Gaudí's brief for the design of what became Park Güell was to emulate the English garden cities so admired by his patron Eusebi Güell: to lay out a self-contained suburb for the wealthy, but also to design the public areas. (This English influence explains the anglicised spelling of 'Park'.) The original plan called for the plots to be sold and the properties designed by other architects. However, the idea never took off – perhaps because it was too far from the city, perhaps because it was too radical – and the Güell family gave the park to the city in 1922.
The fantastical exuberance of Gaudí's imagination remains breathtaking. Visitors were once welcomed by two life-size mechanical gazelles, a typically bizarre religious reference by Gaudí to medieval Hebrew love poetry, although these were unfortunately destroyed in the Civil War. The two gatehouses that remain were based on designs the architect made for the opera 'Hänsel and Gretel', one of them featuring a red and white mushroom for a roof.
From here, walk up a splendid staircase flanked by multi-coloured battlements, past the iconic mosaic dragon sculpture, to what would have been the main marketplace. Here, 86 palm-shaped pillars hold up a roof, reminiscent of the hypostyle hall at Luxor. On top of this structure is the esplanade, a circular concourse surrounded by undulating benches in the form of a sea-serpent decorated with shattered tiles – a technique called 'trencadís', which was actually perfected by Gaudí's overshadowed but talented assistant Josep Maria Jujol.
The park itself, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is magical, with twisted stone columns supporting curving colonnades or merging with the natural structure of the hillside. Its peak is marked by a large cross, and offers an amazing panorama of Barcelona and the sea beyond.