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The Life of Gaudí

Many people who visit Barcelona want to see the buildings of Gaudí, including the Sagrada Família. But who exactly was this architect, and why did he become so famous? In this post, I will tell you everything about the life of Gaudí: from his birth to his arrival in Barcelona, his student years, love relationships, and of course, his spectacular career as an architect.

The Life and Work of Antoni Gaudí

Antoni Gaudí i Cornet, born on June 25, 1852, in Reus (Tarragona), became one of the most influential architects of the modernist movement. His life was filled with artistic development and unique designs, but also with low points and mysteries. Let’s explore the history of Gaudí together.

Antoni Gaudí, the biggest modernist
Antoni Gaudí, the biggest modernist

The Gaudí i Cornet Family

Gaudí’s parents, Francesc Gaudí i Serra and Antònia Cornet i Bertran, married in 1843 in Reus. Both were children of coppersmiths and were 30 years old when they got married. The couple settled in a house in Reus – the exact location is unclear; it could be on Carrer de Sant Joan or Carrer de Sant Vicenç – where Francesc had his own workshop as a coppersmith.

The Gaudí i Cornet family had five children. The eldest, Rosa, was born on May 5, 1844, before the parents’ year of marriage. The second, Maria, was born on June 27, 1845, and died before her fifth year, on January 10, 1850. The third, Francesc, was born on March 26, 1848, and died at the age of two, on April 20, 1850. The fourth, also named Francesc, was born on May 27, 1851. The fifth and last was Antoni, born on Wednesday, June 25, 1852. All sons were baptized in the church of Sant Pere in Reus.

The Birth of Gaudí Antoni Gaudí

was born on Wednesday, June 25, 1852, at half past eight. Although all official documents state that he was a resident of Reus, some claim that he was born in Riudoms, where the family owned a country house.

Regardless, Gaudí was baptized the day after his birth in the church of Sant Pere in Reus by the priest, Father Josep Casas, and his uncles Plàcid Gaudí from Riudoms and Raimunda Tarragó de Gaudí from Barcelona, as godparents.

Gaudí’s full name was Antoni Plàcid Guillem Gaudí i Cornet: Antoni, because this was the name of the mother and maternal grandfather, Plàcid due to the name of the godfather, and Guillem because of Saint William the Hermit, whose feast is celebrated on June 25.

Gaudí was born at a time when society was in full transformation. Thanks to the Industrial Revolution, the bourgeoisie had emerged, the proletariat was gradually formed, and many people migrated from the countryside to the big city in search of work. Barcelona was growing, and the love for Catalonia, which had been forbidden for more than a century since the military defeat of 1714, returned. This is known as the Renaixença.

Image of Gaudí in Barcelona
Image of Gaudí in Barcelona

The Young Years of Gaudí

As the son of a family of coppersmiths, Gaudí experienced a modest youth. The family was not wealthy but was not living in poverty either. They were economically independent and moved between two worlds: the urban Reus, which was the second most important city of Catalonia in 1852, and the small rural Riudoms, where Gaudí spent much of his time.

Gaudí attended the primary school of Francesc Berenguer in Reus and continued his education at the high school in the Escuelas Pías of Reus. Here he met his best childhood friends, Josep Ribera Sans and Eduard Toda i Güell, with whom he founded a satirical magazine called El Arlequín, for which he drew.

Gaudí was raised according to Christian teachings and helped his father in the business, learning the virtues of craftsmanship and direct dealings with customers.

However, from his childhood, Gaudí suffered from rheumatism. His weak health forced him to take long rest periods at the Mas de la Calderera, the family’s country house in Riudoms.

During these rest periods, Gaudí enjoyed observing nature, which he considered his most important teacher and source of knowledge.

To combat rheumatism, Gaudí also chose a vegetarian diet and enthusiastically embraced the hygienic theories of the German doctor and priest Sebastian Kneipp.

Moving to Barcelona and His Student Years

In 1868, at the age of 16, Gaudí decided to move to Barcelona to complete his high school education. Gaudí settled in the lively neighborhood of La Ribera, where he shared a home with his older brother Francesc, who was studying medicine at the time.

In 1869, Gaudí decided to study architecture, which required him to take some selective courses at the Faculty of Sciences. This took a few years, perhaps due to health reasons, because his family’s economic modesty did not allow for two students to be kept from home, to help his father, or most likely due to a reconsideration of his university studies.

In 1874, Gaudí was finally admitted to the School of Architecture in Barcelona, located at the University of Barcelona. Gaudí was not an outstanding student, but he achieved sufficient results to gain basic architectural knowledge. Although his grades were not remarkable, two outstanding evaluations stood out: one for the subject of drawing and the other for the design of buildings or their components (projects).

During his architectural studies, he simultaneously attended classes in philosophy, history, economics, and aesthetics. He emphasized that the various architectural styles did not merely arise from aesthetic ideas but were also influenced by social and political environments.

To finance his studies, Gaudí sought part-time jobs as a draftsman. He collaborated with Josep Fontserè on various projects in the Parc de la Ciutadella between 1875 and 1876, including the large cascada or waterfall, the music chapel, and the doors and fence of the park. At Fontserè’s request, Gaudí also participated in the project of the Mercat del Born, inaugurated in 1876.

Casacada-fountain in Parc de la Ciutadella Barcelona
Casacada fountain in Parc de la Ciutadella Barcelona

But Gaudí sought more work: with the architect Francisco de Paula del Villar, he was allowed to collaborate on the project of the new apse of Montserrat, and with Padrós & Borràs, he was allowed to design the tram that connected Portal de la Pau with Can Tunis.

However, it was Joan Martorell who became his most important mentor. He was one of Gaudí’s teachers, whom he used as a draftsman on numerous occasions. Together they worked on a project for the facade of the Barcelona cathedral in 1882, which, although not approved, received much praise. Martorell also recommended Gaudí to take over the project of the Sagrada Familia in 1883.

The workshop of Eudald Puntí was also an important location in Gaudí’s career. Here, the young Gaudí acquired skills in the crafts of glassblowing, forging, carpentry, and pottery, and built friendships with other artists and craftsmen with whom he collaborated.

Because Gaudí was a student, he was able to complete his military service in 1874 in an administrative department in Barcelona and did not have to go to the fronts of the Third Carlist War or the Cuban War.

Gaudí’s progress was overshadowed in 1876 by the tragic loss of his brother and mother. Three years later, his sister also died, and her daughter, who suffered from serious health problems, was placed under the care of the architect and her father.

Universitat de Barcelona
Universitat de Barcelona

The Beginning of His Career as an Architect

In 1878, Gaudí obtained the title of architect and opened his office at number 11 Carrer del Call, in the old Jewish quarter of Barcelona. There, he began working on his first commissions, including the Cooperativa Obrera Mataronense, the street lighting for Plaça Reial and Pla de Palau in Barcelona, and a storefront for the prestigious glove shop Comella.

This last work caught the attention of the influential industrialist Eusebi Güell i Bacigalupi, who would become the architect’s main patron in the following years.

Thanks to his relationship with Güell and his involvement in the most prominent intellectual circles of Barcelona, Gaudí was able to establish new and interesting contacts and participate in increasingly ambitious architectural projects, thus leaving behind the economic hardships of his student days.

1883 was an important year for Gaudí: he presented the plans for his first major work, Casa Vicens, and began the project of El Capricho in the Cantabrian town of Comillas. Also in 1883, Gaudí accepted the assignment to replace Francisco de Paula del Villar in the construction of the Expiatory Church of the Sagrada Família in Barcelona, which would ultimately become his greatest project.

Gaudí's Streetlights at Plaça Reial
Gaudí’s Streetlights at Plaça Reial

Fun fact: Thanks to one of the few preserved business cards, we now know where Gaudí’s architectural office was located.

The Buildings of Gaudí

Barcelona became the stage on which Gaudí created his masterpieces. His time in the Catalan capital inspired him immensely. Gaudí used his love for the region and his passion for nature in his designs, leaving an indelible mark on the city. Gaudí’s designs were infused with innovative ideas, using materials like iron and ceramics in unconventional ways. As he grew as an architect, he gained increasing renown.

His first major commission was the design of Casa Vicens (1883-1888), a summer house he built in the then-independent Vila de Gràcia for the Vicens family, with striking Moorish influences.

The second major commission that followed was El Capricho (1883-1885), a summer residence he built for the Marquis of Comillas in the village of Comillas (Cantabria).

Then came the estate of Eusebi Güell, the Pavellons de la Finca Güell (1884-1887). This marked the beginning of a fruitful collaboration between the two men, which included the construction of Palau Güell (1886-1888), Colònia Güell (1898-1914), and Park Güell (1900-1914).

Blueprints for Casa Vicens from Gaudí
Blueprints for Casa Vicens from Gaudí

Between 1887 and 1893, Gaudí worked on the Episcopal Palace of Astorga, and between 1903 and 1915 on the renovation of the Gothic Cathedral of Palma de Mallorca.

Between 1904 and 1906, Gaudí created another masterpiece in Barcelona, Casa Batlló, an apartment building known for its vibrant colors, wavy forms, and organic ornaments.

Casa Milà (1906-1912) was his last major project before he fully dedicated himself to the construction of the Sagrada Família.

The Basilica of the Sagrada Família is Gaudí’s most iconic work and, at the same time, his life’s work. Gaudí started this project in 1883 and worked on it until his death in 1926.

The Birth Façade is the Only Part of the Temple Truly Built by Gaudí
The Birth Façade is the Only Part of the Temple Truly Built by Gaudí

Although Gaudí’s works are now widely praised and recognized as world heritage, he also faced criticism and misunderstanding during his lifetime.

Some of his projects, including Park Güell, remained unfinished, while others, such as Casa Milà, led to disagreements with the clients. Finally, some projects, like the hotel he designed for New York City, the Hotel Attraction, were never realized.

We can say nothing else but that Gaudí was a genius and visionary who remained true to his ideas, sometimes coming across as eccentric and stubborn. According to legend, he once told the wife of the Güells that if their daughter found the room at Palau Güell too small to play the piano, she should learn to play the violin instead.

Workshop Gaudí - Sagrada Familia
Gaudí’s Workshop in the Sagrada Família

Fun fact: Six of the buildings that Gaudí designed between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century have been included in the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1984 and 2005, attracting thousands of visitors to Barcelona every year.

Gaudí’s Social Life

Since his student days in Barcelona, Gaudí led an extremely active social life. Initially, he mainly surrounded himself with other reuencs (inhabitants of Reus). He frequented cafés such as El Quatre Gats and Café Pelayo, was a member of the Associació Catalanista d’Excursions Científiques, and regularly participated in activities of the cultural association Ateneu Barcelonès and the opera at the Gran Teatre del Liceu.

Thanks to Güell, he also met numerous interesting people and potential clients. During this period, Gaudí paid extraordinary attention to his appearance and behaved like a true dandy. He dressed in expensive suits, dined in upscale restaurants, and even used a carriage to move around the city.

Some claim that Gaudí was a member of Freemasonry between his twenties and thirties (although this is not documented). However, after rediscovering his Catholic faith, he formally distanced himself from this membership.

As he grew older, Gaudí became increasingly consumed by his faith. Especially in his last years, he completely surrendered to his spiritual beliefs and began to live like a hermit. He wore simple clothes, limited his food intake, and neglected his appearance, ultimately leading to his death as a poor soul.

Restaurant Els Quatre Gats Barcelona
Restaurant Els Quatre Gats

Gaudí’s Houses

Gaudí lived in various locations in Barcelona, especially during his student years. At that time, when the economy was precarious, he frequently moved house with his brother, often within the old city center.

Later, he moved to the Eixample district. At 54, he moved into the pink house in Park Güell, where he lived with his father and niece. This was his longest stay in one house. He lived here until 1925 when he decided to move into the workshop of the Sagrada Família a few months before his death.

Tip: The pink house in Park Güell has now been converted into the Casa Museu Gaudí and is open to visitors.

Casa Museu Gaudí - Park Güell Barcelona
Casa Museu Gaudí

Gaudí and Women

Although Gaudí remained single all his life, four different loves are attributed to him.

The first was a platonic love: he fell in love with a French lady in Reus, but she was already engaged and moreover only on vacation, so she left and left Gaudí with a broken heart.

The second was a woman from Mataró named Pepeta Moreu, a liberal lady who had seen much of the world and was reportedly Gaudí’s great love. Unfortunately, Pepeta, despite all of Gaudí’s visits over four years, eventually chose another. On the day Gaudí decided to finally declare his love to her, Pepeta rejected him by showing him the engagement ring of her fiancé.

The third love was a woman who belonged to the Protestant religion, which did not quite align with Gaudí’s beliefs. The fourth was a woman who, after Gaudí proposed to her, decided to become a nun.

As you can see, Gaudí did not have much luck in love. After losing his heart several times to women who all chose someone else, Gaudí devoted himself to architecture and his faith alongside his work.

Gaudí and Faith

Gaudí was a devout Catholic and a fervent believer. Especially in his last years, his religiosity increased. Convinced that one cannot work without sacrifice, he devoted himself to a life of penance and voluntary poverty.

He followed the motto from the monastic rule of St. Benedict, ‘Ora et Labora’, meaning ‘Pray and Work’. Thus, he fasted regularly and paid little attention to his personal care.

Gaudí also visited the church twice a day: in the morning, the parish of Sant Joan de Gràcia, and in the evening, after his work, the church of Sant Felip Neri in the Gothic quarter. It was this walk to the church of Sant Felip Neri that proved fatal for him on June 7, 1926.

Plaça de Sant Felip Neri
Plaça de Sant Felip Neri

The Death of Gaudí

On June 7, 1926, after completing his daily work at the Sagrada Família, Gaudí made his way to the church of Sant Felip Neri. When he reached the intersection of Carrer Bailén and Gran Vía, he was hit by a tram, resulting in a concussion and several broken ribs.

Due to his unkempt appearance and lack of identification documents, no one recognized him, and Gaudí did not receive the help that would normally have been offered to the architect of the Sagrada Família.

A few passersby tried to take him to the hospital, but no taxi stopped for them until a police officer named Ramón Pérez Vázquez intervened.

Gaudí was first taken to the first aid post near Ronda de Sant Pere and then, due to his severe injuries, transferred to the hospital of Santa Creu.

Meanwhile, the guard of the Sagrada Família raised the alarm when he realized that Gaudí had not arrived after ten o’clock in the evening. Along with priest Gil Parès, they went in search of Gaudí and found him in the charity hospital of Santa Creu.

A few days later, on June 10, 1926, Gaudí died from his injuries. The entire city of Barcelona mourned the loss of its most visionary architect.

On June 12, 1926, a massive funeral took place, where the architect was interred in the crypt of the Sagrada Família, the temple he had dedicated 43 years of his life to. Thus, Antoni Gaudí was forever linked to his most transcendent project.

Gaudí's Tomb in the Crypt of the Sagrada Família
Gaudí’s Tomb in the Crypt of the Sagrada Família

Facts About Gaudí

  • Family Roots in France: Gaudí’s family roots lie in the south of France. One of his ancestors, Joan Gaudí, a French trader, crossed the border into Catalonia sometime in the 17th century and settled in the town of Riudoms.
  • Controversy Over Birthplace: There is some uncertainty about Gaudí’s birthplace. Some claim it was Reus, others Riudoms. However, Gaudí was baptized the day after his birth in the church of Sant Pere de Reus, suggesting Reus was his birthplace.
  • Name Issue: There is confusion about Gaudí’s name – Antoni in Catalan or Antonio in Spanish. The baptismal record states he was named Anton Placid Guillem, but he was also called Don Antón by his colleagues.
  • Plaque in Parental Home: Although there is uncertainty about where Gaudí’s parental home in Reus stood – both Carrer de Sant Vicenç and Carrer de Sant Joan are often mentioned – there is now a plaque on the house at Carrer de Sant Vicenç number 4 claiming it was Gaudí’s birthplace in Reus.
  • Passion for the Profession: Gaudí had an extraordinary passion for his profession. He loved working with models and attributed his spatial insight to his family background as the “son, grandson, and great-grandson of coppersmiths.”
  • Genius or Madman: When handing over the architecture degree in 1878, Elies Rogent, the director of the School of Architecture in Barcelona, said: “Today we have created an architect who will either be a madman or a genius.”
  • Unique Business Card: Gaudí made the only known business card of himself when he became an architect. Only two of these business cards have survived.
  • Use of Organic Forms: Gaudí used organic forms, vibrant colors, and religious symbolism to create a unique architectural language. He is considered one of the greatest architects in Catalan Modernism and one of the most influential architects ever.
  • Quirky and Gruff: Gaudí is described as quirky, stubborn, and gruff. Especially in his last years, he lived like a hermit, focused on his work and faith.
  • Few Photos: Gaudí did not care about being photographed, which explains why there are so few portraits of him.
  • Many Mysteries: Where exactly was Gaudí born? Was Gaudí a Freemason? Was his death a tragic accident, or was he pushed? Gaudí’s life is full of mysteries that continue to provoke much discussion to this day.
  • Living Inspiration: Despite his tragic end, Gaudí continues to inspire future artists and architects around the world.

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Hello! My name is Marta, and I am a born and raised Barcelonian. I love introducing people to Barcelona, especially the Barcelona known to locals. In Barcelona, I am always looking for fun places and tips that I can then share with you, with the goal of helping you experience Barcelona like a local.

Marta Rubio

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