Allow me to tell you the fascinating story of Colònia Güell and how it came to house a miniature Sagrada Familia designed by Gaudi and like the original, unfinished.
A short ride from Barcelona to Colònia Güell in the town of Santa Coloma de Cervello is a fascinating excursion into a modernist workers’ colony built by wealthy industrialist, Eusebi Guell in 1890. It was built to provide accommodations for factory workers and to keep them away from the revolutionary movements which were rife in Spain at the time
Mr. Guell was a philanthropist who commissioned his friend architect Antoni Gaudi to build the town church in 1898, he thought it necessary to provide a place of worship for his workers who lived in the village. This was the only one of Gaudí’s modernista landmarks that he didn’t have a fixed budget for or a specific structure in mind. As a result of this creative freedom, the crypt is the purest expression of Gaudí’s creativity and a test lab for the Sagrada Família, to which he applied many of the pioneering architectural techniques he used in the crypt.
By 1914, the lower nave of the church had been completed, but the Güell family facing business set-backs were forced to stop funding the construction before the church’s completion. The church, now known as Cripta de la Colònia Güell (Church of Colònia Güell), included many of Gaudí’s architectural innovations being used for the first time. It would have been a miniature Sagrada Familia and is just fantastic to see.
Mr. Güell decided to move his textile factory away from Barcelona to Santa Coloma de Cervelló. One of the main differences with other textile factories of the time was that it used coal in lieu of hydraulic energy. He bought several hundreds of acres of farm land and started to build his factory in 1890 and a village to house the workers.
We arrived at the Colònia Güell village by bus. I was taken by some of the architecture in the surrounding buildings. We headed to the visitors’ center and were greeted by our guide who took us on a stroll through the village that housed the workers of Güell’s textile factory. The houses have elaborate brick-patterned facades. There’s also a doctor’s residence, the school for their children, the parish house, and, finally, the unfinished church, a miniature miniature Sagrada Familia, designed by Gaudi.
The jewel is Gaudi’s Crypt which demonstrates the art of the man. I was particularly taken in by the way everything looks as if it’s an animal ready to spring to life. I think it’s harmonious. I also love the way Gaudi uses mosaic, it’s a link to the culture of azulejos to my layman’s way of thinking. The church’s crypt is fascinating in its use of motifs from nature and exploitation of natural light.
The Church (cryst) is designed with catenary arches, the outer walls and vaults in the shape of hyperbolic parabolas, decorative broken mosaic tiling called “trencadís”, and the use of re-purposed, recycled, and local natural materials. The bell tower was added later by the towns people who still use the church today.
The Church of the Colonia Güell includes numerous examples of Gaudí’s control of the applied arts regarding both practical and purely ornamental decoration. The Crypt was declared World Heritage Site by UNESCO in July 2005.
To make people feel at ease and focus their attention on the priest, the benches in the crypt were made of combine wood and wrought iron. They have very rounded forms and nowadays could quite easily be called ergonomic seats. They were arranged in a semi-circle inside the church allowing worshippers attending Sunday Mass to be close to the altar, no matter where they were sitting.
The colored stained-glass made from painted and fired glass can even open by each section of the glass to allow for air to come in. Gaudí even used needles taken from the looms at the textile mill to design the metal grilles which protect the windows from the outside.
The colony is a gem, an early experiment in planned communities and capitalist social responsibility toward its workers– and well worth the visit. The museum is informative and fun, including a life-size movie with still-life tableaux of the furnishings of the various buildings. The village has a little square with a couple of restaurants. The ice cream parlour terrace was a nice place to have a coffee and enjoy a bit of sun.
Guell apparently even ensured that the workers had a cinema and a club where they could relax, something unheard of in those days. A guided tour of this place is really worthwhile to get the full history.
At Colònia Güell there’s plenty of Gaudi architecture on display throughout the village. It was also interesting to see this bit of Spain’s history when factory towns were common. You can spend a good 2-3 hours wandering around and looking at the cool buildings in the village.
Disclaimer – I would like to thank Turisme de Barcelona for providing me with a press for our trip. These are solely our personal opinions/experiences and we were not financially compensated for this post.