Wedged between a farmacia and a school, Casa Vicens is an outlandish gingerbread house monster of a building on an otherwise nondescript little street in the Barcelona neighborhood of Gràcia. To be fair, only fields surrounded the house when it was completed in 1888 as the summer home of the Catalan stock broker/financier, Manuel Vicens i Montaner. Plus, it was Antoni Gaudí’s first house and we have to excuse youthful enthusiasm of the grandmaster of the Catalan architecture Renaissance’s.
While it contains none of the melting facades and tree trunk pillars associated with Gaudí’s later work, there’s still plenty there to hint at what was to come as the Catalan modernist movement exploded onto the architecture scene. In 2005, Casa Vicens was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The house was renovated and fifteen rooms reopened to the public in 2017. Visitors can easily see the influence of Far East, neoclassical, and Moorish architecture on Gaudí’s unique style, along with his tendency to bring incorporate natural elements in his works.
Iron palm fronds decorate the fence around the building and ceramic ivy leaves climb up the walls. Mudejar inspired windows and eastern influences were on trend in 18th century Barcelona and Casa Vicens drew the attention of Catalan elites (aka potential future patrons). Instead of plain building corners, castle-style towers stand at guard. An iron spider web, sans Charlotte, hangs above the garden fountain. The spider web later turns out to be part of a large porch, accessible from the inside.
Heading in the front door, it’s evident that Gaudí brought the outdoors inside as well. The ceramic tiles that dominate the exterior, find their way inside as well, making one wonder if Gaudí was in cahoots with the grout industry. The house has four levels and from the entryway and salon to the Turkish-inspired smoking room and bedrooms, ceramic tiles and sgraffiti cover the walls. The hypnotic blue floral tiles in the bathroom were surely put there as something for users to contemplate in the days before we could carry the Internet in with us. The for-gents-only (not any more, it’s not!) smoking room has smoky green tiles rising up to meet a cavern-like ceiling. Indeed, the ceilings in Casa Vicens are as decorated as any other space; maybe they spent a lot of time looking up in those days.
In 1899, Casa Vicens changed hands and the new owner, Dr. Antonio Jover, moved his family into the home on a permanent basis. He commissioned significant expansion (although not a second bathroom, go figure) to accommodate the family and the changing street, which had also expanded. Gaudí himself was way too busy with the Sagrada Familia construction (allegedly to be completed in 2026!) and only reviewed the plans proposed by the new architect, Juan Sierra de Martínez, who stayed true to Gaudí’s style.
As with any other Gaudí building, there’s far too much to describe given that every wall, floor, ceiling, and corner is tiled, statue-d, decorated, or otherwise shouting for attention. After all of that visual stimulation, you’ll definitely want to tomar algo. Head over to the Hofmann (yes that Hofmann) café in the courtyard for a miniature version of one of their signature croissants and a glass of cava (or coffee if you must). For a limited time, the ticket price includes the snack. If the snack isn’t enough, get the full-size version at L’Atelier.
Good to Know
- Casa Vicens Hours: The house is open for limited hours on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, plus other days as specified.
- Tickets for Casa Vicens must be purchased in advance online. The ticket office is closed.
- Casa Vicens is the first museum in Barcelona certified for COVID-19 safety.
- Getting to Casa Vicens: The house is easily accessible via public bus routes and within walking distance from the Metro Lesseps and FGC Gracia stations.
- Take headphones with you so that you can download and listen to the audio tour.
- Free WiFi is available.
- Guided tours of Casa Vicens are not available at the present time.