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10 historic Barcelona buildings you must see

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Barcelona is an architecture lover’s playground, dotted with impressive Gothic structures and Modernista masterpieces begging to be ogled. Government buildings, mansions, and churches and monasteries from the Middle Ages still survive in the old city center, while the city’s famous art and architecture movement from the turn of the 20th century — Catalan Modernisme — produced some of Barcelona’s most famous buildings, including Palau de la Musica Catalana and the still-unfinished Sagrada Familia. Antoni Gaudí and his cohorts were responsible for giving the beloved Spanish city its unique architectural character that prizes the curved line over the straight and celebrates organic motifs and dynamic shapes. These are the classic buildings that define the Barcelona cityscape.

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Casa Battló

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Originally built in 1877 by Emilio Sala Cortés (one of Gaudí’s architecture professors), the building was purchased by textile industrialist Josep Batlló y Casanovas in 1903. Batlló hired Gaudí, who was given free reign with the design — which he decidedly did not waste. Famous for its façade of broken tiles, flamboyant colors, and arched roof, the mansion is a work of functional art that’s considered an icon of Barcelona and one of the most renowned buildings in the world. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, is open to the public for tours, and can be rented for events.

Casa Amatller

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Originally constructed by Antoni Robert in 1875, in 1898 the Amatller family, who owned a chocolate business, commissioned architect Josep Puig i Cadafalch to redesign it. Cadafalch, although considered part of the Modernisme movement, was anchored by more traditional styles and used Gothic and Moorish elements. The home is one of the three most important buildings in Barcelona’s famous Mansana de la Discòrdia (“Block of Discord”), together with adjacent fellow Modernist buildings Casa Batlló and Casa Lleó-Morera.

Cotton House Hotel, Autograph Collection

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Steeped in history, the Cotton House is a luxury Autograph Collection hotel that occupies the site of the former headquarters of the Cotton Textile Foundation. The cotton theme continues throughout the neoclassical 19th-century landmark, with decorative touches of cotton plants and textiles and, of course, high-quality cotton sheets. Even if you aren’t staying there, the Cotton House’s thoughtfully designed bar and restaurant are worth a stop for a drink.

Palau de la Musica Catalana

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A Catalan Modernist gem designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner, this concert hall was built between 1905 and 1908. The hall, which seats about 2,200 people, is beautifully illuminated during the day by natural light that floods in from the stained-glass walls and skylight, which was designed by Antoni Rigalt. The red brick and iron façade is covered in mosaics and glazed tiles and features a prominent sculpture by Miguel Blay. The building was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997 and is still used for concerts.

Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar

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This Catalan Gothic cathedral stands unassumingly on a square in the neighborhood of La Ribera, but it offers some of the best views of the city from its rooftop. Sure, you’ll have to climb a dizzying flight of spiral stairs, but the views of the mountains and the sea are worth it.

La Sagrada Familia

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La Sagrada Familia is the unfinished masterpiece of Antoni Gaudí, Barcelona’s most prolific and famous architect. Designed to evoke the beauty and wonder of nature, this Roman Catholic church is unlike any other in the world. The exterior is iconic as it is, but be prepared for the interior to take your breath away. Tip: Tickets sell out fast, so get there early in the day to buy tickets for later and explore the surrounding neighborhood in the meantime.

Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau

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After the medieval-era Hospital de la Santa Creu became outdated, banker Pau Gil bequeathed his estate to build a new hospital for the city at the turn of the 20th century. Designed by architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner and built between 1902 and 1930, it’s considered a classic example of Catalan Modernisme. Its 27 buildings were designed as separate pavilions that are surrounded by gardens and connected by underground tunnels. In 2009, a new, modern hospital was built next door and the original structures, which were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, are open to visitors.

Parc Güell

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Designed and landscaped by Antoni Gaudí when he was hired by Count Eusebi Güell in 1900 to turn a hillside into a whimsical urban forest, this park is full of extravagant sculptures and buildings done in Gaudí’s signature Modernist style. While wandering the enchanting park can be lovely, don’t miss the dragon/iguana on the stairs at the entrance, the Sala Hipostila, and the Algarrobo (Carob) viaduct. Stop into the Casa-Museuo Gaudí, where the architect spent most of the last 20 years of his life, to see furniture pieces designed by him.

Monasterio de Pedralbes

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One of the best examples of Catalan Gothic architecture, the church and three-story cloister date back to 1327. The monastery was founded by Queen Elisenda de Montcada with the support of her husband, King James II, and was occupied by the Poor Clare Order, the female branch of the Order of St. Francis, who lived there until 1983. Building highlights include the sepulcher of Queen Elisenda and 14th-century stained-glass windows.

La Pedrera

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Also known as Casa Milà, La Pedrera is the last known residential building that Antoni Gaudí designed before he dedicated himself to building La Sagrada Familia. It was built between 1906 and 1912, and was controversial from the start: In fact, the name “La Padrera” (translated to “the quarry house”) actually originated from the nickname residents gave it for its “unruliness.” The facade is among the most well-known in Barcelona, but the real highlight is on the roof. You can see how Gaudí built the chimneys, skylights, and domes to appear as works of art themselves. You can tour the inside apartments or, better yet, see a jazz show on the roof terrace and peek at the views of Barcelona.

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Casa Battló

Originally built in 1877 by Emilio Sala Cortés (one of Gaudí’s architecture professors), the building was purchased by textile industrialist Josep Batlló y Casanovas in 1903. Batlló hired Gaudí, who was given free reign with the design — which he decidedly did not waste. Famous for its façade of broken tiles, flamboyant colors, and arched roof, the mansion is a work of functional art that’s considered an icon of Barcelona and one of the most renowned buildings in the world. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, is open to the public for tours, and can be rented for events.

Casa Amatller

Originally constructed by Antoni Robert in 1875, in 1898 the Amatller family, who owned a chocolate business, commissioned architect Josep Puig i Cadafalch to redesign it. Cadafalch, although considered part of the Modernisme movement, was anchored by more traditional styles and used Gothic and Moorish elements. The home is one of the three most important buildings in Barcelona’s famous Mansana de la Discòrdia (“Block of Discord”), together with adjacent fellow Modernist buildings Casa Batlló and Casa Lleó-Morera.

Cotton House Hotel, Autograph Collection

Steeped in history, the Cotton House is a luxury Autograph Collection hotel that occupies the site of the former headquarters of the Cotton Textile Foundation. The cotton theme continues throughout the neoclassical 19th-century landmark, with decorative touches of cotton plants and textiles and, of course, high-quality cotton sheets. Even if you aren’t staying there, the Cotton House’s thoughtfully designed bar and restaurant are worth a stop for a drink.

Palau de la Musica Catalana

A Catalan Modernist gem designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner, this concert hall was built between 1905 and 1908. The hall, which seats about 2,200 people, is beautifully illuminated during the day by natural light that floods in from the stained-glass walls and skylight, which was designed by Antoni Rigalt. The red brick and iron façade is covered in mosaics and glazed tiles and features a prominent sculpture by Miguel Blay. The building was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997 and is still used for concerts.

Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar

This Catalan Gothic cathedral stands unassumingly on a square in the neighborhood of La Ribera, but it offers some of the best views of the city from its rooftop. Sure, you’ll have to climb a dizzying flight of spiral stairs, but the views of the mountains and the sea are worth it.

La Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Familia is the unfinished masterpiece of Antoni Gaudí, Barcelona’s most prolific and famous architect. Designed to evoke the beauty and wonder of nature, this Roman Catholic church is unlike any other in the world. The exterior is iconic as it is, but be prepared for the interior to take your breath away. Tip: Tickets sell out fast, so get there early in the day to buy tickets for later and explore the surrounding neighborhood in the meantime.

Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau

After the medieval-era Hospital de la Santa Creu became outdated, banker Pau Gil bequeathed his estate to build a new hospital for the city at the turn of the 20th century. Designed by architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner and built between 1902 and 1930, it’s considered a classic example of Catalan Modernisme. Its 27 buildings were designed as separate pavilions that are surrounded by gardens and connected by underground tunnels. In 2009, a new, modern hospital was built next door and the original structures, which were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, are open to visitors.

Parc Güell

Designed and landscaped by Antoni Gaudí when he was hired by Count Eusebi Güell in 1900 to turn a hillside into a whimsical urban forest, this park is full of extravagant sculptures and buildings done in Gaudí’s signature Modernist style. While wandering the enchanting park can be lovely, don’t miss the dragon/iguana on the stairs at the entrance, the Sala Hipostila, and the Algarrobo (Carob) viaduct. Stop into the Casa-Museuo Gaudí, where the architect spent most of the last 20 years of his life, to see furniture pieces designed by him.

Monasterio de Pedralbes

One of the best examples of Catalan Gothic architecture, the church and three-story cloister date back to 1327. The monastery was founded by Queen Elisenda de Montcada with the support of her husband, King James II, and was occupied by the Poor Clare Order, the female branch of the Order of St. Francis, who lived there until 1983. Building highlights include the sepulcher of Queen Elisenda and 14th-century stained-glass windows.

La Pedrera

Also known as Casa Milà, La Pedrera is the last known residential building that Antoni Gaudí designed before he dedicated himself to building La Sagrada Familia. It was built between 1906 and 1912, and was controversial from the start: In fact, the name “La Padrera” (translated to “the quarry house”) actually originated from the nickname residents gave it for its “unruliness.” The facade is among the most well-known in Barcelona, but the real highlight is on the roof. You can see how Gaudí built the chimneys, skylights, and domes to appear as works of art themselves. You can tour the inside apartments or, better yet, see a jazz show on the roof terrace and peek at the views of Barcelona.

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