Park Güell, built between 1900 and 1914, is one of the most important touristic sites of Barcelona because of its architecture by Antoni Gaudí, creator of the city’s flamboyant Sagrada Familia church.
In 1984 UNESCO declared Park Güell a World Heritage site, which was no surprise as the style of the park is as crazy and imaginative as only the distinctive style of Gaudí can be.
It features bridges made of stone and big columns that look desertic and massive. There are many colourful areas covered in mosaics in Gaudí’s unique and recognizable style.
The park was meant to be an aristocratic city-garden but instead it was opened to the public.
Juan Hueso, who works in Park Güell for the council of Catalonia, explains the park’s history: “Count Güell contracted Antoni Gaudí to design a set of private houses in these 18 hectares.
“Only three houses were built, and the remaining lots remained unsold, as in that time this area was outside the city and you needed a lot of money and a car to live here. So Count Güell’s project failed. Güell decided to donate the rest of the park to the city and it is now a public space for the amusement of locals and tourists.”
In the three built houses of Park Güell lived Gaudí, Count Güell, and a third family. Gaudí’s house is now a museum, Count Güell’s house is a school, and the third house is privately owned and worth a small fortune.
A huge number of people of all ages and nationalities visit the park every day. To get to the park from the nearest metro station visitors have to climb a steep street, but there are electric escalators in the middle of the road (an unusual sight, in my humble opinion).
The park attracts not only visitors but also street vendors selling souvenirs. There are many buskers who use ingenious and colourful props, with a variety of music ranging from flamenco to ska, to gypsy, to African, you just name it.
“Street vendors are forbidden in the park, so the vendors are always watching for police. On the other hand the police do not say anything to the musicians because the tourists like them,” said Juan Hueso.
Most of the musicians are found in the lower part of the park where most of the visitors are. But walking to the less crowded upper areas you will find a busker with a very fine instrument playing relaxing melodies from idyllic times.
The musician is Maurizio Cazelli, 52, an Italian who has been playing in park Güell for seven years. His instrument, from ancient Persia, is called the Santur.
“I came to Barcelona to give a concert at a cultural institution and then I fell in love with this city and never left,” explained Cazelli in a distinctive mix of Spanish and Italian.
“The climate here in Barcelona is good all year round. I once lived in London for a year and let me tell you, in four months I did not see the sun once,” he added.
“Barcelona has good services, the city is clean and safe. It is not like that in all Spain; it is just in Barcelona that everything works perfectly.”
It is twenty past nine in the morning and at this time the passers-by are mainly locals exercising, walking their dogs, or council gardeners working. They all say hello; Cazelli seems to know everyone.
There is a reason why Cazelli sits where he does: “If I sit further down in the park I could earn more money because not everyone comes up here. But I like it here because it is quieter and the view is amazing, people can just sit and enjoy my music. I create a special environment with this location and my music for people to relax.
“If they want, they leave money; if they don’t want to, they don’t. They take pictures of me, make videos and I don’t care, I like it actually. This is a cultural exchange.”
Suddenly a bunch of vendors came running up the path, hiding behind hedges and communicating between themselves with hand-signals. A short time later they were followed by police, also running, hiding and talking on their walkie-talkies. The situation is rather comic and silly.
“The police come and patrol the area and the vendors run away. Ten minutes after the police are gone, the vendors come back. And it is like this all day, in a cat-and-mouse chase,” explained Cazelli.
“The musicians have a different treatment because music improves the park. The requirements are not to use amplifiers and to be really good with your music.” He adds, laughing, “but of course not everyone here is.”
“Park Güell without music would be dead, it would be just a park in a mountain.”
The police are tired of playing hide and seek with the vendors and there is a proposal to gate the park in order to control the entrance.