Rethinking historical gardens | Cultural Heritage. Goverment of Catalonia.


Rethinking historical gardens

A garden worth visiting is one that had a story behind it before it was laid out: an ambitious project, deep gratitude, the expression of a myth, and so forth. So the question is: what are the stories waiting to be revealed by Catalonia's most iconic gardens?

Conservation: an essential task

As well as their layouts and the plants they contain, historical gardens have a historic or artistic aspect that awakens something important in us. We feel part of them, we enjoy strolling through them, aware of the fact that they are revealing some of their history to us. At present an inventory of such gardens is being drawn up so that they can be studied and, if necessary, protected.
We have chosen five particularly enchanting gardens of extraordinary and captivating beauty. Without doubt, they are gardens with history.
The Parc del Laberint d'Horta (Photos: Job Vermeulen)

The Artigas Gardens, un regal de Gaudí

In 1905 Eusebi Güell founded a cement manufacturing plant in the tiny municipality of La Pobla de Lillet, near the source of the river Llobregat. To keep the kilns going the workers had to extract coal from the mines in Catllaràs, and they were not exactly close to the village. In order to facilitate this task, Güell asked Gaudí to design houses for the workers and the engineers.

The commission meant that Gaudí lived in La Vall de Lillet for some time, and he was so pleased with the hospitality he received from the family he lodged with, Mr. and Mrs. Artigas, that when he had completed the commission for Eusebi Güell, he gave them a gift of the layout for gardens in front of the house and the textile mill. And that is how the magnificent Artigas Gardens came into being, perched on two cliffs astride the river Llobregat. The gardens represent a symbolic fusion of Modernista architecture with the countryside of Berguedà, a combination from which has sprung this unique and magical place, with its fountains, bridges, waterfalls, sculptures, lookout points and benches built using the natural resources of the area.
The Artigas Gardens (Photos: Job Vermeulen)

The Parc de la Ciutadella: the nerve centre of the 1888 Universal Exposition

This is Barcelona's most well-known park, possibly because it was the first to be specifically conceived as a public park. It was designed by Josep Fontserè in 1872 and by the end of the 19th century it was the largest green space in the city. Nevertheless, the master of works did not preside over the works to prepare the park for one of the most important events in the city's history, the Universal Exhibition of 1888.

The huge area of land required for this event—it lasted for eight months and attracted one-and-a-half million visitors—led to the improvement of the infrastructures in this area of the city. Various pavilions, for example, were built in the Parc de la Ciutadella but were demolished when the Exposition was over. That was the fate that befell the Palau de les Belles Arts and the Palau de la Indústria, but others were destroyed during the Spanish Civil War.

Unfortunately, many of the initiatives proposed for the Parc de la Ciutadella petered out once the Exposition had concluded, but in the following years new spaces were added, such as the zoo, opened in 1892, which can still be visited, and the Saturno Park, which did not last for more than a decade.
The Parc de la Ciutadella (Photos: Job Vermeulen)

The Parc del Laberint d’Horta: a myth revisited

Barcelona's oldest park has become one of the city's main tourist attractions because many visitors to the city enjoy the challenge posed by this labyrinth. Or will they will be trapped in it, as happened to Theseus in the Labyrinth of the Minotaur before Ariadne helped him find his way out by following the thread she had given him?

In 1791 the noted aristocrat, Joan Antoni Desvalls, acquired the land on which this park was built, and it belonged to the Desvalls family until the second half of the 20th century, at which point ownership passed to Barcelona City Council.

At the entrance to the labyrinth there is an inscription that alludes to the labyrinth in Crete. Those who are aware of the myth are thus reassured that finding their way out will not be as complicated as it was for those in the Greek myth, and that they will be free to explore all the intricate spaces, many of which allude to other of our civilisation's myths, such as the Italian garden, with figures that represent the rape of Europa, and the three terraces with representations of Danaë, Bacchus, Ariadne and other characters in Greek mythology.
The Parc del Labertint d'Horta (Photos: Job Vermeulen)

The Marimurtra Botanical Garden: a dream come true

The Marimurtra Botanical Garden was created in 1921 by the German businessman Carl Faust, and in terms of its landscape, it is one of the most notable gardens in Europe because, within its four hectares, there are more than four thousand plant species, many of them exotic ones.

Where did the idea come from to create this garden? Faust was keenly interested in the natural sciences and having decided he wanted to create a space where flora from around the world, from the East to the West, could live together, he set about establishing this garden upon his retirement at the age of fifty, in a place that was ideal for him: in Blanes, on a clifftop overlooking the Mediterranean.
The Marimurtra Botanical Garden (Photos: Job Vermeulen)

Samà Park: a taste of overseas exoticism

In 1881, at the height of the Romantic period, the same architect who had designed the Ciutadella park, Josep Fontserè i Mestres, designed another park in Cambrils for what would be the summer residence of one of the most prominent 19th-century families whose fortune was made in America. This was the fabulous Samà park, covering fourteen hectares in which to breath in the exoticism of the American colonies, it being important for the Samà family to blend their love of an overseas landscape with their liking for Catalan Modernisme.

Flora and fauna abound in this little corner of terrestrial paradise. There are more than eight hundred palm trees and there is a large lake surrounded by majestic oak and pine trees. There are turkeys, pheasants, eight species of Central American birds and a whole series of pathways and grottos built as if they were part of the natural landscape. It is no coincidence if visitors feel they are looking at works by Gaudí because he too worked on the project with the same materials that, shortly afterwards, would become his favourites: iron, ceramic, wood and glass.
Over the years this historic garden has witnessed important events. It was here that King Alfonso XIII and Queen Victoria Eugenia stayed during their visit. In 1936 the property was confiscated by the Cambrils Anti-Fascist Committee and was used exclusively for military purposes. Two years later it hosted the well-known Quinta del Biberón ('Baby Bottle Conscription' of 14 to 17 year olds) and thousands of young people, most of them underage, received three day's training here before being sent off to the front.
Samà Park (Photos: Job Vermeulen)

Mankind and green spaces: an ancestral love

It is not surprising that gardens form part of the earliest of humanity's narratives. The first ones we know of are the hanging gardens of Babylon, one of the seven marvels of the ancient world, even though it is not known if they really existed or whether they are a figment of poetic license.

Historic gardens are jewels in the landscape, the qualities of which they accentuate, and they are living documents with a history behind them. We find them everywhere and in many different places throughout Catalonia, both public and private, such as monastery cloisters, convents, parks, cemeteries, summer houses and so forth. They are ideal places to relax, to disconnect from the world and to enjoy nature and so they are, in this sense, essential for providing an answer to the growing social awareness for the need for emotional wellbeing.
Trees (Photo: Valiphotos / Pexels)