Monday, December 9, 2013

Part 2: Gaudi in Barcelona - Park Guell

Park Guell is a park in Barcelona, commissioned by Eusebi Guell, an industrial tycoon, designed and built by Antoni Gaudi between 1900 and 1914.  It took 14 years from design to completion of this park, you might have great expectations of this.  Now, let me bring you there for tour.

To get to Park Guell, you can take the Metro L3 (Green Line) and alight at Valcarca station.  Remember to alight at Valcarca, not one station before it.  From both stations you can get to Park Guell, but one takes a much longer route.  Once you come out from Valcarca, there are clear signs to lead you the way.

Slopes Leading to Park Guell

The park is located at a hill top.  There are many up slopes to climb to get there.  The city has been very considerate, you built escalators to help the poor tourists in many sections.  Did I hear a sound of relief? :)

After almost 30 minutes of up slope, you will finally get to the ticket office and entrance.  Tickets are at 8 euros per person, and 400 people are allowed to enter every half an hour.  Your ticket has your eligible timing to enter.  If you miss your timing by 30 minutes, too bad, you can't enter.

Admission Ticket to Park Guell

Park Guell claims to occupy a total area of 17.18 ha, or 0.1718 km^2.  I had great expectations!


There are two houses of typical Gaudi style, decorated with broken ceramics standing on the two sides of the main entrance.   These two are the ONLY two major structures in the park!

Supposed Covered Market

The center piece of the park is an empty columned hall which was supposed to be a covered market.  The entire hall is empty.  Zen style of decoration and architecture give people a sense of peace & calm, rich feeling with minimal decorations, but Gaudi style?

In front of the empty hall, there is the most famous lizard in the world.  Whoever that had been conned to come to Park Guell would have to have a photo with this ugly lizard, so they will remember forever in their life how they had been conned by Gaudi.

Ugly Lizard by Gaudi

Atop of the empty hall, there is more emptiness.  A big open space where you can have a glimpse of the city of Barcelona.

And, that's about the end of the tour!

It took Gaudi 40 years to build one facade of Church of Sagrada Familia and 14 years to build Park Guell.  Some may argue that he was a perfectionist who wanted everything to be perfect, especially for a place for GOD.  I highly suspect it was just a beautiful excuse.  Remember that joke?  A young lawyer happily walked into his father's law office and told his father proudly that "Dad, I finally finished off that traffic accident case which had dragged you for 20 years!"  The father was visibly upset and said, "Son, I was hoping you can get your son through college with that case!"  

You can find all my blog posts about my Spain-Portugal-Gibraltar trip here.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Part I: Gaudi in Barcelona

Antonio Gaudi (1852-1926) was a famous architecture that brought Barcelona to international fame, with his crazy architectural designs.  The never ending construction of Church of Sagrada Familia is well known across the world.

Standing on Munjuic, the high point where you can see the entire city of Barcelona, Church of Sagrada Familia is one dominating structure.

Gaudi was the architect who conceptualized the design of this church, and he himself finished a small portion of it, over a long period of 40 years!

Nativity Facade, Church of Sagrada Familia

Nativity facade, one of the 3 facades of the church, was designed by Gaudi before his death.  The facade describes the story of, as you know, Nativity, the birth of Jesus Christ.

Close-up Of Nativity Facade

The story is really simple.  You have Virgin Mary cuddling baby Jesus in her arms, with Joseph standing by them.  On one side, you have the 3 wise men bringing gifts to the baby Jesus.  Simple story, simple sculptures, then why did it take Gaudi 40 long years just to finish this one facade?

Sea Turtle

Actually, it was intended.  Gaudi put two turtles statues at the base of the facade, one land turtle, one sea turtle.  The reason is to indicate that the progress WILL be slow.  The justification was that you must take all the time needed to have a perfect work.  When it comes to work for the home of God, it is even more important to be slow.  Well, I will express my own opinion to that justification later.

Just to show you how slow Gaudi made it to be, let's look at the following two scenes.

Virgin Mary riding on a donkey

Slaughter of Babies by order of King Herod

In the first scene, describing Virgin Mary bringing baby Jesus to some place (I am not so familiar with the bible story here, please let me know if you can help), riding on a donkey.  Gaudi spent a year just to get the right donkey.  What do you mean the right donkey?  He insisted on a particular donkey, how particular it should be?  Nobody knows, it was by Gaudi's feeling.  He had to FEEL right with the donkey.  After a long search, and found Gaudi's 'particular' donkey, he insisted to lift the donkey up to the height of where it stands now to make the live model.  You can imagine how uncooperative the donkey would be.

Next, let's look at the second scene, which describes the slaughter of babies by the order of King Herod.  The soldier who is going to throw the baby to death was modelled after a drunkard in Barcelona at the time.  Gaudi insisted that this evil soldier must be modelled after some bad guy in the city at that time.

Now, do you have an idea of why it took so long?

Interior of Church of Sagrada Familia

Gaudi conceptualized the interior of the church to be a forest.  The pillars represents the trunks of trees, with branches spreading out at the top.  And it does feel like you are in a forest, minus the fresh air, of course.  The design is so unique that I don't think you will ever find another church that looks even faintly alike.

On the opposite side of the Nativity facade, it is the passion facade, which is modern addition and designed by another architect.

Passion Facade

In the Passion facade, the architect honoured Gaudi by having his face carved onto one of the characters as shown in the photo above with the red circle.  It was said to be the face of an old Gaudi, which looks a bit different from the young Gaudi.

Well, enough of Gaudi for one day, let's continue with another entry.

You can find all my Spain-Portugal-Gibraltar trip blog posts here.

14-Day Spain-Portugal-Gibraltar 2013

The Eye, City of Art and Science, Valencia, Spain

In Oct-Nov this fall, I had the opportunity to visit Spain, Portugal and British colony Gibraltar with CTC tours.  The tour had been memorable and pleasant.

I will use this blog entry as the 'Table of Contents' for all my blog posts about this trip.

At first, I thought of writing about this trip in a pure chronicle way, which is the easiest, you just follow the itinerary.  At a second thought, I decided to do it on a themed basis.  I will group relevant and interesting places and encounters together.

Let's open our eyes and have an open mind to explore this journey together.

Part 1: Gaudi in Barcelona
Part 2: Gaudi in Barcelona - Park Guell

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Rome Holidays - Finale: Colosseum

The grand finale of our Rome Holidays is, of course, reserved for the Colosseum!

Colosseum and a Wedding couple

Colosseum is one massive arena.  Its shape reminds you of modern stadiums.  Yes, you are right, modern stadiums are modeled on the Colosseum.  Two thousand years ago, the architects already mastered the knowledge of crowd control.  They knew how to let large number of people in and out of a single venue in the shortest time.

If you wonder why the Colosseum was built on its current site, then you need to know Emperor Nero.  He is one of the worst reputed emperors in the Roman history.  After he was forced to commit suicide, his successor decided to alien himself from Nero.  For that purpose, they built the Colosseum on the site where Nero's palace used to be.

At Colosseum, Romans were entertained, just like today, people are being entertained in modern stadiums, although the games are more civilized, and less life threatening.

For photographers, just for your information, the exterior of the Colosseum is copyright free, but the interior of the Colosseum is not.  You can't sell your interior photos as stock.

The cost of the ticket to visit Colosseum and Palatine Hill is 10 Euros.  It is not expensive, but the queue is the killer.  Do you think the Colosseum is big?  The queue can go around the Colosseum, go figure yourself.

Around the Colosseum, it is a busy place.  Waves and waves of tourists from all around the world.  There is also a segway tour in Rome, but it is not cheap.

Segway Tours in Rome

If you want to jump the queue and pay nothing to have a peep of Palatine Hill, the center most of the seven hills of Rome, and also the most ancient part of Rome, you can climb up the small hill behind the metro station.  You can have a free view of the Palatine Hill, and witness the era of Rome as the city of brick!

Palatine Hill

With a satisfied heart, we concluded our 2-day venture to Rome.  We took the 6.20pm high speed train at Roma Termini and returned to Milan, in a short 3 hours.

You can find all my Rome Holidays posts here

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Rome Holidays - 12 Mouth of Truth

Walking down the street from Piazza del Campidoglio, the grand Theatre of Marcellus greets us.

Theater of Marcellus Exterior

The theater was built by Emperor Augustus, and completed in 11 BC.  It is named after the Emperor's nephew, who was destined to be the Emperor's heir, but died at a young age.  Take note of this emperor's name, Augustus.  He is the one who is said to turn Rome from a city of BRICK into a city of MARBLE.  When you visit Rome and look at the many Roman ruins, you will roughly know whether the ruins are from pre or post Augustus era, who ruled from 27 BC to 14 AD.  He is also the first Roman Emperor.  Life, or history is full of coincidence, beginning of the Roman Empire, somehow coincides with the legendary birth of Jesus Christ!

When the theater was first opened, it was the biggest open air theater in Rome at the time.  In terms of shape, it has the typical Roman amphitheater look, and looks like a scale down version of the Colosseum.  Over 2000 years of its history, the theater was acquired by a number of Roman wealthy families, who converted it into a fortress as well as a palace.  From the outside, it looks like a Roman ruin, but inside, it actually serves as apartments on the upper floors today! It will be really interesting to stay in such an apartment once, if possible.  

Theater of Marcellus and its modern apartments

After we passed by Theater of Marcellus, we were close to one of Rome's famed attractions - The Mouth of Truth, La Bocca della Verita in Italian.

To locate this 'mouth', you will first see a Roman temple standing lonely in a square, next to a major traffic junction.

Roman Temple

Then you will see the towering bell tower of the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. 

Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin

The church's bell tower should be the landmark you look for.  The Mouth of Truth, which is a piece of marble slab with a diameter of 1.75m, is actually hard to locate, if you don't know where it is.

Do you see the Romanesque arcade in the portico of the church?  There lies our famous MOUTH.

La Bocca della Verita (Mouth of Truth)

The exact origin of the Mouth of Truth is uncertain.  Some speculate it was part of an ancient fountain, some claims it was a manhole cover.  Nobody knows exactly its original use.  Then in medieval times, people use it as a lie detector.  Legend has it that if you tell a lie, and you put your hand into the mouth, you hand will be bitten off!

And this legend would not have shot to international fame if not for the American movie Roman Holiday in 1953, starring Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn.  You can see a trailer of the movie of this particular scene below, in Italian though :)

You can find all my Rome Holidays posts here.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Rome Holidays - 11 Victor Emmanuel Monument & Capitoline Hill

Right next to the Roman Forums lies the grandeur Victor Emmanuel Monument.  If you can still remember, Victor Emmanuel II is the one who united Italy in 1861.  We visited his tomb at Pantheon here.

The moment is gigantic, and sits on Capitoline Hill, one of the seven hills of ancient Rome.  The construction of the monument started in 1885, and opened to the public in 1911!  You see, 1911 is always an important number :)

Victor Emmanuel Monument at dusk

Inside the moment, there is a military museum on the upper floors, as well as an altar for the unknown soldiers who fought for Italy in the basement.

St Sebastian

St Sebastian, the patron saint of soldiers, is in the center of the altar.

At the back of the monument, there is a modern glass walled elevator taking tourists to the top, which is said to offer fantastic views of the Rome.  If you don't want to pay for the elevator ride, you can still get a good view of the symbols of Rome - Colosseum, Roman Forums from a high point at Victor Emmanuel Monument.

View of Rome from Victor Emmanuel Monument, with Colosseum in sight

Sharing the Capitoline Hill with Victor Emmanuel Monument is Michelangelo's masterpiece Piazza del Campidoglio. The whole plaza was master-mind by Michelangelo, and he designed the buildings, as well as the statues, even the staircase leading to the plaza.

The Senate at Piazza del Campidoglio

Standing at the entrance of the plaza is the statue of the twin brothers of Gemini.  The originals were designed by Michelangelo, but they had been moved to another location.  The current pair is a replica.

Capitoline Hill Gemini Statues

This square is full of history.  On all three sides, there are museums detailing the relevant history.  You can see school students coming here for outings.

Next to the square, there is also an ancient church.  What is most important is behind the church.

The Legend of Rome

In the small little square behind Piazza del Campidoglio, there is a column, not a very tall column.  Surmounting the column stands a female wolf, breast-feeding two young boys. These two young boys, said to be twins, would later on become the founder of Rome.

You can find all my Rome Holidays posts here.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Rome Holidays - 10 Roman Forums

There is a saying All roads lead to Rome.  Roman Empire was one of the greatest Empires in the human history.  It spanned across the entire European continent, and reached Asia in the east, and Africa in the south.  For such a huge empire, communication is the key.  The Romans built many express ways over the empire and all of them lead to Rome, the heart & soul of the empire.  Of that heart and soul, Roman Forums was where the heart of the heart was.  Political plots, military strategies were planned right here, as well as conspiracies.  Julius Caesar was also murdered some where among the ruins.

You may expect the place to be huge, but it is actually surprisingly small.    That again proves the teaching that no matter how rich, how powerful you are, you can only eat that much, you can only occupy that big a bed.  Everything else, that's for others :)

If you didn't read up about the place before hand, or didn't have a good guide, you may just walk past some historically important places without even noticing them.

Roman Forums

Look at that red arrow, that's the poster boy of Roman Forums.  Here I have a closer look at this landmark.  Just take note that the place is a fenced area.  You can't walk through it outside the opening hours.

Roman Forum Columns

Next, look at the dull building the blue arrow is pointing at.  Guess what it was?  No idea?  It was the Roman Senate!  It is a bit too uncharacteristic, isn't it?

The reason this place is called Roman Forums is because it consists many different forums, not just one single forum.

Caesar's Forum

A few broken pillars are what Julius Caesar's Forum remains today.  We can no longer imagine how splendid it used to be.

Directly opposite Caesar's Forum, across the road Via dei Fori Imperili, stands the ruins of Trajan's Forum.

Trajan's Forum

I am quite impressed by the extent how well preserved it is, after more than a thousand years!  Beside Trajan's Forum, it is the Trajan's Column.

Trajan's Column

If you can still remember column of Marcus Aurelius here, then you will find the two columns look like. That's actually true.  Column of Marcus Aurelius is a copy of Trajan's Column.

Details of Trajan's Column

Don't you think the column looks very small in size?  Do you know that inside the column, actually there is spiral staircase that can let people climb up the column from inside?  It is impressive, isn't it?  And do you see the small holes?  They are for light to sip inside the column to provide natural lighting and fresh air.  Ancient people were such genius, no wonder many people always think that aliens with high civilization once occupied planet earth.

You can find all my Rome Holiday posts here.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Rome Holidays - 9 The Papal Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore

After a good night's sleep, we started our second day of adventure in Rome.  Our first stop was the Papal Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.  A papal basilica means it is the Pope's church, and he will grace this church from time to time.  The special thing about this church also lies in the legend that Virgin Mary herself indicated the location for a church to be built in her name.  It was said that she told Pope Liberius this in a dream.   As such, it is a must go place in a Catholic's pilgrimage in Rome.  It is also a jewel in the Christian world of art.

Facade of Santa Maria Maggiore

Inside the basilica, gold is dominant color and its splendid decorations are only fit for a King, and a Pope in this case.

High Altar
Fresco above the High Altar

One of the crown jewels in this basilica is the Sistine Chapel.  Please note this Sistine Chapel is a different one from the Sistine Chapel in Vatican where the conclave is held.

Sistine Chapel

The history and significance of the art works in this basilica is simply overwhelming.  If you are interested, you can have more information at this link.  They provide comprehensive information about the basilica's history, and the significance of many of the art pieces in the basilica.

Almost as a papal symbol, an obelisk is standing right behind the basilica.

Obelisk of Santa Maria Maggiore

The Roman Catholic Church is one great organization.  It managed to amass large amount of master pieces of art, backed by tremendous wealth with contributions from her hundreds of millions of followers worldwide.  The success of the Catholic Church should be a case study for every MBA program in the world!

You can find all my Rome Holidays posts here.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Rome Holidays - 8 St Peter's Basilica

We were told by some self-claimed guide that St Peter's Basilica was closed until 2.30pm that day.  I had serious doubts about the accuracy of this information, as I had been cheated by this kind of 'kind' information before.  Anyway, we were at St Peter's Square at 2.30pm.  My heart was pounding.  Wah, finally I was standing in St Peter's Square, a place where I could only dream of.  It is so big, and it is surrounded by the beautiful colonnade designed by the famous architecture Gian Lorenzo Bernini.  Do you feel his name is very familiar?  Yes, he is also the one behind the Fountain of the Old Boat at the Spanish Steps, as well as the Fountain of Four Rivers at Piazza Navona.  Rome is kind of shaped by this genius architect in the 17th century.

St Peter's Square Looking Down from the Cupola

Front View of St Peter's Basilica and the Egyptian Obelisk

In the center of the square, stands the Egyptian obelisk, built in Egypt more than 3000 years ago, and brought to Rome in 37 BC.  Surmounting the obelisk is a globe and a cross.  Rumor has it that the globe contains the ashes of Julius Caesar.  If you wonder why a symbol of the Egyptian sun god stands in the very heart of Roman Catholic Church, the answer is that this obelisk is said to have witness the martyrdom of St Peter, and so it is here.

To enter St Peter's Basilica, you have to queue up for security check at the left side of the square, if you are facing the basilica.  The queue was long, number of people was huge.   That section of the colonnade basically became the security corridor.  It took us about an hour in the queue before we finally entered the basilica itself.

Wow, the basilica is huge!  And it is like a treasure vault.  There are so many great art pieces in this one single place.  I was completely speechless, and awed by such massive achievement of the human race.

Michelangelo's Pieta

First you are being greeted by Michelangelo's Pieta.  The piece of art that made the young Michelangelo famous.
Beautiful ceilings in the side chapels
High Altar
The Dome of St Peter's Basilica
Fresco of the Ceilings

Awesome is the one and only word that I can think of to describe this place.

Statue of St Peter

In front of the high altar, sits the statue of St Peter, who this church is named after.  St Peter is one of Jesus' 12 disciples, and is said to be buried under the basilica.  He is also said to hold the key to heaven.
Wah, St Peter's Basilica is a place where one must visit at least once in his/her life time.

Vatican's Swiss Guard

And how can I leave out the famous Vatican Swiss Guards?  They have been serving the Pope faithful for centuries.  They are actually considered to be mercenaries, as they are all of Swiss national, but serve in a foreign country called Vatican.  Switzerland had since banned all her citizens to serve in any form of mercenary with the only exception of those Swiss guards.

Do you think that's all for St Peter's?  Not yet.  After you come out from the basilica, remember to turn left and follow the sign to get the ticket to climb the cupola!  Cupola basically means the dome.  You have to first climb up some hundreds of steps, wide and windy to the base of the dome.  From there, you will continue to climb, on stairs that is sandwiched between the inner wall and outer wall of the dome.  The stairs are narrow and will bend as the dome bends.  If you are not physically fit, I would not advise you to take this climb.

Is it worth the climb?  Definitely YES!  It offers you a super view of Vatican and Rome.  You are on top of the world.

You can find all Rome Holidays posts here