Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia
Priceless pearl, the most beautiful city in Spain – these are the reviews Barcelona has earned from millions of tourists. Because it’s impossible not to fall in love with it, it’s impossible to forget it.
The history of the capital of Catalonia is more than two thousand years and has its origins in a small military town Barcino, founded by Hamilcar Barca, the father of Hannibal. Whoever conquered this land: the Romans, the Franks, the Visigoths and the Moors. In 878 a remarkable event happened – Wilfred I the Hairy founded de facto independent Catalonia, and Barcelona became a count’s city. For five centuries of count’s rule, it grew and lost lands, mired in internecine conflicts. And the entire subsequent history of the city consisted of periods of prosperity and decline. While receiving flicks and slaps from the ruling Spanish elites, the Catalans fought for their independence with enviable persistence. First the Habsburgs, then the Bourbons banned the Catalan language, closed the university, and cut off access to maritime trade routes. And Barcelona “made friends” against them, sometimes with the French, then with the English and the Dutch, who betrayed it with constant consistency.
In the XX century, after a short period of autonomy, Catalonia again falls under the repression of the ruling Spanish regime represented by General Franco. Again she was forbidden to speak her language and deprived of all political rights. After the fall of the dictatorship the constitutional monarchy returned to Catalonia its autonomous rights, but the separatist sentiment will only grow and in the XXI century will result in a referendum on independence.
In spite of the difficult political situation, Barcelona today continues to attract tourists who want to see its architectural spectacle, from the Gothic Quarter to Gaudi’s creations.
The Gothic Quarter is located in the heart of the old city. The ruins of Octavian Augustus’ palace and remnants of the Roman wall are still visible here. The narrow and crooked streets are a reminder of the Middle Ages. The Gothic Quarter is also home to the City Hall and the seat of government of Catalonia.
In the central part of the Gothic Quarter is Barcelona’s main cathedral – the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Sant’Eulalia. Its construction on the place of the ruined Roman basilica started in 1298, the basic works were finished in 150 years, but the formation of the Gothic appearance of the Cathedral of Catalonia lasted till the beginning of the 20th century.
The church was named in the memory of the Christian girl Eulalia, killed by the Roman pagans and who is the celestial patroness of Barcelona. However, in the XVII century she had a rival, the Lady of Mercy Merce, who is said to have saved Catalonia from the invasion of locusts. In her honor, a grand festival is held on the 20th of September, and if it rains on those days, Barcelonans believe that it is Eulalia crying from resentment against the townspeople who betrayed her.
Not far from the Gothic Quarter there are other equally important landmarks of Barcelona – the Rambla and Plaza Catalunya. The Rambla is a favorite walking place not only for tourists but also for locals. The name of this kilometer long street means “riverbed”. It appeared at the end of the XVIII century. after the demolition of the fortress wall, it was laid directly on the dried-up river bed, which led to the sea.
Gradually the Rambla grew and eventually joined the 5 boulevards, turning into each other. Countdown is taken from the 19th century fountain Canalates, a bit like a samovar with 4 taps. Tourists drink water from it before leaving, believing that it will help them come back to Barcelona.
Then comes Rambla dels Estudios, where there used to be a university and now there is a bird market, theater, temple and the former palace of the Marquis of Mozha (the Department of Culture of Catalonia is located there).
The third boulevard is the Rambla de Flowers – the name stuck because of the large number of flower stores. Here is also well-known Boquería market, as well as the elegant building of the Palace of the Viceroy, which now houses the exhibition hall.
The attraction of the Rambla de Capuchin, the fourth, is the famous Gran Teatro del Liceu opera house. The building is quite modest, but the interior decoration of the Baroque hall with a capacity of more than 2 thousand seats is striking in its luxury.
Fifth Rambla, which bears the name of St. Monica, overlooks the Gates of Peace, the square where the monument to Christopher Columbus is located.
It is believed that this imposing monument, 60 meters high, was built exactly where the great navigator came ashore after his return from his expedition to America.
Nearby is another famous landmark of Barcelona – the bustling and crowded Plaça Catalunya – where most sightseeing excursions begin. It appeared in the second half of the XIX century after another demolition of the city walls. By 1888, its architectural composition was completed and improved from time to time.
The adornment of the square is its fountains and original sculpture. The neoclassical buildings surrounding the square are a magnificent frame.
Plaza de Catalunya divides the Gothic Quarter and the Eixample, a relatively young neighborhood characterized by the precise geometry of its streets (they intersect strictly at right angles). This is where Antoni Gaudi’s famous masterpiece, the Sagrada Familia, is located.
The great architect gave more than 40 years of his life to it. Considering Gothic and Neo-Gothic to be obsolete, he mixed their basic elements with Baroque, Art Nouveau and Moorish style like an artist on a palette. Gaudi set his sights on the impossible: he wanted to build the stone embodiment of the New Testament, realizing that life would not be enough for all of this.
The plan was to build three grandiose facades: the Nativity, the Passion and the Glory. Gaudi himself only had time to build the first of them, and in 1926 he died under the wheels of a streetcar. Since he built everything, being in an endless improvisation, the drawings and instructions for the remaining facades almost did not remain, only sketches, drafts and a few layouts have survived.
The work of the great architect was continued by his students, associates and followers. The façade of the Passion was fully completed in 2010, the construction of the façade of Glory continues to this day. The Sagrada Familia is scheduled to be completed by 2026, the centenary of Gaudi’s death. The final version of the temple will have 12 towers 115 meters high, and one will reach 170 meters, which is 3 meters lower than Barcelona’s main peak, Montjuïc. Gaudí believed that what is created by human hands should not rise above what God created.
At the foot of Montjuïc is the National Museum of Art of Catalonia. It is located in the palace of the same name, built for the World Expo (1929). Its collections count over 200 thousand pieces of paintings, sculptures, crafts and embrace a 1000-year history not only of the Catalan, but also all European art. In the collection of the museum one can find works of J.. Uge, El Greco and Velazquez. It is here that the XIII century frescoes are kept. “The Conquest of Mallorca”, discovered during the restoration of Palacio Aguilar.
Palacio Aguilar was the first to be turned into a Picasso museum. In 1963 the artist’s friend J. Sabateras donated to Barcelona his personal collection of works of the great Pablo. Gradually the collection of the museum was enlarged, and in 1970 Picasso himself donated more than 900 paintings. Now this museum is housed in 5 palaces and is a place of pilgrimage of admirers of the artist, who all his life “learned to draw as a child”.
There is another attraction in the Catalan capital – Mount Tibidabo and the Temple of the Sacred Heart. Not all tourists because of remoteness get to them, but here is the best viewing platform. Proudly posing at the foot of the mountain Barcelona, its photos taken from the height of the bird’s flight just fascinating.
We want to believe that all this beauty will not disappear from tourist maps. And as sang Montserrat Caballe and Freddy Mercury “Barcelona, open your gates to the world, if God wills, we’ll be friends for life.
You can read more about the cities of Spain in these articles: Madrid, Seville, Toledo.
Barcelona is the capital of the Catalan autonomy, the second most populous city in Spain and quite a major seaport. A piece of the Iberian Peninsula with a rich history, where at different times had the Roman invaders, Germanic tribes and even warlike Berbers, for several decades now is one of the top 20 most popular tourist destinations.
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It’s no exaggeration to say that everything in Barcelona surprises: from Gaudi’s flamboyant creations to the city’s market, the best purveyor of the most unexpected delicacies in the entire Mediterranean. Dozens of museums, historic districts and all sorts of monuments of medieval architecture are generously “diluted” here with nightclubs and trendy boutiques. This is also the epitome of tolerance in modern Barcelona: perhaps this is why both Catholic festivals and outrageous gay pride parades are as easy to establish in its fertile ground.
An overview of the city should begin with the Gothic Quarter (Barri Gotic). Its temples, palaces, and museums embody the glory of Catalonia, which reached its heyday under the powerful Counts of Barcelona. In the 1990s, the port area was transformed from a labyrinth of bleak, neglected streets into a sparkling gateway to a new culture and gastronomy of the Mediterranean. The main artery of the area is La Rambla, the long avenue from the Plaza de Catalunya to the statue of Christopher Columbus in the harbor.
The late 19th century Eixample district is located on the west side of the old city. This is where most of Barcelona’s Art Nouveau is located, including the famous Sagrada Familia cathedral, an unfinished masterpiece by architect Antonio Gaudi. Since 1884 Gaudí put all his creative energies into building the Sagrada Familia, the cathedral of the Holy Family. The architect even lived on the construction site and spent the last 16 years of his life in this way. The cathedral has four spires, each rising to a height of more than 100 meters, each decorated with colored ceramic tiles, and the stone portals look as if they were made of melting wax or represent a bizarre formation of stalactites. The Nativity facade is the most finished part of Gaudi’s cathedral, with doorways symbolizing Faith, Hope and Charity. Beyond the cathedral is his fantastical Park Guell.
Gothic Quarter Casa Mila
Among Gaudi’s other creations is Casa Mila, which locals call La Pedrera (“The Quarry”). It is an apartment building with a wavy facade, the outlines of which were inspired by Gaudi’s view of the rocky massif of Montserrat, the sacred mountain of Catalonia. The volumes seem to flow seamlessly into one another, and the chimneys and roof vents are a veritable sculpture garden.
More than 40 of Barcelona’s most interesting museums are concentrated on the beautiful Montjuïc Mountain, which can be reached by cable car from the main port. Public transport, especially the metro, is very convenient, the restaurants are of the highest quality and the surrounding hills and sea lend clarity to the city layout.
Geography and Climate
Barcelona is located in the northeast of the Iberian Peninsula, claiming one of the best spots on the Mediterranean coast. The Catalonian capital is protected to the south by the Collserola mountain range, while the Besos River marks its northern border. The most prominent mountain point in the Barcelona area is Tibidabo (512m), while the Mant Taber hill (12m) is the highest point in the metropolitan area.
Barcelona has a typical Mediterranean climate with warm and dry winters and humid and hot summers. Even in the coldest months (January, February) the thermometer column in the streets never drops below +10 ° C. The peak of the heat is in July and August, when the average temperature in the city is +25 ° C, and even +30 ° C.
Best time to go
The vast majority of tourists seek to get to Barcelona during the summer season to combine the traditional run through the metropolis’ iconic sites with a relaxing beach vacation and trips to the festivals that the Catalan capital is so rich in. The anti-bonuses that automatically come with the high season are the huge crowds of travelers besieging all the iconic sights and beaches of the metropolis combined with the intense heat. In May, June and the second half of September in Barcelona is already much quieter, more spacious and even a little cheaper, so it makes sense to plan a trip for these months (if you don’t want to sacrifice the beach relaxation). Christmas and the Parade of the Three Kings are celebrated in winter with great pomp and excitement.
As true patriots, Barcelonians tend to embellish the history of their hometown. For example, here they seriously believe that the Catalonian capital was founded by Hercules himself. On the other hand, to reproach the locals for excessive exaggeration is very difficult, because the first written references to the settlement in this part of the Iberian Peninsula only appeared by 236 BC.
Barcelona in 1563 The four Corinthian columns of the Roman Temple of Augustus in Barcelona, they are more than 2000 years old.
Barcelona was originally called Barcino after the Carthaginian general Hamilcar Barca, who settled in the area. In 133 BC, the Romans visited the city, leaving behind a distinctive layout of the streets (Gothic Quarter) and the remains of military fortifications.
In the Middle Ages Catalonia became a tidbit for the warring tribes. As a result, Barcelona was first occupied by the Visigoths, later ceding it to the Arabs. However, in 801 Louis the Pious managed to recapture the city and found in it the capital of the Spanish mark, but full independence was not achieved.
Barcelona was severely tested by its participation in the War of the Spanish Succession, as a result of which it was besieged for a long time. After it was seized by storm and partly destroyed (by that time the city managed to be a part of the Catalan-Aragonese confederation and the Catalan Republic).
Panorama of Barcelona in 1929
By the XIX century the capital of Catalonia had significantly grown beyond the fortress wall, but in the literal sense, the city began to flourish and develop only in the early twentieth century.
A picturesque sunset against the background of the W
Districts of the city
Administratively, Barcelona is divided into 10 districts, with only three of them being the most prominent from a tourist point of view.
Rooftops of the Old City
The Old City is the historical heart of the Catalan capital and contains the oldest and therefore the most valuable architectural monuments. The Gothic Quarter, which stretches from Plaza Catalunya to Via Laetana, is a colorful legacy of the dark Middle Ages. For the record, 99% of all sightseeing excursions begin in Plaza Catalunya, which acts as a link between the old part of Barcelona and the new.
The Eixample, which begins just behind the Plaza de Cataluña, is relatively young: the area next to the historical center only began to be developed in the 19th century, when the city walls could no longer accommodate the exponentially growing population. A distinctive feature of the Eixample is the regular geometric layout, according to which the blocks themselves took the form of squares divided by wide straight streets. Walking around the area is mainly to get an impression of Antoni Gaudi’s unusual creations, including the legendary “House of Bones.
Eixample from above The streets of Eixample
Sants Monjuïc is scattered around the foothills and slopes of the Eixample mountain. Visitors are drawn here by the Magic Fountain, the National Museum of Art, and the Olympic Stadium. Lewis Kompanis Olympic Stadium and beautiful parkland.
Lewis Kompanis Olympic Stadium in Barcelona. Lewis Kompanis Olympic Stadium in Barcelona
Another colorful neighborhood that, though shunned by prying eyes, can still really fall in love with is Gracia. Positioned as a bohemian hipster hangout, the neighborhood is populated predominantly by native Catalans who zealously guard its unique spirit. So if you like intricate mazes and cozy eateries where Catalan is not the ubiquitous tourist English, this is a neighborhood worth exploring.
Gracia in Barcelona
Sightseeing and interesting places in the Catalan capital
The main mistake most tourists make when visiting Barcelona for the first time is trying to cover all the iconic spots of the metropolis in a weekend. The reality is that even the most cursory exploration of the city’s sights can take at least a week, and better yet, two weeks.
Plaza de Catalunya Plaza de España in Barcelona View of the Ramblas from Plaza de Catalunya
The historical square at the crossing of La Rambla and Passeig de Gràcia, which was enlarged during the World Exhibition of 1888, is traditionally the starting point of the trip. It is purely a tourist place and as a result it is somewhat “sleek”. Nevertheless, the vast majority of meetings and appointments are made at the Plaza de Catalunya. From here, sightseeing buses also depart on their exciting tours.
Rambla Illusionist Boulevard
From Barcelona’s main square, in the direction of the Olympic Port, departs the legendary La Rambla Boulevard, a sort of Catalan relative of Moscow’s Arbat. Wide, lively and mostly pedestrian street is one of the most popular tourist routes and at the same time outstanding provocateur, skillfully encouraging trusting traveler to mostly unnecessary, but such tempting expenditures. Souvenir and candy vendors, florists, street performers and live sculptures – these are the typical regulars on the sidewalks of the Rambla, every morning coming out on the city streets with one single goal: to find their customers and to entice them to buy.
If the marketing ploys of the Rambla don’t convince you, don’t be lazy to get to the main shopping area of the city – Boquería market. This giant food market dates back to the Middle Ages and is renowned for its enormous variety of gastronomy (only Boquería for quality ham, truffles, snails, and foie gras).
Boquería Market in Barcelona Barcelona Cathedral
Between La Rambla and Rue Laietana is the Gothic Quarter. The name speaks for itself: narrow cobbled streets that sometimes have to be squeezed in sideways, grim cathedrals with spires piercing the sky and basilicas half a thousand years old are a classic sight to behold in this part of town. The list of must-see sites in the quarter includes above all the Cathedral of Barcelona (Gothic in its purest form), the Bridge of Sighs, Santa Maria del Pi Basilica (renovated in 1936 with the same openwork-gothic style), the remains of the Roman wall and the History Museum of Barcelona. You can also stop by the Villa de Arte Art Gallery or admire ancient Roman sculptures in the “Sentimental Museum” of Frederic Mares. Lastly, wash down your impressions with a cup of strong coffee at a table in the art cafe 4 cats, a Catalan clone of the Parisian bar-variety The Black Cat.
Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter
The museums in Barcelona are a special topic, worthy of a separate article. Capuchin Museum, the Egyptian Museum, the open-air exhibition “Spanish Village”, the Maritime Museum of Barcelona, the Museum of Pre-Columbian Art Barbier-Mueller and a dozen other most unusual places with truly amazing exhibits are waiting for its visitors. Little travelers will be delighted by the CosmoCaixa miniature “laboratories” and the drool-worthy chocolate museum. A great opportunity to feel like a hapless rabbit in a bottomless magician’s hat is Barcelona’s Museum of Illusions. The beautiful half of humanity will certainly find something to occupy them at the Museum of Textiles and History of Costume, whose outstanding collections feature rare editions of fashion magazines from the century before last, as well as clothes from different time periods.
Plaza Portal de la Pau and the Columbus monument Singing fountains on the Montjuïc hill
Barça loyal fans in the Catalan capital also have somewhere to go: the museum of the legendary soccer club is located right in the Camp Nou stadium and keeps on its shelves all the awards ever received by the Barcelona players. Fans of Picasso’s works tend to flock to Via Moncada. Museum of the father of Spanish Cubism is located in five historic buildings and boasts three and a half thousand paintings and sketches, belonging to the brush of the master. Get the real aesthetic pleasure can be in the National Museum of Catalan Art, under the roof of which are collected as paintings by acknowledged masters of painting, and creations of young, yet unknown artists.
Akbar Tower Camp Nou Stadium
Among the buildings that have become recognizable symbols of Barcelona we can mention the Agbar Tower or as the Catalans call it “The Cucumber”. The giant futuristic streamlined structure appeared in the city in 2005 as a kind of architectural ode to Mount Monserrat and the city fountains.
If you are an avid theater and opera fan, try to get a ticket to one of the Barcelona theaters. For example, the Liceo on the Rambla de la Capuchin, whose stage still remembers the proud steps of Montserrat Caballé and José Carreras. Enjoy timeless classics in a free interpretation in Liura, and combine a pleasant dinner with a simple show in the Principale, the oldest theater in the city.