Photo by Nancy Todd
Lluis Domenech i Montaner's Casa Navas
The big present for Antoni Gaudí’s 155th birthday celebration, on June 28th, 2007, was the opening of the Gaudí Centre Reus. Considering that the town was his birthplace and a source of inspiration for many of his architectural wonders, it’s a surprise to discover that there are no buildings in Reus designed by the master architect. However, the Gaudí Centre Reus’s three floors compensate by offering an in-depth look at this creative genius. Located in the city’s historic heart, the lines of this interpretive centre are starkly modern in contrast to Gaudí’s organic designs.
“The tree is my teacher,” Gaudí said, and columns mirror trees in many of his buildings. Heavily influenced by nature, at the Gaudí Centre samples of objects from nature are aligned with similar models or pictures from his buildings. Elsewhere, a snail and nautilus shell reflects the spiral staircase at the Sagrada Familia. Photos of Gaudí’s design team, most of whom travelled with him to his projects, are shown with detailed architectural drawings; there is a photo of Llorenç Matamali Pinol, his model-maker, who prepared the Plaça Reial street lamps in Barcelona. Original school records show Gaudí’s class lists and attendance records. He failed mathematics for the second time in 1864.
A surprise awaits on the top floor: the Gaudí Restaurant, a one-star Michelin spot, which allows visitors to conclude their tours with gourmet food. While prices average €60 per meal, with a Gaudí Centre admission ticket the bargain price is €20 for an outstanding lunch or dinner.
Away from the Gaudí Centre, saunter the Modernista walking trail to see 25 stunning buildings dotted around this tranquil town. The trail includes four fine examples of the work of Lluis Domènech i Montaner as well as other important Modernist architects. Domènech i Montaner was the architect of the Palau de la Música Catalana in Barcelona, and directed the Escola d’Arquitectura de Barcelona for 20 years. A 26th building of interest is the Institut Pere Mata, a mental institution, originally financed by wealthy Reus businessmen, and it is yet another dazzling Montaner work. Located four kilometres outside of town, it is well worth paying the taxi ride.
Imagine a wealthy businessman living in Reus in the late 1800s: work and life in general were tough. He was stressed out. What to do? Check into the opulent Institut Pere Mata, originally called The Madhouse of Reus. In the Wing of the Distinguished, a patient received psychiatric care, heard concerts in the salon, played billiards, tennis or futbol. Patients lived with art in the form of stained glass, mosaics, custom-designed furniture and hand-painted tiles, walls and ceilings. Extra time? There was a pool, bar and restaurant. For every three patients, a nurse was on hand in a room next door. A patient rapped on a screen to get her attention. Today, the screens have concave spots left by the pounding of hands. The dining room has a fruit theme of oranges: they are in the tile work, painted on walls and inlaid in the wooden furniture. Gracing 20 hectares with a view of the sea, each building in the Institut complex had a garden.
Originally designed for a thousand male patients, it now has 300 men and women as patients. The public is welcome to tour everything except those three buildings that currently house patients.
Casa Navas, another ornate Domènech i Montaner home, is still owned by the original family. Visitors must have an appointment and guide to tour Casa Navas, and often the guide will be a family member. “All the electrical work, decorative painting, furniture and kitchen, are original,” said Tourism Promotions Manager, Cristina Pedret Llaurado. “This home is a preservation, not a renovation.”
Reus, the capital of the Baix Camp comarca, is a casual and easy city to walk. For a quick snack, grab a pastry-to-go at Forn Sistare; four generations have been baking bread here since 1910, and their speciality is different types of dark breads. La Ferreteria is a unique restaurant that began as a hardware store in 1923. Small compartments, once used for hinges and hammers, are now filled with wine bottles. Eight black-and-white photos line the wall, showing the original store. This restaurant serves a local speciality, menjar blanc de Reus, a thick pudding, which has crushed almonds as its main ingredient.
Café de Reus was once a dressmaking shop, but today it’s a cosy restaurant serving hearty Catalan food, just off the main Plaça Mercadal. Close by, on Galanes Street, is Baro’s. This small, old shop is a perfect place to pick up locally-grown hazelnuts, almonds and a package with which to make the menjar blanc pudding.
Magnificent views of the Costa Daurada and rolling countryside can be seen from the octagonal bell-tower of the Priory Church of Sant Pere, a Gothic church from the 16th century, which is where Gaudí was baptised. This month, gegants will be marching by the church as part of the Festa Major de Sant Pere, held from June 23rd to 29th. They are unusual in that some are Japanese, Native Americans and Africans, made to reflect the international commerce of Reus during the 1700s and 1800s.
For a closer look at the amazing gegants, they rest during the year at the Salvador Vilaseca Archaeological Museum. This museum is dedicated to traditional elements of Reus like the Olive Oil Room, which displays old olive oil presses. Maria Fortuny, a famous Catalan painter who died aged 36 in 1874, is featured with paintings of sweeping landscapes and war scenes, while another room is dedicated to modern painting and sculpture with changing exhibits of contemporary art.
At various times of the year, Reus widens its cultural offerings: Memory Mash, an unusual film festival featuring black-and-white films, is held in November. These are contemporary films but made to look like movies from the Thirties and Forties, and are in several languages including English with Castilian subtitles. The Blues Festival, held during the second and third weekends of April in cafés around Reus, brings yet another artistic facet to this easygoing city.
What Antoni Gaudí would have thought of all this is impossible to say, but for the contemporary visitor it assures a pleasant and varied time in Reus