The Gargoyles of Barcelona

Gargoyles – A Rich Architectural Touch

A gargoyle in the old quarter of Barcelona
A gargoyle in the old quarter of Barcelona

“Crouching in position posing in perfect posture. On the rooftop of a gothic cathedral sits a monster.” ― Justin Bienvenue, The Macabre Masterpiece: Poems of Horror and Gore

Barcelona is an interesting mix of old and new. It’s a fascinating city with a long history, including witch trials that began in the late 1400s and continued into the 1700s. One of the oldest districts is El Born, just to the east of the Barcelona Cathedral. Once the site of witch trials and burnings, today it is one of the most interesting and trendy areas of Barcelona.

Carla standing in a doorway along the Carrer De La Pietat (Piety Street) behind the Barcelona Cathedral
Carla standing in a doorway along the Carrer De La Pietat (Piety Street) behind the Barcelona Cathedral

We walked through parts of the El Born on our way to the Cathedral on a recent visit to Barcelona. We were fascinated by the medieval architecture we found along the way, and the roof and wall decorations that we call gargoyles. That term isn’t quite right.

When we think of gargoyles, the photos on this page come to mind – and that they are mainly found in Europe where they decorate the oldest and often, the newest buildings. It turns out, Gargoyles were almost always designed as waterspouts to keep rainwater from running down the masonry and eroding the mortar. Others were designed simply as grotesque statues, which is why those are called grotesques as opposed to gargoyles. So gargoyles are waterspouts, while grotesques are merely decorative statues. Gargoyles and grotesques in Europe date to between the 13th and 15th centuries, but elsewhere, the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Etruscans and Romans all used them.

Gargoyles and grotesques may also have been designed to reflect religious themes, but that wasn’t universal, with some clergy denouncing their “evil” look.





Gargoyle on a wall of the Barcelona Cathedral
Gargoyle on a wall of the Barcelona Cathedral

The Barcelona Cathedral is a must see. It is one of the most impressive gothic structures dating back to the 11th century. Along the way, keep an eye out for the well-known gargoyles and grotesques decorating the rooftops and walls.

Next time in you’re in a medieval city, spend time looking up. You might be surprised at what you see.

Did you know?

Gargoyles are not limited to Europe. They can be found on relatively modern buildings in Canada, the U.S. and other countries. The Washington National Cathedral, for example, is known for its impressive collection of 112 gargoyles and grotesques dating back to 1908. Relatively new additions include Darth Vader and other well-known characters. The Cathedral hosts regular gargoyle tours.

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