Barcelona The Great Enchantress (Directions)
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Robert Hughes has been a regular visitor to Barcelona since the 1960s and published a book about the city in 1992 that was quickly hailed as a classic. In Barcelona the Great Enchantress, Hughes crafts a more personal tale of his nearly forty-year love affair with the Spanish metropolis, one of the most vibrant and fascinating cities in Europe.
Beginning with a vivid description of his wedding in the splendid medieval ceremonial chamber in Barcelona's city hall, Hughes launches into a lively account of the history, art, and architecture of the storied city. He tells of architectural treasures abounding in 14th-century Barcelona, establishing it as one of Europe's great Gothic cities, while Madrid was hardly more than a cluster of huts. The city spawned such great artists as Antoni Gaudi, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro, Salvador Dali, and Pablo Casals. Hughes's deep knowledge of the city is evident—but it's his personal reflections of what Barcelona, its people, and its storied history and culture have meant to him over the decades that sets Barcelona the Great Enchantress apart from all others' books.
cultic devotion to Jesus, Mary, and the saints. Gaudí conceived his temple as a means to that end. It would be an ecstatically repressive building that would help atone for the “excesses” of democracy: Not only was Gaudí more Catholic than the pope, he was more royalist than the king, not that he thought the king was worth much compared to the pope. Anyone so misdirected as to imagine that radicalism in art is in some necessary way connected to radicalism in politics, and that its purpose is to
about why Gaudí was not a “modern” architect, in the Mies-Gropius-Le Corbusier sense of “modernity.” Unlike such people, unlike even his Catalan contemporaries Domènech i Montaner and Puig i Cadafalch, he thought in terms of manual not conceptual space. Others were ruled by the grid; Gaudí didn’t give beans for it. His mature work cannot even be imagined adequately from flat drawings. Its surfaces twist and wiggle. The space flares, solemnly inflates, then collapses again. Gaudí did not like to
who was, inevitably, the sculptor Xavier Corberó, who had begun my love affair with Barcelona and changed my life so many years ago by introducing me to la gran encisera, the great enchantress, as the nineteenth-century Catalan poet Joan Maragall called his native city. The wedding dinner was held in Xavier’s masia. His caterers had set up eight tables. To reach them you had to walk across a threshold strewn with aromatic branches of wild rosemary, which brings fortune and length to the
although I know that I was within a few millimeters of doing so. I thought about a lot of things during that party, though with increasing muzziness as the evening lengthened. Mainly about Doris, about happiness, and about loyalty: to her, and to old friends like Corberó, who probably knows me better than any living man, including my own relatives, just as my relations with Barcelona are so much closer and more pleasurable than with anywhere south of the Equator. Some provincials—and there is
huigy-cuig: Beneath the plane-trees I would muig, Upon the benches we would smuig … We had no idea of how that singular piece of nineteenth-century utopian town planning, the Eixample or “enlargement” of Barcelona into a grid of equal squares that surrounds the original, medieval city, came into its existence, or who its designer, Ildefons Cerdà, was. The few guides to Catalan architecture in print back in the 1960s were unreliable and never in English. There was practically nothing on