A misunderstanding helped lead to the death of Barcelona’s famed architect Antoni Gaudi. At least that’s the legend.
Known for his impact on Catalan Modernism and creation of world-renowned gems like Sagrada Familia, Park Güell and Casa Battló, Gaudi is said to have had an affinity for wearing shabby clothing later in life, despite the enormous amount of wealth he had accumulated. This led to some confusion on June 7, 1926. Gaudi, a devout Roman Catholic, was walking toward church to worship and confess his sins when he was struck by a tram. The police officer took one look at Gaudi’s outfit and wrote him off as a wanton bum, maybe one who had seen too many drunken sunrises and who had finally come face-to-face with the results of his poor decisions. There were two hospitals nearby, one that served the wealthy and one that served the poor. The officer sent Gaudi to the latter, despite calls from the public that this bum was actually Antoni Gaudi. The next day Gaudi was identified at the hospital by Sagrada Familia chaplain Mosén Gil Parés, but it was too late. Gaudi died on June 10.
I learned all these details on a recent trip to Barcelona, where I shamelessly spent my first few days attending free walking tours and backpacker bar crawls, the type of offerings you see sprayed across advertisement fliers in cheap hotels. It was my first solo trip, and I was determined to make the most of it, with whatever opportunities presented themselves.
Casa Battlo in Barcelona, Spain.
“It’s a little weird at first,” my friend told me the week before I left for Barcelona. “You get to the hostel, you check in, you lock your stuff up, and then you’re not quite sure what to do with yourself.”
Do I walk around the hostel trying to make conversation with people? Do I try making friends with the strangers in my room? The answers to those questions, of course, are irrelevant. All you can do is read the online hostel reviews and look for a place that fits your personality. Then you pull the trigger, the approach be damned. When I met Maria, I knew I had found the right hostel. Originally from Mexico, Maria had been working as a volunteer at the hostel in exchange for a free bed. She was currently transitioning into paid employment, and she hosted free daily walking tours. She told me to meet in her in the lobby at 11 a.m. if I wanted to come. So with an open mind, and a determination to float like a feather in the wind for the entirety of my trip, I showed up in the lobby at exactly 11 a.m., ready to greet the rest of our tour. Only there wasn’t a rest of our tour. It was just me and Maria. Marie and me. Walking the streets of Barcelona, talking about Gaudi, our lives and what had led us to Barcelona. She offered me a sip of water from her bottle and then told me some Mexican superstitions.
“I know all your secrets now,” she said, twisting the cap of the water bottle. “It’s what we say in Mexico. When we share a drink, we share all of our secrets, too. You have many secrets. I can tell.”
Though Maria was no Gaudi historian, she told me her own version of his death, some key dates and some details about his personal tastes and interests. She pointed at Gaudi’s egg-shaped windows, the reptilian sculptures, the dragon mouths, the bone-laced facades and the ocean-inspired materials.
Then she took me to Park Güell, a park that overlooks all of Barcelona. It was originally envisioned in the early 1900s as a luxury-housing development for the wealthy, peppered with park elements inspired by England’s city-garden movement. But demand for the residential component wasn’t there, and the project floundered. Instead Park Güell was opened as a public park in 1926 and eventually declared a historic artistic monument of national interest in 1969. The tour ended at the highest point in Park Güell, where we watched Barcelona stretch to the Mediterranean Sea.