An amazing chance find on a recent visit to Northern Spain. Who knew that Antonio Gaudi’s first house was built in Comillas, a lovely seaside town, a place once favoured by the Spanish royal family? Most people of course know Gaudi’s Barcelona works, particularly the Sagrada Familia Basilica, which I shamefully admit I’ve yet to visit. But Gaudí was also commissioned to design some private houses. This one – El Capricho – being his first, designed when he was around thirty years old, really experimenting with new design and architectural ideas, that some say they think of as genius.
El Capricho is certainly distinct and unique. It’s hard to place it design wise as it seems to have a bit of everything in the mix. Outside it is almost reminiscent of a mosque, covered in a multitude of colours and shining ceramic sunflowers and wrought iron rising out into the skies like musical clefs. It has a strange attraction about it. Inside the quality of the craftsmanship is second to none. The panelling is perfectly cut and joined, carved and set. The quality of the finishing and ornamentation is of the highest order.
It’s a beguiling house, as is the story of its commission. A wealthy lawyer from Comillas named Máximo Díaz de Quijano – had returned from Cuba, having made his fortune, and wanted a holiday home with status, next to the Palacio del Marques de Comillas. Máximo Díaz de Quijano was said to be a talented musician, writer and journalist. The story goes that he wanted a musical house, and a musical house he got, literally and metaphysically. This place was built between 1883-1885, it is perhaps of no surprise then that it has an arts and crafts feel, bringing in nature and beauty to the interior. But the natural imagery goes further and is also musical. There’s a stained glass of a bird on piano keyboards for example, and when you pull closed the wooden shutters, its sounds like organ pipes playing and dull bells chiming.
Unfortunately Máximo Díaz de Quijano did not get to enjoy his new home for very long. After such energies and craftmanship were invested in the architectural features and interiors, his health declined as the house neared completion and he enjoyed only seven nights in this eclectic place before he died.
After his death, no one really knew what to do with this strange building. He didn’t have any children, so it was inherited by his wider family. Eventually it became run down, was converted into a restaurant, but it is now looked after by a foundation and welcomes visitors to support its income to continually maintain it. It’s possible to take tour throughout the whole house, including the great views from the roof and see and touch the immense amount of detailing it’s almost impossible to comprehend.
If you’re in this part of Spain, not so far from Santander, it’s worth a visit.