Parc del Laberint d’Horta: the hidden gem of Barcelona

Katerina Bulovska
 
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Of all the green spaces in Barcelona, Park Guel is probably the most famous. But one historic park in the northern part of city patiently waits for its glory to be recognized worldwide. Colorful flower beds and fountains in combination with statues of Greek gods and goddesses and intricate passageways form the oldest park in the city.

The Parc del Laberint d’Horta is created on land owned by Joan Antoni Desvalls I d’Ardena, marquis of Llupia and Alfarrás. The marquis wanted to get away from the noisy city and began the construction of his estate in the then tranquil neighborhood called Horta. In 1791, he commissioned the Italian architect Domenico Bagutti for the construction of a beautiful garden outside the extravagant Desvalls Palace. The garden was completed in 1808.

The following generations enlarged the garden and made some modifications. The garden reached its climax in the 19th century when the Desvalls’ hosted an outdoor theater. On many occasions, the elite of the city would gather in the Desvalls estate, particularly enjoying their time spent in the charming garden. The palace and Parc del Laberint d’Horta were the property of the Desvalls family until 1969.

The Labyrinth hedge maze in the Parc del Laberint d’Horta, in Barcelona, Catalonia (Spain). Author: Till F. Teenck. CC BY-SA 2.5

Then, the Desvalls decided to give the estate to the Barcelona City Council. Since 1971, the garden is open to visitors, while the Desvalls Palace has been transformed into a school of horticulture. The garden also had its movie debut. Anyone who has seen the film Perfume: The Story of a Murderer will recognize the scenes that were shot in the park.

The labyrinth. Author: Canaan. CC BY-SA 4.0

The focal point of the garden is obviously the labyrinth from which the park got its name. It is made of trimmed cypress trees and is inspired by the Greek myth of the half-man half-bull creature, the Minotaur, who lived in a great labyrinth and the hero who killed him, Theseus.

Danae Pavilion. Author: Till F. Teenck. CC BY-SA 2.5

In front of the entrance of the labyrinth, there are statues of characters from the myth, Minos the King of Crete and his daughter Ariadne, and the inscription: “Come in, you will go out in a roundabout way, the labyrinth is simple, Ariadne’s hair is not necessary to Theseus.” Fortunately, the Minotaur is not wandering the labyrinth of this park. In its heart, a statue of the Greek god of love Eros is waiting to be discovered. It is believed that anyone who gets to the center of the labyrinth will also find true love.

Relief of nymph Echo in the Parc del Laberint d’Horta in Barcelona, Catalonia (Spain). Author: Till F. Teenck. CC BY-SA 3.0

The marquis was a great admirer of nature and art, and the labyrinth is not the only part of the park influenced by ancient mythology. On the contrary, Roman temples with Tuscan columns, and statues of Greco-Roman gods and goddesses are everywhere. From a statue of Dionysus, the god of wine, to the small temples of Danae and Ariadne and a pavilion dedicated to the nymph Egeria, every feature of the garden tells its own story.

Staircase in the Parc del Laberint d’Horta in Barcelona, Catalonia (Spain). Author: Till F. Teenck. CC BY-SA 3.0

The story of the man who could love no one else but himself is told through the sculptures in the Grotto of the garden. Narcissus and the forest nymph that loved him, Echo, stand in the Grotto with the inscription “Of an ardent frenzy, Echo and Narcissus embraced, they die in love, she of him and he of himself”.

The canal in the romantic garden. Author: Till F. Teenck. CC BY-SA 2.5

The Romantic Garden is a 19th-century addition by the descendants of the Marquis. It is a fairytale garden with a lovely canal, picturesque bridge, waterfall, fountains and ponds, and thousands of colorful flowers. Characteristic flowers of the garden are the beautiful African lilies more than 150 years old. The garden also includes century-old trees, such as a Himalayan cedar, European yews, Eucalyptus, holm oaks, lime trees and pine trees.

Parc del Laberint d’Horta. Author: Canaan. CC BY-SA 4.0

Today, the well-preserved park covers an area of approximately 22 acres. The neoclassical and romantic gardens of Parc del Laberint d’Horta are very peaceful since not many people know of their existence. However, the ones that have visited the park describe it as the most beautiful park in Barcelona. Without a doubt, Parc del Laberint d’Horta is the hidden gem of Barcelona.