Thousands visit Barcelona every year for guided tours of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia and Casa Batilo – but how many visit or know of Torre Bellesguard?
In truth, prior to our arrival into Barcelona neither of us had ever heard of Torre Bellesguard and wouldn’t have known about it either if it hadn’t have been for the recommendation from a local at OK Apartment (owners of the apartment we stayed in). Without their knowledge of the area and their understanding that architecture is one of our core interests, we may have left Catalunya altogether without seeing one of Gaudi’s lesser known masterpieces.
Local recommendations are everything.
They don’t tell you what’s popular, but rather what’s interesting – and Torre Bellesguard is exactly that.
The History of Torre Bellesguard
The land on which the monumental tower-topped house and gardens are located was originally outside of the city limits and has only in the past century or so become swallowed up by the ever expanding and innovative city.
Prior to its inclusion in the metropolis, the area known as "Bellesguard" (translated from the Catalan for "Beautiful View") was an area where only a few houses and mansions were built, mostly for families of the high society who either preferred a residence outside and away from the industrial-aspect of early 20th Century Barcelona, or as a holiday home location – due to its mountain side and green location.
One particular resident of the spot on which the Torre now stands was Martin of Aragon, king of the region and Count of Barcelona, who supposedly christened the descriptive name from which the house and tower take their name.
The design and initial construction phase of Torre Bellesguard came midway through Gaudi’s already skyward career as not only Barcelona’s foremost architect, but also as one of the largest contributing artists within the art genre of Modernism (What is Modernism?).
Torre Bellesguard was originally commissioned by the wife of Jaume Figueras, Maria Sagués, who greatly admired the work of the prominent Modernista architect and requested of him in 1900 the masterpiece and symbology-covered house that stands today; however, whilst Gaudi lead the construction from the design process and all the way through the largest part of the construction stage, he left the program nine years later to focus all of his energies on completing his legacy piece, the Sagrada Familia.
What you see today is the full design of Gaudi – and there’s no mistaking this unique masterpiece as anything other than his brain-child – but the work itself was completed by Domènec Sugrañes i Gras, the artist who created all of the colourful mosaics on the property that bring such colour to the otherwise earthen-coloured building.
A Torre Bellesguard Guided Tour
We took the bus from Placa de Catalunya to the foot of the Tibidabo Mountain from where many people queue for Barcelona’s last surviving tram, but from where we decided to walk on foot towards Bellesguard.
Finding Torre Bellesguard is quite easy, and almost impossible to miss once the tower itself comes into view, althought the walls that surround the house and gardens try their best to keep what lies behind away from prying eyes.
Through the entrance gate we were met by the small team who watch over the family home which is still lived in to this day.
We were offered two types of guided tour to choose from:
Self Guide Audio Tour – Available in English, Spanish, Catalan, Russian, German, Japanese, and French. Usable around both the grounds and inside of the home itself.
Full Guided Tour – Guided tours in English, Spanish, and Catalan are available, though are best booked in advance to avoid disappointment if a fluent speaker isn’t in attendance. Other languages are happily catered for, although these will require advance booking.
The full guided tour lasts around one hour and through discussion with the guide, offers an insightful overview into the history and construction of this unknown, yet fascinating architectural gem.
As a testament to the "hidden gem" aspect of Torre Bellesguard, during our tour from bottom floor to the scenic view upon the top there was only once other person with us, not including the guide.
In truth, we couldn’t have been happier about that. It felt like we had the entire house to ourselves.
The Gardens and Outer Decor of Torre Bellesguard
The gardens that surround the house are by no means small, but it must have been quite an impressive and secluded estate to live in, once upon a time. Importantly, what remains now of the gardens is not only enough to keep the now encircling city at bay, but enough of the original garden and colourful monuments to showcase how beautiful it must have been to walk through and relax in.
Gaudi’s typical style is clear throughout. There’s no mistaking his genius and his desire to marry nature with everything he creates. The colours don’t shout at you, instead they call you in.
The blues and bright shining white of the large seating area under the shade of the towering trees might seem too bold at first, but once you’re sitting upon them and gazing around you realise that they’re nothing more than a reflection of the blue and brightness of the sky above.
Colour certainly calls you towards the house too, though not in the same quantity as say, Park Guell (as captured so brightly by Amanda), but enough to catch your interest and realise that the style and design is unmistakeably modernist.
On either side of the entrance door are the unmissable bright mural-covered seats themed on the "Golden Age" of Catalonian rule, as designed by Domènec Sugrañes i Gras prior to his forfilment as the lead architect after Gaudi’s departure. Cliché as it might be, but they appear as if they were finished yesterday. The colours are incredibly well preserved, and although there wasn’t any sign saying not to, I personally felt that sitting upon them would have been a sacrilege of sorts.
To think that my bottom could ruin such mastery wasn’t worth thinking twice about.
The Torre Bellesguard Entrance Way
At the entrance way we met with our tour guide who’d be taking us up and around the several accessible floors to the house, but not without explaining first that this house is still a home.
em>Torre Bellesguard is lived in by the same family who’ve now so graciously seen it renovated, preserved, and opened up to the public. Because of the size of the house they only occupy a couple of the floors and leave the others open for public observation, of which both Franca and I are highly grateful.
Once given all of the usual safety information, photography permission, and polite request to not enter any door currently closed, we made our way through the large glass door and into one of the most interesting entrance halls I’ve ever seen.
Before the visit I’d never once set foot within any of Gaudi’s many architectural masterpieces, even though our visit that day to Barcelona was not my first, but what I saw around me was beautiful.
From what I gather from my observations and through Franca’s own descriptions, the simplicity of colour and design is a large component of the masters work. Sure he uses lots of colour on and within all of his work, but not carelessly, and not without intention.
The hallway is a clear and bright white. Simple and minimal, yet incredibly powerful.
From time-to-time I find myself pointing our camera at everything around me without any focus whatsoever. There was simply so much to impress me in my surroundings that I felt driven to try and take more pictures that anyone could possible look at in one lifetime.
I’m in such a rush to take pictures of every colour that catches my eye. Everything about the design of the room suggest brightness amongst tranquility, and I’m taking pictures like it’s a race or something.
The yellow and blue paint of the tiles against the pale contrasting white painted walls are attractive, but nowhere near as much as the decoration that surrounds the simple water tap and basin at the base of the stairs.
Hanging all the way down from the ceiling at the top of the house is one of the most wonderful decorative lights I’ve ever seen, and although the clearer glass hasn’t aged as well as the original artist may have hoped, once the light hits and shines through it, the coloured circles of glass within it bring light to the darkness, much like coloured lights on a Christmas tree.
As we head up the stairs and towards the first open floor I can’t help but notice that every surface appears simple at a distance, but up close you find that almost every surface is fractured and put together patiently by hand.
The Upper Floors of Torre Bellesguard
On the last floor before the rooftop there are two rooms open for show and they contrast against each other highly.
One is small and empty, with only a couple of items of furniture in. The reason? Anything more would take the attention that the simplicity of the room itself deserves.
Yet again, the whitewashed walls surprisingly draw the eye because of how empty they are. Where as so many white walled rooms and buildings can feel like hospitals or art galleries, this room feels serene and almost church-like.
The other room on the same floor is completely the opposite.
Filled with sunlight that filters through the several small windows that feature on every wall, this larger second room feels more like the skeleton of a building. In fact, it’s exactly that.
According to our guide the general belief is that this larger open space room is in fact uncompleted, though quite possibly on purpose. There’s evidence in one corner of the room of experimentation with a couple of different plasters and paints which would typically be part of the process prior to finally pasting over the brickwork that we see today, but whilst some have suggested that it was due to a lack of funds that the room was never finished, a larger group of people have determined that it was a stylistic choice to leave the braces and brickwork bare.
Franca couldn’t be any happier that they did so.
I can completely understand her thoughts, that you’re not just seeing the skeleton of a masterpiece, you’re also seeing into the logic and thought processes of a genius. You’re seeing his methods so unlike any way you may see at most of his other UNESCO list-worthy buildings.
The shadows cast by the sunlight streaming in highlights the incredible brickwork and complexity of the building in such a contrasting way to the smaller, yet just as interesting, white walled room opposite.
The Roof and "Jousting" Tower
As a first timer to the world of Gaudi, I wasn’t fully aware of any of his religious symboligy, or his obsession with the mythology of Saint George and the slaying of the dragon. I was completely unaware of just how integral his inclusion of his dedication to such stories plays in his work.
Once you know, it’s all you can see.
Up the stairs and on the rooftop our guide filled us all in on the details and asked us if there was anything about the shape and design of the rooftop that conjured up any imagery for us.
Can you guess which animal can be seen from looking towards the roof?
I saw an owl. Clearly I’m not so good as this imagery business as Señor Gaudi.
The purposefully angled rooftop and the large windows within it show the face of a dragon, and with that knowledge the rest of the exterior design of the house make so much more sense.
The rooftop is the head, and every angled rock that covers the entire of the building are the scales.
And the tower that tops it?
Saint George’s Joust. The same tool he used to defeat the dragon and forever seal his fate in history.
It all makes so much sense. There are no happy accidents with the design. Every inch of every painted or unpainted brick, stone, and tile has been thought about to the finest detail. It’s the work of a genius.
Gaudi’s university professor declared as he signed the paperwork of his graduation, "Who knows if we have given this diploma to a nut or to a genius. Time will tell.".
Clearly almost 100 years after the completion of the Torre Bellesguard there’s no doubting which of the two Catalan’s greatest architect was.
How To Get To Torre Bellesguard
There are two main transport options for getting to the Sarrià-Sant Gervasi of Barcelona where the Torre is.
From Placa de Catalunya take the Bus 58 towards Avenida Tibidabo. Disembark at stop Placa Bonanova. Take the road Carrer de Sant Joan de la Salle and continue on when the road changes to Carrer de Bellesguard. It should take less than 12 minutes to walk there from the stop.
Take either the Barcelona Bus Turistic on the Blue Route or the Barcelona City Tour along their East Route. Disembark from either bus at Avenida Tibidabo and head north west along Passeig de Sant Gervasi until you reach Placa Bonanova. From there turn right onto and walk all the way along Carrer de Sant Joan de la Salle. The road will change name to Carrer de Bellesguard*. Keep walking until you reach Torre Bellesguard
- Take metro line L7 from the station, Placa de Catalunya. Depart at the sixth stop, Avenida Tibidabo. Look for the northeasterly road of Passeig de Sant Gervasi. Continue along it until you reach Placa Bonanova. Turn right onto Carrer de Sant Joan de la Salle and continue on until the road becomes, Carrer de Bellesguard. After a few minutes you should reach the entrance gate to the grounds of the Torre.
How To Get Tickets for Torre Bellesguard
Purchase of tickets for either of the two Torre Bellesguard guided tours are not required prior to arrival, though a quick email before hand to ask how busy the house might be on your expected visit day would be a wise decision.
There are three price tiers; Under 8 Years Old, Under 18’s & OAPs, and Adults. Larger groups have a discounted rate.
The following rates are correct as of 5th June 2015.
Self Guide Audio Tour
The audio tour is Free for Under 8’s, €7.20 for Under 18’s & OAPs, and €9 for adults.
Tour audio tour is available in English, Spanish, Catalan, Russian, German, Japanese, and French.
Full Guided Tour
the full guided tour is Free for Under 8’s, €12.80 for Under 18’s & OAPs, and €16 for adults.
The tour is available for English, Spanish, and Catalan speakers. Other languages are catered for, but only if requested at least a day in advance via their website.
For more details on opening times or to arrange a visit, navigate to the Official Torre Bellesguard website.
Should You Visit Torre Bellesguard?
With the house of Torre Bellesguard being my first interaction with the masterpieces of the Catalonian genius, it’s probably unsurprising that I can’t give you enough encouragement to see this hidden masterpiece.
Perhaps it’s because the tower has only in recent years been reopened to the public, or perhaps it’s because there are simply so many great examples of Gaudi’s work to be able to see them all; either way, it’s time this almost forgotten building found its way into more travel guides and "must see" lists (like Norbert of Globo Treks 10 Must See Gaudí Buildings in Barcelona).
Would you like to visit Torre Bellesguard?
If you’d like to spend longer in Barcelona explore our Slow Travel Guide to Barcelona to have a cheap “off the path” vacation.