Barcelona – City of Contrasts

We’re going back to another of our favourite cities this Spring – Barcelona.  We didn’t manage to get there last year, so we both feel a strong need to ‘reconnect’.

Barcelona is a true ‘city of contrasts’.

It’s a city heavily steeped in Roman history and culture.  In the ‘Barri Gotic’ (Gothic Quarter) you can still see Roman ruins above ground, there’s the remains of an aqueduct as well as parts of the city walls including a city gate, both of which are near the Cathedral.  Even more stunning are those ruinsstill at their at their original level, expertly excavated and amazingly preserved within the Museu d’Historia de la Ciutat (‘City History Museum’) – the most extensive subterranean Roman ruins in the World.  You can almost feel them beneath your feet as you wander the maze of winding, shadowed streets so typical of the Gothic Quarter that surround the Cathedral.  Catalonia, of which Barcelona is the capital, has the seat of their government – the ‘Generalitat’ – on the site of the original Roman forum, and the Cathedral is built on the site of Roman temple (as well as a Moorish mosque).

The ‘Old Town’ complete with La Rambla, or rather ‘Las Ramblas‘ – there are five of them in total end to end – is one of the most extensive medieval city centres in Europe.   At the bottom of Las Ramblas is one end of Port Vell (‘Old Port’) with Christopher Columbus eternally looking out to sea, and the wood and metal Rambla Del Mar taking you across the marina past the Royal Barcelona Yacht Club to the modern Maremagnum complex containing shops, bars, restaurants, a cinema and L’Aquarium.  (The pedestrianised area around the complex connects you to the other end of Port Vell – Barceloneta – should you want to avoid the traffic noise along Passeig de Colom – we like both ways!).

One of our favourite ‘barrios’ in the older part of the city is El Borne, with its beautiful Santa Maria Del Mar cathedral – the subject of Ildefonso Falcones‘ fictional novel ‘Cathedral of the Sea‘, woven around the building of this beautiful church in the 14th century.  There’s Carrer De L’Argenteria (‘Silver Street’) gently sloping down into El Borne from Via Laietana and the Cathedral, and Carrer

Del Sombrerers (‘Street of the Shadows’) that runs alongside Santa Maria Del Mar, and another favourite street, Carrer Montcada, home to the wonderful family-run El Xampanyet as well as the amazing ‘palaces’ which are home to the Picasso Museum.  And then there’s Passeig del Borne, where you can watch the locals dance the incredibly intricate Sardana on a Sunday morning.  These are just a handful of the atmospheric, ancient streets threading their way through the rich tapestry of this area of the city.

And then there’s Modernisme. L’Eixample and its rigid, grid-like structures, designed by Idelfons Cerda i Sunyer.  Passeig de Gracia and Gaudi’s curvy Casa Mila (‘La Pedrera’) with it’s crazy chimneys and intricate balcony railings made of wrought metal vines, and the insane ‘Mansana De LaDiscordia’ where buildings such as Domenech i Montaner’s almost precise, flower like Casa Lleo Morera fights for winner of most ornate building with Gaudi’s beautiful crazily dragon-scaled Casa Batllo (and in my humble opinion, loses…).

And of course, Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia – the structure that he took over construction of 61 years after it had begun, and that’s still being built, 85 years after his death, and for which there are no complete designs – Gaudi’s designs are not thought to be exhaustive in some architectural circles, and some had

And what about the hill of Montjuic, the top of which is home to a fortress built in 1640 and used as a military prison during the Spanish Civil War but is now a museum, has buildings constructed for the 1929 International Fair, and had the Stadium built for the 1992 Olympic Games.   It’s home to many beautiful parks, museums and art galleries, not least the Fundacio Joan Miro and the new Olympic Museum.been partially destroyed.

And of course Port Olympic – 2 miles of promenade and (albeit man-made) sandy beaches along with the occasional unusual art installation in the most ordinary of places.  Its skyline a mixture of  strong, modern buildings – from the gravity-defying Torre de Gas Natural to medical research centres and a hospital, plus parks, hotels, a casino and a marina surrounded by restaurants and bars.  Oh and let’s not forget Frank Gehry (the guy who also designed Bilbao’s Guggenheim) and his enormous copper fish – ‘El Peix D’Or!

All of this rising like a phoenix from the ashes of the demolition of the old industrial waterfront.  This was part of Barcelona’s renaissance driven by their successful bid for the 1992 Olympics.  The demolition thankfully excluded the former General Stores building, instead driving its renovation.  This sensible, practical, strong-looking building now houses the Museu d’Historia de Catalunya.

As you can probably tell, I could wax lyrical about this amazing city for a very, VERY long time.  I’ve only scratched the surface!  We’ve been to many other places in and around the city, seen things that are beautiful, thought provoking and even surreal (a statue of a bronze giraffe posing with a handbag).   Tell you what – I’ll dig out a few more photo’s taken and share them with you as we build up to our next trip!

Right – better start brushing up on our Castellano….off to dig out the phrase books….!


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