Gaudí's First House, the Regal Casa Vicens in Barcelona
Updated: Jan 3
The vivacious Casa Vicens has splashed onto the Gaudi tourist circuit in Barcelona. In November 2017, the UNESCO-listed Casa Vicens opened its flamboyant doors to the public after 130 years of private ownership and a massive renovation. It's an intense burst of exotic color.
Casa Vicens is a must see sight in Barcelona for those who love architecture and all things Antoni Gaudí. Even if you don't love architecture, you'll be hypnotized by the showy building. It's likely like nothing you've ever seen before. And it's one of Barcelona's gloriously off the radar hidden gems because it's so new.
Let's explore the history, architecture, and interiors of the regal Casa Vicens.
History of Casa Vicens
Casa Vicens is located in the sleepy village of Gràcia. Gaudí was commissioned by the wealthy industrialist Manuel Vicens i Montaner in 1877. It was intended to be a summer house, an escape from the city. Now, of course, it's an arty bohemian district within the city.
Vicens was a tile manufacturer. Gaudí used tiles from his company in the house's design. The project almost bankrupted Vicens. But, lucky for him, Gaudí's design sparked a tile craze and drove work to Vicens, saving his business.
Gaudí began work on Casa Vicens when he was only 31. It was his first residential commission and revealed his budding genius. Some say Casa Vicens was the "house where it all began," launching the Modernist Movement in Barcelona.
A Heady Fusion of Mudéjar and Nature
Gaudí had carte blanche to create a distinctive house. He designed it in the Neo-Moorish or Mudéjar style with some Art Nouveau flourishes.
The finest examples of Mudéjar style are in southern Spain, at Seville's Royal Alcazar and Granada's Alhambra. Like those UNESCO sites, Casa Vicens was “meant to evoke a caliph’s pavilion set in an oasis.”
Mudéjar is an architectural style built under Christian rule that commingles both Moorish and Spanish Christian elements. It's characterized by horseshoe arches, red brick ornamentation, crenelated arches, delicate plaster latticework, and bright geometric tiled designs.
But Gaudí also wanted to bring nature into Casa Vicens. Gaudí had a lifelong obsession with nature -- everything flowed from "the great book of nature." It was his chief architectural inspiration. In Casa Vicens, this passion was reflected in his fanciful ornamentation. Casa Vicens is embellished with symbols of flora and fauna.
In 1925, Gaudí was asked to build an addition to the home by Casa Vicens' new owner. Hard at work on the Sagrada Familia, sleeping in his onsite workshop, Gaudí declined. He recommended his colleague Joan Baptista Serra de Martínez, who extended the home in perfect harmony with Gaudí’s original work.
Casa Vicens was a private residence until 2014. It was purchased for an unspecified amount (the asking price was 35 million euros) by the Andorran financial institution MoraBanc.
Based on archival research, Casa Vicens was fully restored and refurbished for over two years to return it to its original state. To make it accessible to visitors, however, a modern staircase was installed and an elevator added.
In November 2017, Casa Vicens opened for public tours. It's one of seven properties built by Gaudí in or around Barcelona that were collectively designated a Unesco World Heritage site in 2005.
Casa Vicens, the House Tour:
Now that you've had a dose of history, let's take a closer look at this spectacular Mediterranean themed gem.
The Exterior of Casa Vicens
Gaudí used brick, stone, tile, and iron to build Casa Vicens. Traditional materials, but put together in a spectacular decorative way.
The house's lower walls are covered in unfinished golden-hued stone. The upper levels are covered with bright red brick. Most of the facade is covered in multi-colored floral tiles. When Gaudí visited the site, he was inspired by "little yellow flowers" (marigolds) and "luxuriant fan palms" in the landscape.
The red brick enhances the colorful green and white tiles, which were intended to represent ivy or lush vegetation growing on the walls. The cornices are crowned by brightly tiled cupolas modeled on the minarets of Islamic mosques.
The windows are adorned with elaborate ironwork. The spiky iron gate sports palm leaves, mimicking the trees in the garden. Gaudi thought the natural elements created "a gradual transition between the interior of the house and the natural world outside."
Casa Vicens' courtyard leads to a lovely garden. There's a small fountain, wrapped in marigold tiles. It's landscaped with palm trees, philodendrons, and other potted plants.
The Bold Interior of Casa Vicens
Inside, Casa Vicens is a richly detailed riot of color. The walls are covered with plant, bird, and seashell motifs. The ceilings and walls are remarkable, decorated with paper mâché plant motifs between the beams. Each room is different, but repeats the flora and fauna theme. The floors throughout the house are terrazzo.
The main floor consists of the dining room, smoking room, and covered porch. The bedrooms are on the first floor, full of exuberant leafy decor. The second floor has a display on Casa Vicens' history.
There are no hallways. The rooms are all connected to maximize the natural light.
The terrace off the main bedroom is lovely. It's decorated with sunflower tiles and has wrought iron benches. It reminded me of Gaudí's work on El Capricho in Comillas Spain, which I think of as his sunflower villa.
The most challenging room to restore was the domed "smoking room." The blue ceiling had been painted gold, in a crime against architecture. Now it's been restored and is a true oriental oasis, wrapped with blue and gold wainscoting tiles. The gold Moorish lamps on the ceiling, installed by the former owner, are a beautiful contrast to the dark blue tiles.
Even the bathrooms are bold. You won't find your typical, white bathrooms here. Casa Vicens' bathrooms are done in vivid blue, yellow, red, and white tiles -- some checkered and some floral.
The second floor is now an exhibition space. During the renovation, the inner walls and dropped ceilings from prior successive renovations, were removed. Now, as Gaudí intended, it's an open space with exposed wood beams and large windows on all three sides.
The basement houses a bookshop,
Gaudí loved putting experimental designs on rooftops. Casa Vicens was his first accessible rooftop. The main tower foreshadows the spectacular designs that would later appear on Gaudí's Casa Batlló and La Pedrera.
Casa Vicens is fast becoming a Gaudí hotspot, especially for those on his UNESCO route. It won't be a hidden gem in Barcelona for long. But, for now, you can escape the long lines at Gaudí's Casa Batlló and come here instead.
Practical Information for Visiting Casa Vicens:
Address: Carrer de les Carolines, 18-24, 08012 Barcelona
Entry Fee: 16 €, discounts available. Entry is free with the Barcelona Pass. There is a discount with the Barcelona Card.
Public Transport Options:
Metro: Fontana (L3) – 250 m, Lesseps (L3) – 280 m
FGC: Gràcia (L6, L7, S5, S55, S1, S2) – 500 m
FGC: Pl. Molina (L7) – 500 m
FGC: Sant Gervasi (S5, S55, L6) – 450 m
Bus: lines 22, 27, 32, 87, 114, N4, V17
Barcelona Bus Turistic: Blue line
Barcelona City Tour: East Route