Saturday, May 30, 2020

Jardines de Laribal, Parque Montjuïc, Barcelona

A stepped rill drops in a series of cascades in the Generelife section of the garden.
Barcelona is one of the greatest cities of Europe.  Best known for its Modernismo style architecture, crowned by the soaring Cathedral of La Sagrada Familia, the city is also home to some beautiful parks.  The architect Antoni Gaudi garners the most attention for his elaborately rendered buildings that blend design with nature in revolutionary ways.

The extraordinary facade of Casa Battlo, designed by Antoni Gaudi and built between 1904 to 1906
The largest public open space in the city is the Parque de Montjuïc, built on the broad flat topped hill of the same name that looks out over the city and harbor. The name is derived from a Catalan/Latin blend meaning Hill of the Jews because of an old Jewish cemetery found there, but the land has been occupied since before the arrival of the Romans.  Quarries on the mountain were the source for much of the stone used to build the city until the middle of the 20th Century.  The recreation of a Greek Theater was carved from one of the quarries.  The hill was substancially altered when it became the site of the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition, and many of the grand constructions from this event continue to grace the park today.  Most prominent is the Palau Nacional, a Spanish Renaissance Neo Baroque style building that now houses the National Art Museum of Catalonia.  It is reached by a monumental staircase and the Font Mágica de Montjuïc, an over the top illuminated water spectacle at the foot of the Palace punctuated by four towering Ionic columns reconstructed in 2010.

A grand axis built for the 1929 Barcelona World Expostion leads to the Palau Nacional
More discrete and intimate are the adjacent Jardines de Laribal.

The Palau Nacional from Jardin de Laribal
Located on the lower slopes of the hill between the Palau Nacional, and the Fondacion Míro, the garden has a number of terraces connected by handsome staircases and paths shaded by brick or stucco columned pergolas draped in vines.  The Laribal Gardens were inspired in part by the fabled Moorish gardens of the Alhambra in Granada, with rills, pools fountains in many courtyard settings.

The former estate of prominent lawyer Josep Laribal, the five hectares (12 acres) of land was acquired by the city in 1908 after Laribal's death.  The redesigned landscape was the ambitious vision of the French landscape architect and engineer Jean-Claude Nicolas Forestier, working with a Catalonian assistant who completed the project in 1922.  Forestier had a prolific career, designing and overseeing the development of stately urban planning and park projects in many parts of the world, including the Champs de Mars surrounding the Eiffel Tower in Paris.  He was designing Parque de Maria Luisa for the Ibero-American Exposition in Sevilla, which also occurred in 1929 at the same time as the Laribal project.  Both are two of the most beautiful public gardens in Spain.

A fountain with playful boys a little too mature to qualify as cherubs punctuates an axial stair to a temple folly at the edge of the garden

The terracing on the slopes of Monjuïc make for wonderful spaces, and the traditional rills and water stairs often have the feel of a combination of Moorish and Italian Mannerist gardens from the late Renaissance.  There are many fountain basins with fine sculpture to encounter in open courtyard spaces.

Estival, by Jaume Otero
A potted Clivia minata plant set on a simple fountain in a hexagonal basin
The vine draped pergolas connecting these courtyard spaces provide shade on hot days and frame views looking out over the slopes.  The wooden structures are supported by finely rendered brick columns and balustrades.

The Ceramic Fountain

The stone pedestal in the Ceramic Fountain
One of the most dramatic features in the gardens are long water stairs, where a straight channel of water drops in a long series of steps and pools and fountains down the steep slope, connecting a number of terraced paths.

The gardens are very architectural and connected in a series of linear courts with fountain basins in a variety of designs, creating a succession of experiences.

Strolling along the shady paths through the forested hillsides leads to a number of discoveries that are beautifully connected by staircases connecting patios and fountain courts.

Gateway to the Font del Gat, or Cat Fountain

Tile medallion over the gate to the Font del Gat
The Font del Gat was built in 1918 and features a water spout with the head of what looks like a cat set in a rustic grotto in a terrace.  It became a destination for hikers when Montjuïc was a more forested and wild place.

The Font del Gat

The Font del Gat, or Cat Fountain
The building and courtyard constructed in 1925 next to the old fountain houses a popular cafe with delicious food.  The courtyard surrounded by butter yellow walls with half point arches ornamented with urns in the Noucentista style.  This was a neoclassical movement that was a turning point away from the Art Nouveau Modernismo style that Barcelona is famed for.

Gate to the Edifiio de Noucentista and the Cafe de Font del Gat

An iron cat corners a mouse on a bracket on the Edificio Noucentista
Surface treatments use a variety of materials, stucco, rustic and carved stone, and thin red.  Terracotta balustrades form railings on the terraces, and there are many shady benches for resting and socializing.

Looking down a water stair

Stones with repetetive shapes face an interesting wall where a water stair spills in to a pool.
Wisteria drapes a long stucco pergola with small tiled benches set with potted plants.
At the top of the gardens lies the Fundació Joan Miró, which showcases an impressive collection of art by the famed Catalan artist.  There are a number of sculptures in the gardens and on the roof terraces around the building, and fine views out over the city.  I love Miró's work and built a series of mosaics based on his constellation paintings in a garden for clients in Portland who once lived in Barcelona.  You can read about those here:

At the top of Laribal is the Fundació Joan Miró
A bronze sculpture by Joan Miró
From the top you can decend back down the hill via the Escaleras del Generalife, a steep set of stairs that connect the terraces.  Water puctuates the stair, cooling the spaces and providing the music of splashing cascades and fountains.  Water is the key binding element in Andalucian gardens that has been used to great effect here.  I've also written extensive essays about the Alhambra and Generalife you can see here:

A series of fountains puntuate landings on a steep staircase decending the hill.  

An interesting fountain spout with a serpent like water channel spills water in to a stepped cascade.

The Generalife in Granada, Spain, which this staircase is named for is the famed water garden adjacent to the Alhambra.  One of the delightful features borrowed from the Generalife is the water channel that runs down the railings on either side of the staircase.  You can dip your hands in the cooling water as you climb or decend, a detail as special as any ever incorporated in to a garden..

Escaleras del Generalife

The sculpted water rill in the balustrade makes a rippling sound and makes the water sparkle in the light as it spills over the tiny stepped carvings.

A finely crafted iron railing at the edge of a terrace where water spills from a rill at the base of the Escalera del Generalife.
At one side of the Jardines de Laribal is a Greek Theater that was cut in to an old stone quarry.  It was built for the 1929 International Exposition and is used for live theater and music performances.

Simple jets of water arch from the ends of a linear fountain set in a red clay tiled terrace.
Water rills are narrow channels that connect pools are derived from traditional irrigation channels used to provide water to trees in orchards.  Their translation in to formal water gardens is a magical binding architectural element.

Add caption

Looking down over the Museum of Archeology of Catalonia

Beautifully rendered fountains and water rills are found all over the gardens.

A wonderful Satyr mask with rams horns

Satyrs were the attendants of Dionysus, the God of wine.  They were wild forest creatures, very sexual beings and fine musicians, with the body of a horse, donkey, or goat.

Steps leading up and over the terrace above the Font del Gat
Everything in this garden is worth seeing twice!

Tile work around the courtyard of the Font del Gat

Balustrades of the terraces over the Font del Gat
Masterfully designed staircases make climbing and decending the steep hillsides a pleasure

Always plenty of shady cool places to sit.
Fountains everywhere
Beautiful urns on the roof of the roof of the Edificio de Noucentista
Cypress trees bent and clipped to form a canopy over a fountain
Water is used in a number of ingenious ways in the Laribal Gardens
Making my way back down through the same spaces as going up, but in the opposite direction is just as entertaining as the discoveries made on the way up.  I love how this garden has an integrated overall concept and formality while each space has its own character and detail to give it interest and identity.  Such a pleasurable adventure to stroll through.

A simple, formal rose garden

A blue tiled square lily pool

Potted Calla Lilies on red tiled steps curving around the edge of a half circle pool
I build simple wall fountains in many of my projects to capture the essence and sound that you find in  gardens like these.  Nothing over the top, fairly easy to construct and maintain, and pure magic to behold.

What a pleasure to spend the day in such beautiful surroundings!

Everywhere there are benches built in to retaining walls
The gardens were nearly deserted on the December days that I visited.  It was like inhabiting a magnificent secret Eden at the edge of a great city.  Stepping back out in to the over the top World Exposition landscapes made me want to turn around and go back in to the intimate embrace of these shady pathways.

The scale of everything outside Laribal is so much greater and designed for large numbers of people, although these spaces are also pretty quiet in winter.  I love traveling in southern Europe between December and April.  The weather is relatively mild and there are few crowds.

A water terrace below the Palau Nacional

Over the top fountains of the World Exposition contrast the intimate landscapes of the Jardin de Laribal
 I am lucky to be able to spend weeks in magical cities like Barcelona, so that I have the luxury of being more than just a tourist.  There are so many places worth taking the time to explore in detail, and more than once.  Gaudi's landscapes in Parque Guëll get a lot more attention than the Jardin de Laribal, but then its possible to have the place to yourself, and that is a gift in a garden this beautiful.

A lovely sunset paints the sky as I exit Parque Montjuïc, ending a perfect day.
Thanks for reading, Jeffrey