic sandstone, modernist floral designs, while the facade and chimneys are tiled with trencadis glazed mosaics. Everywhere there is a riot of colour and abundance of natural light. There are many marine-inspired features, with allusions to the sea, sand and tortoises.

When we stepped out, our guide told us that locally, it has many names. House of the Dragon (from the shape on the roof), House of the Bones (for the bone-like columns), House of Yawns (lip-like edges carved onto the stones), House of Masks, (the railings are shaped like masks) and so on. The house was as much a fun visit for kids as an insight into the creative genius of Antoni Gaudi for adults.