Owner of Torre Bellesguard, Pol Gago Guilera, talks to us about his wonderful home
TS: Tell us about the history of the house?
PGG: This is a very important house in Barcelona’s history. It was designed and built by Gaudí in 1909 as a sort of a homage to the last of the Catalan Kings, Martin the Humane, and was inspired by one of his castles. It was commissioned by a personal friend, Jaume Figueres, who wanted it as a second home – in those days Sarrià was simply a village an accessible distance from the ‘big’ city – so it was his idea of having a summerhouse in the mountains. Gaudí was given free rein to do whatever he wanted with it, which ultimately proved to be disastrous for the family.
Figueres died before the house was finished and his widow hated the place. Gaudi’s obsessive attention to detail, such as spending months placing trencadís (his distinctive mosaic work) just so, meant that delays in actually living there were endless and in fact she never did live there. Gaudí bankrupted the family in the process of building the place and they needed to sell it before it was complete.
It changed hands several times over the years, until my great grandfather bought it 1944. He was a specialist in oncology and studied in Germany where he learned of a new technique for treating cancer with radium needles. When he returned to Barcelona and his work started saving lives he became a much renowned and respected figure. Originally he bought the house with the idea of turning it into an Art Nouveaux hospital like that at Sant Pau, but later decided it simply wasn’t practical because of all the stairs. The hospital eventually moved to the Clínica La Delfos (the Institute Guillera) and the house became the family home. We’ve lived here ever since.
TS: Why you decide to open to the public eventually?
PGG: In 2009 the cross that sits on top of Bellesguard was very badly damaged. We had to take it down and repair it, and the work involved hammered home the fact that here we were, living in this incredibly precious jewel, that needed serious financing. We knew we never wanted to sell it, but that we needed to be very conscious of what we had, to find a way to preserve it, and to share it with the world. We came up with the idea of opening it to the public, but wanted to do it in the right way, so we spent two years refining a really solid plan around it. We opened in September 2013.
TS: Do you offer guided tours?
PGG: Yes. We are still figuring out the exact model we want to follow, the magic formula if you like, that brings it all to life. Right now we offer guided tours from 10am-7pm (summer), 10am-3pm (winter), which last about an hour. But if you only have 20 minutes, there is also an audio guide, so you can get around more quickly.
TS: What other initiatives are you offering?
PGG: We’ve started renting the house for private events. Louis Vuitton presented the animal creations that Billie Achilleos designed for them. But we’re most excited about our Gaudí Nights (Nits Gaudí). It’s a huge project of 47, outdoor, live-music evenings through the summer. Wednesday is blues, Thursday is Jazz, Friday is Spanish guitar and Sunday is classical music. The sessions start at 7.30pm and include a small guided tour, a glass of cava and then the concert. We are also collaborating with an iconic local restaurant, La Balsa, for food. We do have some ideas for the winter season too, but you’ll have to wait for more information on that.
TS: What does it cost?
PGG: It was very important to us that we offered something that is accessible to everybody. Guided tours cost €16 (€12.80 for under 18s and pensioners, free for children under 8), and concerts are €19 entry (€16.20 for under 18s and pensioners, free for children under 8).
TS: Does it not feel like an invasion to open your private home in this way?
PGG: At first it does feel a little strange to see all these people filing into your home and you think “oh my God, what have you done.” But it’s a question of changing the chip. We all realize how incredibly lucky we are that we get to live here and that, in fact, there are a lot of people out there who want to share in this treasure. We think this is fair, it’s a matter of cultural and sociological heritage, and it’s the right thing to do.
TS: And how do people react when they see it?
PGG: People have been amazed by the Torre Bellesguard. They come out saying how much they loved the experience. It is very different to the other Gaudí sights. It is exclusive. You don’t stand in a queue for hours – we admit people in groups of 15 max – so it feels incredibly private, intimate and special. I don’t know if I should use the word magical, but that’s how it feels to me.