Catalan modernism is an architectural style developed between the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century mainly in Barcelona, pioneered by legendary architects Lluís Domènech i Montaner, Antoni Gaudí, and Josep Puig i Cadafalch. This style is characterized by the predominance of the curve over the straight line, the asymmetry of the shapes, highly detailed decoration and the frequent use of organic forms and natural motifs. Modernist architecture integrated traditional crafts such as ceramics, wrought iron, stained glass and sculpture into the construction.
Modernisme embraced not only architecture but also art and every field of culture, of social life and politics, and it was to be decisive in the symbolic production of the Catalan nationalism of the turn of the century.
Barcelona’s modernist architecture
Barcelona is renowned for its Modernista architecture, with particular emphasis on the work of three architects: Lluis Domenech i Montaner, Antoni Gaudi and Josep Puig i Cadalfach. Gaudí is often referred to as God’s architect. One cannot possibly imagine a world without the iconic Sagrada Familia, a true architectural marvel.
In Barcelona, there are hundreds modernist buildings of great architectural importance, and the total number of buildings built in this style surpasses 2000.
The Casa Batlló is the result of the renovation of a building at number 43, Passeig de Gracia. In 1904, a textile industrialist Josep Batlló y Casanovas asked Antoni Gaudi to update his Barcelona home, built in 1877. Gaudi designed everything in the spaces he created—not just the architecture, but the furnishings, lights, and even the door hardware.
Casa Batlló transports you to an alien-yet-familiar world with its abstract references to nature and the sea.
Address: Pg. de Gràcia, 43, 08007 Barcelona, Spain
Book your visit: Turisme de Barcelona
Adjacent to Casa Batlló, Puig i Cadafalch’s Casa Amatller is decorated with sculptures that refer both to the chocolate family that owns the house and icons of Catalan tradition. The building was originally constructed in 1875, then redesigned as a residence for wealthy chocolatier and archaeological enthusiast Antoni Amatller i Costa between 1898 and 1900. The continuous ownership by the Amatller family meant that the house’s interior of 1900 has remained largely preserved intact to the present day. Casa Ametller now serves as a historic house museum, café, and the Amatller Institute for Hispanic Art.
Address: Pg. de Gràcia, 41, 08007 Barcelona, Spain
La Pedrera or Casa Milà, Gaudi‘s final private residence, is a striking architectural marvel with a facade that evokes various emotions, including coastal cliffs and Montserrat’s mist-shrouded peaks. Gaudi’s genius extended beyond architecture, as he also excelled in furniture design, interior decoration, and landscaping. His multifaceted talents allowed him to create cohesive and harmonious spaces that transcended traditional boundaries. Casa Mila stands as a testament to his visionary approach, captivating artists and inspiring a young American filmmaker to create iconic characters like Darth Vader and his Storm Troopers, which menacing helmets are based on the chimneys of this remarkable building.
Address: Pg. de Gràcia, 92, 08008 Barcelona, Spain
Book your visit: Turisme de Barcelona
Casa Terrades or Casa de les Punxes
Turning right along Avenue Diagonal, on the corner with Roger de Llúria, we find the peculiar Casa Terrades or Casa de les Punxes, by Josep Puig i Cadafalch. It is a building with the air of a medieval castle, with a brick façade, a main tower with a dome and four towers crowned by conical spikes. In 1905, Bartomeu Terradas Brutau commissioned Puig i Cadafalch to design a house for each of his three sisters, Angela, Josefa and Rosa. The result was a building reminiscent of old medieval castles, with elements of different architectural trends and various technical innovations, with six pointed towers (crowned by conical spikes), one of its distinctive features which gave the popular name of Casa de les Punxes.
Address: Av. Diagonal, 416-420, 08007 Barcelona, Spain
Completed in 1918, Gaudí-influenced Casa Sayrach is one of the last Modernist buildings constructed in Barcelona. It was designed by architect Manuel Sayrach i Carreras, although the official paperwork was signed by the house promoter Gabriel Borrell, because young Sayrach had not received his certification at the time of construction.
The interior space of Casa Sayrach is laid out like a temple, with a central nave and two sides that converge on a grand staircase. The undulating shapes on the ceilings, railings, and even door handles are reminiscent of the organic forms found in the Mediterranean sea. Strongly influenced by Antoni Gaudi’s works, especially La Pedrera, Casa Sayrach presents an outstanding example of late Modernism in Barcelona.
Address: Av. Diagonal, 423, 425, L’Eixample, 08037 Barcelona
Park Güell is located in La Salut, a neighborhood in the Gràcia district of Barcelona. With urbanization in mind, Count Eusebi Güell assigned the design of the park to Antoni Gaudí . The park was built from 1900 to 1914 and was officially opened as a public park in 1926. In 1984, UNESCO declared the park a World Heritage Site under “Works of Antoni Gaudí”.
In the design of Park Güell, Gaudí unleashed all his architectonic genius and put to practice much of his innovative structural solutions that would become the symbol of his organic style, and that would culminate in the creation of the Sagrada Família.
Website: Guided tour of the Park Güell
Antoni Gaudí, took Modernism to the next level, and far beyond. Of the nine UNESCO World Heritage sites in Barcelona, Gaudí is responsible for seven of them. Casa Vicens is the first residence designed by this architectural revolutionary. Unlike anything built before, Gaudí fused Moorish and oriental styles with eclectic materials to create the foundations of a new architectural language.
Adress: Carrer de les Carolines, 20-26, Gràcia, 08012 Barcelona
Website: Visit Gaudí’s first house
Just of La Rambla, step through the arches of Güell Palace, Antoni Gaudí’s first commission from his patron Eusebi Güell in 1885. Here tree-like basement pillars and rooftop chimney pots were indication of things to come.
Address: C/ Nou de la Rambla, 3-5, 08001 Barcelona
Sant Pau Hospital
This former hospital is an Art Nouveau masterpiece and now functions as a famous museum and arts venue. It was built by legendary Modernist architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner, who also designed Palau de la Musica Catalanna. In 1997 it was declared World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It has all the features of Catalan Art Nouveau—ornate domes, stained glass windows, intricate mosaics, monumental pillars. The modernist pavilions are surrounded by gardens and connected by a network of underground tunnels. If ever a hospital could treat patients just via aesthetics, it was this one.
Palau de la Música Catalana
Designed in the Catalan Modernista style by the architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner, Palau de la Música Catalana was built for Catalan choir association Orfeó Català, at that time a leading force in the Catalan cultural movement that came to be known as the Renaixença. Construction began in 1905 and the Palau de la Música was inaugurated in 1908.
The combination of different architectural styles, as well as the merging of different art forms – such as sculpture, blacksmithing, ceramics and glass art can be clearly seen in many places in the Palau de la Música, thus making it a shining example of Catalan Modernism.
In the 1980s, the Palau de la Música Catalana was remodeled and modernized under the direction of architect Óscar Tusquets, without losing its original charm.
Address: C/ Palau de la Música, 4-6, Ciutat Vella, 08003 Barcelona
Modernisme in Arts and Literature
Modernisme also found expression in literature, theater, music, painting, sculpture and decorative arts. There were two generations of modernist painters in Barcelona. Catalan visual artists also came under a barrage of foreign influences during the final decades of the 19th century. Ramon Casas and Santiago Rusiñol with his friend Miquel Utrillo were first, together with Llimona and Anglada-Camarasa, for instance. After them came a second generation of young promises. Isidre Nonell and Joaquim Mir belong to the Saffron Crew (Colla del Safrà), called like this because of their color choices. And even a very young Pablo Ruiz Picasso, who arrived in Barcelona in 1895, could be considered as part of the second generation of modernist artists before he moved to Paris. His Blue Period can be considered Modernista in style.
As for sculpture, we need to mention Miquel Blay, Enric Clarassó and Josep Llimona. All of them were strongly influenced by the expressivity of Rodin.
It might be argued that Modernisme in painting concluded with Nonell‘s death in 1911 and in architecture with Gaudí‘s death in 1926.
The best place to see Modernist paintings and sculptures in Barcelona is the MNAC museum on Montjuic, the Picasso Museum in El Borne and there is the smaller collection in the Museu del Modernisme.
Opened in 1963, thus becoming the first museum dedicated to Picasso‘s work and the only one created during his lifetime, the “Picasso Museum” not only showcases some of the painter’s works that could be described as his Modernist phase, but it aims to show the strong, emotional bond the artist had with the city, which was key in discovering, developing and shaping his artistic skills. The museum houses an extensive collection of Picasso’s artworks, with a total number of 4251. It is housed in five adjoining medieval palaces on Montcada Street in the La Ribera neighborhood in the Old City of Barcelona.
We want to give a special thanks to Visit Barcelona who informed us about all the important exhibitions that were taking place during our visit and helped us in getting to know the city and its heritage.
Vukota Brajovic and Vesna Filipovic for Fashionela