Following Gaudí’s tracks in Barcelona

Published by Marco Rubino on

La Sagrada Família, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain © 2017

Barcelona is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and interesting cities in the world. Planning a holiday in Barcelona means spending at least 4-5 days to enjoy at least the main attractions that this incredible city offers to its visitors. Among the many reasons of interest of the Catalan capital, a main place undoubtedly is occupied by the modernist architecture that characterizes many of the most interesting buildings of the city.

Catalan Modernism

Catalan modernism is an architectural style developed in Barcelona between the end of the nineteenth and the first three decades of the twentieth century, more or less in correspondence with the birth in Belgium and France of the artistic and philosophical movement called Art Nouveau, then declined throughout Europe with other names, such as the Jugendstil in Germany, the Liberty style in Italy and, precisely, Modernism in Spain. In Barcelona the modernist style is truly scattered everywhere, and it is possible to recognize it in an infinity of elements, from the most famous buildings including residences, churches and even a hospital, to other more common elements such as shops, pharmacies, lampposts and benches. This great diffusion of modernist elements is due to the work of over one hundred architects who have worked in the capital of Catalonia. Among these, the most famous are Lluís Domènech i Montaner, Josep Puig i Cadafalch and, above all, Antoni Gaudí.

The modernist itinerary

This itinerary, called in Catalan “Ruta del Modernisme“, is marked by a symbol present on the streets of Barcelona, corresponding to about 120 modernist-style works, including the most famous works by Gaudí as Casa Batlló, Casa Milà (La Pedrera), the Sagrada Família, the Parc Güell, the Palau Güell, the Casa Vicens and the Colonia Güell just outside Barcelona, or the Palau de la Música Catalana and the Hospital de Sant Pau by Domènech i Montaner, or the Triumphal Arc, the Parc de la Ciutadella, Plaça Reial and many other sites of interest.

Palau de la Musica Catalana, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain © 2017

Palau de la Música Catalana, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain © 2017

Visiting them all would take several days and many tourists are therefore faced with the need to customize their itinerary by selecting only the sites of greatest interest. Having a single day at disposal, my advice is to concentrate your efforts on what is probably the most classic of modernist itineraries, which includes the most famous buildings of Antoni Gaudí, located in a rather circumscribed area of the city and therefore easily reached on foot. I’m talking about Casa Batlló, Casa Milà, the Sagrada Família and the Parc Güell.

My photowalk on Gaudí’s tracks

This photowalk took place in August 2017, during my last holiday in Barcelona, a city that I had already visited in the past when, however, my interest in photography was little more than a hobby and had not yet resulted in a real professional activity. This time I returned to Barcelona with “the eyes of the microstocker” and a photographic gear much better suited to capture all the incredible visual stimulations that this city can give, ready to create a large number of images to enrich my portfolio of microstock files. I spent an entire day exploring the most famous buildings of Gaudí, dividing the morning between Casa Batlló and Casa Milà on Passeig de Gràcia in the Eixample district and continuing in the afternoon with the Sagrada Família and the Parc Güell, taking advantage of all the hours of sunshine that the month of August fortunately offers. Some places of this photowalk, in particular Casa Milà and the Sagrada Família, appear as a location in the bestseller “Origin” by Dan Brown published in October 2017. It is therefore to be expected that the popularity of these places, however already extraordinarily famous, will grow further with the predictable success of the book and the more than likely film adaptation by Ron Howard with Tom Hanks once again starring in the role of Professor Robert Langdon.

Gaudí and legal issues in Microstock

A premise is needed: modernist architecture and in particular Gaudí‘s masterpieces are a rather delicate topic when it comes to stock photography. It is one of those so-called “gray areas” in which it is difficult to have precise and unequivocal references to follow in order not to run the risk of running into legal problems about protected architecture. Before submitting the images made in these places it is good to know what can be sold with a commercial license, what requires necessarily an editorial license (and a specific description format) or finally which subjects are not acceptable nor with a commercial license or with an editorial license. Performing a simple search of Gaudí‘s buildings in the engines of the most important microstock agencies, we can have rather controversial and disorienting results: some buildings (even the interiors) are present with commercial license on some agencies while on others they are not present at all, while other buildings are present only with editorial license and only on some agencies. You may think that each agency manages this type of content in different ways, so in doubt you might be tempted to submit all your images about the works of Gaudí indiscriminately, leaving the individual agencies to approve or reject files according to their specific guidelines. But it is likely that reviewers of some agencies mistakenly approve contents that should be rejected for legal reasons. If this is true, then the risk is all in the hands of the contributor, because notoriously microstock agencies do not protect the authors in any way from possible legal disputes concerning their files. Is it worth it? Surely not. What to do then? Thankfully, specific legal restrictions about the architecture of Gaudí are included in the non-exhaustive list provided by Shutterstock and available at this link: Since Shutterstock is the leading microstock agency in the world, I think it is reliable to refer to its guidelines on this topic. Please notice that also Adobe Stock (Fotolia) explicitly includes Gaudí‘s works in his list of restrictions (, but in a much less detailed way than Shutterstock, merely declaring all the buildings of Gaudí – without distinction of any kind – as not acceptable with a commercial license (the only one available in Fotolia, which notoriously does not accept editorial content). Summing up therefore Shutterstock‘s directions on the legal limitations related to Gaudí buildings:

Casa Batlló Interior NO
Exterior NO
Casa Milà / La Pedrera Interior NO
Exterior YES, editorial only NO*
Sagrada Família Interior NO
Exterior YES, editorial only
Parc Güell YES, both commercial and editorial

*Update (Dec 15, 2017): Shutterstock has just wrote me an email with their apologizes for deactivating all my images with exterior of Casa Milà, despite I submitted them as editorial, according to their guidelines. They say they are no longer accepting images for Casa Milà, nor under commercial or editorial licenses, so as it is for Casa Batlló. They say they will update their guidelines soon.

For more information on legal issues in microstock, I recommend you my article on this important topic.


The photowalk took place entirely in the 2 adjacent neighborhoods of Eixample and Gràcia, right in the center of Barcelona. It starts from Plaça de Catalunya – very near to the Rambla – and nerve center of all city connections. From here you can easily reach the magnificent Paseo de Gracia (in Catalan Passeig de Gràcia), the most beautiful and elegant of the avenues of the Catalan capital, full of wonderful private residences and luxury hotels: notable for example is Casa Fuster, a modernist building created by Lluís Domènech i Montaner where I had the opportunity to stay during my previous trip to Barcelona in 2006. The Passeig de Gràcia is also a famous shopping street with the most prestigious international brands and countless buildings of interest and modernist style that you can meet by going north, starting with Casa Batlló, probably the most famous private residence built by Gaudí. Continuing along the avenue, about 4 blocks away, is the famous Casa Milà, also known as La Pedrera. From here, with a walk of about 20 minutes along Carrer de Provenca also crossing the Avinguda Diagonal, one of the biggest avenues of Barcelona, you arrive at the Sagrada Família, Gaudí‘s still unfinished masterpiece and authentic symbol of Barcelona. The last stop of the photowalk is the Parc Güell, located in the Gràcia district at about half an hour’s walk from the Sagrada Família: it is recommended to make this part of the itinerary by public transport, because the last stretch near the Parc Güell is in considerable climb.

Casa Batlló

Casa Batlló was built in 2 years, between 1904 and 1906 by Gaudí on commission of the wealthy entrepreneur Josep Batlló, from which the residence takes its name, and was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2005. From the end of the ‘900 has been open to the public and is currently one of the most visited museums in Barcelona. As previously stated, according to Shutterstock, Casa Batlló is a protected architecture subject for which it is not possible to submit images or videos with commercial or editorial licenses. It would therefore seem perfectly useless to visit it with the aim of creating images for the microstock. However, it is one of the most important attractions in Barcelona and taking a trip to the Catalan capital without seeing Casa Batlló means missing an unforgettable experience.

Below is a series of images obtained by searching for “casa batllo” on Shutterstock, evidently approved despite the guidelines do not predict it (there are about over 800 search results…):

Also on 123RF doing the same research you get a lot of results about it. In the case of this agency, however, the images of Casa Batlló, both interior and exterior, are accepted under editorial license:

Moreover, even if we want to strictly follow the Shutterstock guidelines, it is not entirely true that it is not possible to bring home any commercially viable image, as the exceptional position of Casa Batlló on Passeig de Gràcia allows to take very evocative shots of this incredible avenue, symbol of an entire artistic movement. Below are 3 images of mine about Passeig de Gràcia for sale on Shutterstock:

Casa Milà – La Pedrera

Like Casa Batlló, also Casa Milà was built by Gaudí on commission of a wealthy businessman (Pere Milà i Camps) and was completed in 1912. It is located on Passeig de Gràcia just a few blocks from Casa Batlló, from where it is possible to reach La Pedrera with a short walk of 10 minutes. It has a very impressive external appearance, thanks to the presence of 3 main facades, one of which is at an angle between Passeig de Gràcia and Carrer de Provenca. The most striking feature of the building is the presence of suggestive wavy shapes on rough stone, which simulate a shape sculpted by the erosive force of the wind and the sea.

Precisely this plasticity of forms has inspired the nickname of this building, from the Catalans called “La Pedrera“, ie stone quarry. The interiors of Casa Milà are also very interesting, although much more “normal” than the fairy-tale interiors of Casa Batlló.

The visit of the interior of Casa Milà, however, is the only way to access the incredible roof, a real open-air museum, with staggered passageways, niches and chimneys conceived as sculptural complexes of great effect. Just on the roof of Casa Milà is set one of the most adrenalinic scenes of the novel Origin by Dan Brown, with a shootout between the sculptures and a daring escape by helicopter. Following Gaudí's tracks in Barcelona 39In particular the characteristics chimneys in the form of sentinels with the helmet, called “witch scarers“, are one of the most iconic symbols of Casa Milà and of Barcelona. It seems that even George Lucas was so impressed by these sculptures that he took them as a model (and indeed the likeness is notable) for the elite assault units of the Imperial Army of Palpatine called Stormtroopers, in the legendary sci-fi saga of Star Wars.

La Sagrada Família

In the Catalan language, the full name of this building is Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família. It is undoubtedly the main symbol of Barcelona, like the Colosseum for Rome and the Eiffel Tower for Paris, as well as the most visited monument in all of Spain. Gaudí worked on the construction of this work starting from 1886 for about 40 years, of which his last 15 exclusively and until his tragic death occurred in 1926 just near the basilica. Sulle tracce di Gaudí a BarcellonaIt is impressive to know that such a famous and important building, recognized as a UNESCO heritage site in 1984 and consecrated in 2010 as a minor basilica by Pope Benedict XVI, is in reality still a largely incomplete piece of work. Still in 2017, only the 2 side facades of the church are completed, while the main façade (called Facade of the Glory) is still far from being realized. Moreover, only 8 of the 18 towers planned are currently visible and the main tower (Tower of Jesus) that will rise in the center of the church will be 172.5 meters high, almost twice as much as the towers currently completed. All this means that the image we are used to seeing of the Sagrada Família is to be considered absolutely temporary and the overall appearance of the building is destined to change substantially when the construction will be completed. Forecasts suggest the date of completion in 2026, 144 years after the laying of the first stone and 100 years exactly from the death of Gaudí, but because the work proceeds only thanks to rather discontinuous private donations (as well as to the revenues from the expensive entrance tickets requested to visitors), it seems very likely that it will take more years to complete the project, moving the inauguration date forward well past 2030.

Nativity Facade

It is the oldest of the Sagrada Família facades, the only one that Gaudí could see almost finished before he died, having been completed in 1930. As the name says, the facade is dedicated to the birth of Jesus and therefore all the sculptures and architectural elements that characterize it are pervaded by a joyful and life-giving spirit. Remarkable are the 3 richly decorated portals and the abundance of symbols and other elements of interest.

Passion Facade

Completely opposite is the spirit behind the realization of the Passion Facade, dedicated precisely to the Passion of Christ. It is a very austere and gloomy facade, with few decorations and pillars reminiscent of human bones, tendons and muscles, to symbolize the suffering of Jesus during the crucifixion. Built between 1954 and 1976 according to the drawings left by Gaudí, this facade gives back to the viewer a sense of anxiety and oppression that is also reflected in the sculptural groups placed around the portals.

Interiors, Towers and surroundings of the Sagrada Família

The interior of the Sagrada Família – although not useful from a microstock point of view as they are protected from any use both commercial and editorial – are equally impressive and interesting to visit and it is absolutely advisable to take advantage from the audio guide and spend a minimum of half an hour to be able to fully appreciate all the innumerable elements of interest. The visit to the Sagrada Família allows also the climb on one of the 2 towers that can be visited (one for each facade), from which you can admire an incredible view of the center of Barcelona, even if for their structure the towers are a bit claustrophobic when approaching to the top. Moreover (but I admit that this is a very personal perplexity), looking at the panorama of Barcelona from the top of the Sagrada Família means having a view of the city where the Sagrada Família is not there! It’s a bit like looking at the panorama of Manhattan from the top of the Empire State Building: much better the view from the top of the Rockefeller Center, from which you can see the Empire State Building too.

On the sides of the Sagrada Família architectural complex there are 2 small urban parks. The one facing west is called Plaça de la Sagrada Família, while the one facing east, also recognizable by the presence of a small pond, is called Plaça de Gaudí. My advice is to visit this second park to enjoy a privileged view of the Nativity facade, with scenic reflections on the picturesque central pond.

Parc Güell

This incredible wonderland park is located in the upper part of the Gràcia district, at the foot of the Carmel mountain. It was designed by Gaudí on the commission of his friend and patron Eusebi Güell, a wealthy businessman and Catalan politician of the late nineteenth century. The most practical way to get to the Parc Güell from the Sagrada Família is to take a bus to the Travessera de Dalt and walk up Carrer de Larrard to the park. Moreover, right on Carrer de Larrard there is a small museum called Gaudí Experiencìa (with free admission for holders of the Barcelona Pass card) and if you have twenty minutes available, it’s a good option to make a rest and see a short show in 4D about the main masterpieces of Gaudí.

The park is basically divided into 2 zones: a free zone, for which no access ticket is required, and a monumental area, for which not only is it necessary to pay for the ticket but it is also strongly recommended to book online a few days in advance: access to the monumental area is in fact limited and on a pre-established schedule. There is a minimum tolerance for the delay, but it is better to be on time so as not to risk losing the ticket purchased or having to make long lines to enter.

The entrance pavilions

When you arrive at the top of Carrer de Larrard it is impossible not to notice the two bizarre pavilions that mark the main entrance to the park: these are 2 buildings originally designed by Gaudí, respectively as a waiting room for visitors and accommodation of the park’s guardian. For their shape and decoration, they look like marzipan houses coming out from a fairy tale.

The Staircase and El Drac

Beyond the main entrance you will find a spectacular staircase on two ramps leading to the upper pavilions. Right at the center of the staircase is the iconic element of the park, as well as one of the most famous symbols of Barcelona and Gaudí‘s work: a statue of salamander (also called “El Drac” in Catalan) covered with a multicolored mosaic in style trencadís, recurrent architectural element of many decorations of the Parc Güell.

Hall of a Hundred Columns and panoramic terrace

At the top of the salamander staircase is the hypostyle hall, also known as the “hall of a hundred columns“, a large covered space supported by Doric columns and embellished with circular-shaped mosaics on the ceiling.

Exactly above the hall is the park’s main terrace, one of the most beautiful viewpoints in Barcelona. This is a large square, called Plaça de la Natura, whose perimeter consists of the famous bench-balustrade with a wavy shape and covered with trencadís style mosaics.

The terrace is always very crowded (a bit like the terrace of Pincio in Villa Borghese park in Rome) and it is very difficult to realize a wide angle image that includes the bench without tourists entering the frame. Lovers of panoramic photography, however, will enjoy a privileged view of the center of Barcelona with the sea in the background, in a chromatic triumph of the most famous in the world.

The masonry viaduct

Descending from the terrace on the west side of the park you can easily reach the spectacular masonry viaduct, designed by Gaudí in order to minimize the intrusion of the road into the natural landscape of the park. The pillars of the viaduct have in fact the shape and color of tree trunks and frame one of the most spectacular pedestrian crossings in the world.

Following the downhill walkway you return to the entrance square, at the foot of the main staircase, not without a last chance to admire the perfect integration of the architectural structures in the natural harmony of the park and the absolute genius of Antoni Gaudí who conceived it. Due to its fairy-tale atmosphere, Parc Güell has often been chosen as the location for a large number of films, including for example “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” by Woody Allen in 2008.

In conclusion, as usual, the map with the geolocation of my images shown in this article. The photowalk took place between 10 am and 8 pm, with a break of about 2 hours for an excellent tapas lunch on Passeig de Gràcia.

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Expert in Marketing and Communication in a major company of the Italian FMCG market, traveler by vocation, passionate photographer, contributor at all major international microstock agencies, founder of Marcor$tock, a blog focused on Microstock Market and Digital Photography.