Gaudí's Sunflower Villa in Cantabria Spain
Updated: Jan 17, 2020
"There are no straight lines or sharp corners in nature. Therefore, buildings must have no straight lines or sharp corners. -- Antoni Gaudí
Antoni Gaudi's El Capricho is a must see site in northern Spain, especially if you're a lover of dramatic architecture. The villa is tucked away in the unassuming town of Comillas. It's a rare Gaudi work outside his more famous Modernist buildings in Barcelona. And it's adorned with sunflowers.
I've always adored sunflowers. My daughters do too. Sunflowers are a metaphor for happiness. The sunflower basks in the sunshine and grows towards the light, glimmering and twinkling. You can't help but smile amidst their warm glow.
Artists and architects throughout history have loved the sunflower’s unique splendor. Impressionist artists like Van Gogh were especially fixated on the flower. Architects like the sunflower's petal design and incorporate it into light filmed homes.
If you love sunflowers and are perambulating through northern Spain, be sure to stop in Comillas and see Antoni Gaudí's famous villa, El Capricho de Gaudí. It's largely devoid of tourists hordes. It's one of the best things to do in northern Spain.
Comillas is a small coastal village in the Cantabrian region of northern Spain, between Basque and Asturias regions. Cantabria is a gorgeous verdant place with jaw dropping landscapes and beautiful cove-like beaches. And cows.
Antoni Gaudí: Spain's Most Famous Architect
Gaudí was born in 1851 to humble origins. He showed an early predilection for architecture and attended the Provincial School of Architecture in Barcelona. His eccentric talents were immediately apparent.
His creations were a precursor to a life-long belief that nature was the best inspiration. Over Gaudí's 50 years of independent practice, he concocted and realized some of the most imaginative architectural forms in history.
Despite poor grades, Gaudí eventually graduated from architectural school. The dean of the school remarked, “I am not sure to whom I presented a diploma today, to a madman or to a genius.”
Guide to Gaudi's El Capricho Villa in Comillas
To me, El Capricho is all genius.
The small villa is unique and stunning by any sensory metric. What really sets it apart and captures your heart is the fact that it's bursting with color. It may be more geometric than Gaudí's flowing Barcelona creations. But it is still quintessentially Gaudí.
El Capricho was a youthful project for Gaudí. In 1883, Máximo Díaz de Quijano commissioned Gaudí to build him a summer villa. Quijano, an amateur musician and botanist, chose the lilting name El Capricho, which means whim or folly in Spanish. Maximo was a young lawyer who dealt with the legal matters of the Marquis of Comillas.
Gaudí designed the villa. But he had also begun work on his opus, the Sagrada Familia. So his fellow architect Cristóbal Cascante supervised the villa's construction. The villa became a museum in 2010. When you enter, you can sit down and watch an orientation video with English subtitles.
What To See Inside Gaudi's El Capricho
Quijano wanted an exotic, sunny holiday home to counteract the sometimes gloomy weather in Cantabria. He wanted a house that took advantage of daylight, a symbolic architectural sunflower. In the villa, every detail is carefully planned to reflect his specific interests. And motifs inspired by nature take center stage.
You enter through a portico with four impressive columns that leads to the main entrance hall. The main room is the lounge or parlor, which reaches to the ceiling. There are four large sash windows that let in plenty of sunlight. The sash windows, like the villa's owner, are musical. When the windows open or close, music is produced by tubular bells.
There are allusions to nature are everywhere. There are whimsical tiles and stained glass windows of birds and bees, even one of a bird playing a piano.
There's an open floor plan. To the east is the master bedroom and outdoor balcony. It has a striking Mudejar ceiling made of iron and tropical wood. To the south, there is an elongated conservatory where Don Maximo could entertain guests.
On the north side, Gaudí placed a high ceilinged salon for socializing and music. Unfortunately, there's virtually no original furniture, but you see all the fixtures and fittings.
Upstairs, the straight lines and curvy furniture are agreeable complementary. I loved the contrast between the deep reddish brown of the wood and the bright white of the walls.
Exterior of El Capricho
The exterior has roots in Spain's Mudejar heritage, which depicts Christian themes using Moorish architectural elements. This is particularly true of the minaret-like tower with its wrought iron canopy. If you squint, you can see wrought iron treble clef details at the top of the canopy.
The facade is a complicated affair, mixing stone, brick, and glazed ceramics in intriguing fashion. There are five layers of sandstone colored brick interlaid with bands of alternating sunflowers and green leaves that enwrap the villa.
There are beautiful wrought iron balconies and window seats. It was unclear why the seats faced inward rather than outward, possibly so you saw the ornate walls of the home. Or as incentive for socializing, rather than introspection.
Outside, there's a lovely garden, one of the few of Gaudí's landscaping projects that have been preserved. Its features are a retaining wall reminiscent of Park Guell in Barcelona, and a stone staircase in the shape of a horseshoe, and an artificial cave grotto.
There's also a statute of Gaudí, who looks pleased with his creation. I couldn't resist the photo op. The sculpture is by Marcos Herreros, completed in 1888. It's one of the first sculptures of Gaudí to be commissioned.
If you're in northern Spain and are a Gaudí lover, you should make the pilgrimage to Comillas. You can't help but be happy in this fairytale villa full of sunflowers.
And the beach isn't bad either.