A visit to Salvador Dali, the Spanish master of surrealism

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the Dali museum

Whatever the future of Catalonia,  three places  – Cadaquès, Figueras and Putbol – will forever stay as Salvador Dali country. These three places are known as three corners of the Dalinian Triangle.


To better understand the life and work of Dali, those who are familiar with Dali’s work recommend that you begin your journey at Figueras.

a closer look at the giant eggs and golden statues on the museum fascia

Figueras is a small and old city found by Greek settlers from Marseille and it was an important trade centre during ancient times. Nowadays tourism is the main activity of the city. About one million tourists – , 80% of whom areforeigners – visited in 2017 and the majority will have visited the Salvador Dali museum, Teatre-Museu Gala Salvador Dali” in Catalan. It isn’t just a  museum; it is Dali’s biggest artwork.

Figueras is where Dali was born in 1904 and where he died in 1989. He lived in Figueras until the age of 18 when he moved to Madrid to study at the Academy of Fine Arts. Here he met two other giants of the age – Luis Bunuel and Federico Garcia Lorca both of whom were just beginning their careers. But he always came back to Figueras and its region. Dali was so sentimentally linked to his hometown, that when he decided to create his own museum, his home city was the only possible site.  But there was no square or rectangular standard museum structure for him.  He would build an architectural chef-d’œuvre that would be on the site of the city theatre that had been partially destroyed during the Spanish civil war.

the former theatre which Dali turned into his museum

Dali created this place as his most important work. Every building, every details of each building indeed everything has been designed by Dali himself, even the size of the toilets! Everything has been done to allow visitors to enter the artistic and surrealist vision of Dali. The work began in 1960 and the museum was only open to the public in 1974. Until 1980 Dali made a few little modifications.

The external vision of the huge red wall topped by a long line of giant white eggs and golden statues is the first emotional shock for visitors. The theatre is the main entrance and has its classical-style facade is adorned by statues, by a diver in dry suit wearing his copper helmet, and by other art pieces that all played an important role in the intellectual journey of Dali.

Dali’s cadillac in the courtyard

In the central courtyard is Dali’s black Cadillac, the upside down boat floating in the air and all the statues and works that covered the walls around, leave the public in a sense of astonishment. The tomb of Dali has been installed in a crypt under the floor of the large hall and is topped by an immense glass dome on the other side of the courtyard.  This hall gives access to the interior of the museum and its maze of rooms of which the design has been made to fit the works they contain. Every room from floor to ceiling, every corridor, every passage, every little corner shows Dali’s works, small or big!  In all some 1,500 paintings, sculptures, jewels, furniture, artistic installations show the complexity and the diversity of Dali’s creativity. Dali wanted to show the visitor a theatrical vision of his life.

the upside down “floating” boat in the museum

If you want to do the whole Dali’s tour, you can stop by his two family houses, number 6 and 10 Carrer Monturiol. Don’t miss the Duran restaurant (it’s also an hotel) where Dali used to invite his friends for fine and convivial meals. The decor has stayed untouched since Dali’s day. Do chat to the owner and his son as they can tell you a few amusing anecdotes about Dali.

Cadaquès, the house at Portlligat:

Dali’s house in Portlligat

Cadaquès is a nearby little seaside place where Dali’s family went on holiday every summer when he was a child. In 1929, at the age of 25 he went to Paris to meet André Breton, Man Ray and Picasso. When he saw Gala, the wife of the poet Paul Eluard, it was a mutual love affair at first sight. Gala who was ten years older than Dali, followed him and was his muse ever after.

His romance with Gala was unacceptable to Dali’s father so Dali and Gala bought a little house at Portlligat, just outside Cadaquès.  Over years they enlarged it by buying the neighbouring fishermen’s cabins. Then Dali, using his artistic and surreal imagination, began to design their private home creating an unusual and grandiose world. This was their beloved villa by the sea.

the giant egg in the house at Portlligat

The house of Portlligat is open to the public, but advance booking is strictly mandatory and there is time schedule. The rooms are small and everything stays untouched. Visitors can only enter in groups of twelve every 15 minutes and must be accompanied by a guide. If you wish to enter Portlligat you need to arrive fifteen minutes in advance of you allotted time. If not you you can lose your reservation and you are not eligible for a refund.

Once in the house it is plain to see that this was both Dali and Gala’s intimate hideaway. There are so many artefacts that it’s impossible to see them all. In Dali’s bedroom a small window has been positioned to allow Dali to see from his bed the first rays of morning sunshine which, incidentally, illuminate a peninsula in the distance amost delivering an artwork in itself!

part of the interior of the house in Portlligat

The house was also his studio. After the guided visit of the house, you are free to discover – without time limit – the garden terraces overlooking the house and to admire the swimming pool (it has a sexual design) as well as the artworks that decorate the walls and all those that are scattered everywhere.

Dali felt in love with Portlligat for the beauty of its landscape and also for the purity of the light there. For artists, a beautiful light that varies throughout the day is a key factor in creativity. Portlligat seems to be at the very end of the earth far away from our bustling world, far away too from any pollution. At times it seems a haven of serenity except, that is in high season and on week-ends hordes of tourists await their turn to visit the house!

Pùbol Castle:

Gala’s “throne” in the Castle of Pùbol

Dali when he met Gala, promised that he would buy her a castle. Many years later, in 1968, he bought the Castle of Pùbol for her. He made huge changes to this medieval building with the aim of providing Gala with a unique home and private resting place. She accepted the gift with her own and unusual condition. Dali, who agreed with this, had to wait for a written invitation from Gala to be allowed to come to the castle.

When Gala died in 1982, she was buried in the garden and Dali expected that it would be his last resting place as well but it was not to be although Dali moved from Portlligat to Pùbol to live in the castle.  This link was cemented as it was included in his title when the same year the King of Spain, Juan Carlos, bestowed on Dali the title of Marquis of Dali de Pùbol.

In 1984, an unexplained fire broke out in his bedroom and a few friends urged him to stay and live in his Theatre-Museum of Figueras and that is where he spent his remaining days. On January 23d 1989, he died there and was quickly buried in the museum, an excellent idea to encourage more visitors bit meant that Dali and Gala should be separated for eternity.

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