The Skeletal Designs of Antoni Gaudí: Inside Barcelona’s Casa Batlló

The undulating exterior of Casa Batlló (Source: Shutterstock / Luciano Mortula – LGM)

Many know the other-worldly designs of Antoni Gaudí. Famed constructions like the Sagrada Familia, a gnarled cathedral in Barcelona with arches shaped like gaping maws, have wowed tourists for decades; this is thanks largely to Gaudí’s ability to combine natural elements with living personality and perceived movement. The late-19th-century architect has become so popular, in fact, that his buildings are the most visited sites in Barcelona. Segrada Familia alone sees some 3,000,000 swallowed up each year.

Fortunately for Gaudí devotees, however, several of his sites have yet to be thronged by hordes. For an exquisite showcase of Gaudí’s quirky-creepy designs, consider visiting Casa Batlló — a home on the once-bustling promenade of Passeig de Gràcia.

History of Casa Batlló

With somewhat prosaic beginnings, the building that would become Casa Batlló was built as a nondescript, multilevel home commissioned by Lluís Sala Sánchez in the 1870s. A few decades later, the property was snatched up by Joseph Batlló, a well-known textile industrialist. Batlló, along with his wife Amalia, soon decided the building needed a major revamp; the entire home, they determined, would need to stand out amongst the drab domiciles of Passeig de Gràcia.

In 1904, then, the famed architect Antoni Gaudí was hired to rework the home into something majestically eccentric. Batlló originally wanted the entire building razed and another built in its place, but Gaudí convinced him that a renovation was sufficient. His plans were quickly approved, and renovation proceeded; the final touches were added a mere two years later, in 1906.

Design and features

The outside of the Casa culminates in a "scaled" roof with a turret and cross — often likened to a sword embedded in a dragon's back (Source: Shutterstock / Luciano Mortula – LGM)
The outside of the Casa culminates in a “scaled” roof with a turret and cross — often likened to a sword embedded in a dragon’s back (Source: Shutterstock / Luciano Mortula – LGM)

In typical Gaudí fashion, Casa Batlló is both story and character. While locals call the building the Casa dels Ossos (House of Bones), it’s possible that Gaudí was after something less skeletal — more specifically, a dragon. The façade at the front of the building is composed of broken ceramic tiles that form a mosaic, somewhat like scales, while the arched roof is reminiscent of a dragon’s back. This is punctuated by the turret and mounted cross, which resemble a sword embedded in the vulnerable backside of a towering beast. For Catholics like Gaudí and Batlló, St. George would readily come to mind.

This animated, almost undulating appearance carries into the interior — most notably in the Loft, where the elongated protrusions on the ceiling converge to form what appears to be a ribcage. On the main level (and site of the museum), a mushroom-shaped fireplace evokes the early formation of a breath of fire, soon to bellow from the stomach of the dragon.

While this view of Gaudí’s Casa Batlló is a common one — and easy to see if you consider the interior and exterior elements in combination — some have argued the design is more aquatic in nature, inspired by Monet. Salvador Dali champions this view, claiming that the broken ceramics appear more like fragments of pond lilies than dragon scales.

Unfortunately, Gaudí never explained his design. However, each distinct design choice gives visitors a chance to make their own decision about what Casa Batlló is — or is not.

The interior of Casa Batllo, both riveting and dizzying (Source: Shutterstock / imagIN.gr photography)
The interior of Casa Batllo, both riveting and dizzying (Source: Shutterstock / imagIN.gr photography)

Visit the Casa

Casa Batlló is centrally located on Passeig de Gràcia in Barcelona, accessible by train, metro, and bus. Tickets are available online for standard tours (25-35 Euros, depending on how much of the building you have access to), and for special evening and theatrical events (29-40 Euros). A couple of additional things to note: WiFi is available for those who want to snap and post on social media right away, audio guides are on-hand for English speakers, and an onsite gift shop gives you a chance to buy a Gaudí souvenir before leaving.

For more information about Casa Batlló, visit casabatllo.es.