Barcelona is the capital of the province of Catalonia – a fiercely autonomous part of Spain known for its own cuisine and definitely its own language – Catalan. Spanish folks may dispute this but the Catalans we’ve met (and not just a few colleagues of Mel) all vehemently maintain that it’s different. The city is also a financial hub, while the capital Madrid is more the home to the government bureaucracy.
Historically the city was the seat of a countship in the middle ages, which grew in independence until it was all but in name. However as fate would have it the county was merged with Aragon and eventually with Castile to form present day Spain. Much to the resentment of some Catalans. So separatism is not a recent phenomenon. Anyway.
We had flown into the city from Madrid, after spending two weeks on a whirlwind tour of the rest of Spain, Morocco and Portugal. This was a welcome respite from the daily grind of coach travel where we sat through drives most of the time. Finally we can do some walking to stretch our legs and do some real walking.
Located along the northeastern coast of proximity to Southern France, the city is a bastion of rich heritage in terms of art and culture. Home to the city include its famous football team, the Sagrada Familia and its most famous son – Antoni Gaudí. Therefore, it will be a real shame if one does not touch,
The landmark one cannot ever miss
Of particular importance for us was to visit the famous landmark of Sagrada Familia. Postcards and T-shirts hawk this attraction, which is still progressing construction!
This cathedral was the design of the famed Antoni Gaudí. His vision was to have the entire structure to be built using just public donations alone. That’s mighty ambitious… With its foundation stone laid in 1882, the cathedral is still yet to be completed today and is expected to be fully ready in 2026 as the curator told us then, a little more than 140 years from its start date.
When quizzed during his lifetime, Gaudí was said to have remarked “my client is in no hurry”. You see, Gaudi’s vision was altruistic. From his view, the funding to build a monument for his “client” was not to be forced but voluntary. For indeed the “client” did not set a deadline and definitely not pushing for a completion date don’t you think? Interrupted by a number of wars (and thus lack of money and material), the current work to complete the cathedral is actually drawn on reconstructed versions of the original plan.
The design has 12 vaults (each representing an apostle) and a cupola (at 170m high). If you are visiting, the cathedral can be accessed via metro lines L2 or L5. From the station it is quite a walk and look out for the signs to ensure that you are not walking the wrong way. In any case you cannot miss it if you look up! More than 2 million people are said to visit the attraction already back in the year 2000, thus funding this giant undertaking should not be an issue we think.
If you wish to ascend the spires, you can take a lift, located near the gift shop. The alternative is a long walk up the spiral staircase. Which is what we did, and for which Suan never forgave Mel. When we reached the top, the view was so inspiring, though the entire place resembled a construction site. While today it is relatively easy to locate his works, back in the day there was no iphone or google maps to help one navigate ones way to see
More of Gaudi
One cannot miss Park Güell, where many of Gaudi’s works are located. We spent an entire morning just exploring the park, easily accessible by bus. Built between 1900 and 1914, the site was originally an unsuccessful housing site and converted to a park later. Located on a rocky hillside with little vegetation, it was converted into a municipal garden after the failed launching of the site to build houses overlooking the beautiful views. Yep, not all real estate projects succeed…
One of the main attractions on this park is the Serpentine bench located at the main terrace. It was said that to design the curvature of the bench surface, Gaudí used the shape of buttocks imprints left by a naked workman sitting in wet clay. Really? What the hell was that guy sitting around butt naked anyway? Anyway, if you believe the story…
One can see how Gaudí used intensively colored mosaics to create this work, such the ceiling. Irregular and really intricate, the infusion of bright color caught our eye instantly, even though it was on the ceiling directly above us. Not to be confused with Gaudy, these pieces of heritage art are certainly not tasteless. At least to us. What do you think?
These are just some of the many artworks on display in the park. Famed also for his architectural style, the park comprises of colonnaded walkways and intricate sculptures of “birds’ nests”. Truly a place to spend either an entire morning or afternoon.
The Dragon, one of the most known works of Gaudí is a fountain that was vandalized in 2007. It has since been restored (ours is a picture of it in 2000). Also known as the Salamander, this beautiful work of art is today constantly swarmed by people when the park opens. But back in the day we had him to ourselves! So much that we could take photos of him in every direction though we can only showcase the best one here… sigh.
Apart from Park Guell, it was such a pleasure to comb the streets of the city in search of his other works. Such as Casa Milia, Casa Battllo. Did you know that Casa Battllo was designed to represent the story of St George’s battle with the evil dragon? Our picture is probably too poor for you to see it but perhaps this link might help.
All-in there are at least 12 recommended sites to visit to see the work of Gaudí in the city and they are well worth the effort. But what if you tire of the city? Can you? Well perhaps for some. Then maybe you can consider,
What could be seen away from the city
Lying 60km west of Barcelona, we took a train to Montserrat, a mountain top monastery complex. This is an excellent day trip. It is still an active monastery that was founded in the 11th century and houses Benedictine monks. Montserrat can be accessed using the Sant Joan funicular, which is located near the train station.
Of all the things that greeted us when we reached the top was the sight of many cats. They were everywhere. At the parking lot, in the monastery grounds. You know what this meant for Mel… he got distracted!
There are a few options, and we chose to walk on our own to one of four routes marked out for tourists. The mountains have a pinkish hue and is a form of sedentary rock pushed up high by tectonic forces. Well people do hike here and spend the night apparently to watch the sunrise.
And it is certainly very popular with climbers, though we decided to take the “easier” walking route all the way to the San Miguel vantage point. From this viewpoint, you can see the vast valley opening up below the mountain and almost grab hold of a passing cloud!
One interesting past time when here is to identify shapes formed by the ‘serrated’ mountainscapes. Do those spires of rock look like men standing to attention facing north? How about the sediment layering of the rocks, do they not look familiar like at the grand canyon?
Meanwhile back in the city
Although we spent a week in Barcelona, we could not completely absorb all the karma exuded by the intricate and beautiful art that can be found in the city. And not everything is about the art or architecture that its most famous son is known for.
Take a stroll along Las Ramblas. Dodge the pickpockets, enjoy the flowers on display. Perhaps buy a bunch for your loved one. We frequently had dinner after 8pm as restaurants do not serve food till then. This is the Spanish culture and they seem to stay up all night! The waterfront at the southern end of the La Ramblas offers a good variety of restaurants and food courts to choose from and we became regular visitors.
Or get up Montjunc, the fortress largely built in the 1700s and overlooking the city. When we were there in winter the funicular was not operating. So it was a relatively robust ascent on foot. But the views were stunning. Remember to wear comfortable walking shoes or sneakers and have some warm clothes on hand.
And back in the city centre, how can one miss the Plaza Espana?
The article does not justice to this wonderful and vibrant city. We have not even described enough of the lovely old center of La Ramblas and a whole lot more. A follow on journey is most definitely in the making. Watch out for it some day.
We’ll be back…
We spent a week in Barcelona in January 2000