Quintessential Barcelona - A day in the centuries-old city
Barcelona is for the wanderlust in you. Barcelona, bold, beautiful, and with centuries-old history and culture, offers many things to every traveler. Freddie Mercury and Ed Sheeran through their music immortalized the beauty of Barcelona. It is lively, active, and a 24-hour party city. It is a city for walking, biking, segway-ing, and people watching. It has a good public transportation system using buses, subways, and trains. Her arts, crafts, restaurants, bars, and shopping centers, festivals, and historical artifacts are very well-worth exploring.
When we arrived in Barcelona, there were a few uncertainties that were of concern to tourists. The Catalonian independence movement was attracting a fair amount of attention. There was an uneasy tension between various groups. In addition, there is a bit of ambivalence about terrorism as most of the European cities were experiencing some ill effects of illegal immigration, and terrorism-related activities. Having said that, the city appeared calm, and life looked normal. People were conducting their businesses, as usual, walking, strolling, shopping, sightseeing, and tourists were everywhere: it felt business as usual.
The tree-lined streets and wide boulevards covering the city came to our attention from the beginning. Barcelona is famous for her trees, a variety of them, tall, mature, with lush green canopies, lining the streets give shades, serenity, and a calming effect. There are many varieties of them, but the most common is the ‘plàtans’ (Platanaceae family); they look like the Sycamore trees of Long Island.
This Spanish city of about 1.6 million people is the largest on the Mediterranean Sea. It is the capital of the Catalonia Region. Barcelona is a major tourist destination due to her rich heritage. UNESCO has designated many historical sites as World Heritage Sites. Works of artists like Antoni Gaudí and Lluís Domènech i Montaner are very prominent in Barcelona.
As our tour bus negotiated Barcelona's main boulevards, streets, and squares, we saw buildings that were built in the past centuries: old, renovated, colorful, majestic looking and modernist buildings (a result of Modernisme, a Catalan cultural movement centered in Barcelona and Catalonia from 1888 to 1911). Streets were packed with locals, tourists, and various colorfully dressed street performers such as stunt, mime performers, ‘living statue' artists, and caricaturists.
Our first stop was the Montjuic Hill to enjoy a panoramic view of the city. Montjuic hill located on the southeast of Barcelona's city center overlooks the Barcelona harbor. Thousands of years ago Iberic Celts settled on the Hill, later it was used as a ceremonial ground by Romans. During the 17-18th centuries, major fortifications were done in and around the hill to protect the city. The International Exhibition (1929) and the 1992 Olympics took place here.
Today, the Hill is a major tourist area with many attractions including the Spanish Village, Castle of Montjuïc, Magic Fountain and the MNAC, a museum. The Palau Nacional (National Palace) was built during the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition. The National Art Museum of Catalonia (MNAC) has collections of Romanesque church paintings, Gothic art, Renaissance and Baroque art, Modern art, photography, and drawings. It is a source for Catalan art and designs from the late 19th century onwards. A sporting complex and a botanical garden are also found on the hill.
At the center of a plaza in front of the Palau Nacional is the Font Màgica or Magic Fountain, an impressive fountain built for the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition. It is still one of the most famous attractions in Barcelona with an estimated 2.5 million visitors annually.
CaixaForum Barcelona is an art gallery in a renovated old factory. Japanese architect, Arata Isozaki, designed the new entrance to the factory building using about 100,000 new bricks to match the original ones.
There are other attractions found on the Montjuïc Hill. Fundació Joan Miró, a modern art museum showing works of Joan Miró, a Barcelona born Spanish painter, and sculptor. The Montjuïc Cemetery is the final resting place of many famous people like Lluís Companys, Francesc Macià, Joan Miró, Carmen Amaya and Jacint Verdaguer. The Olympic Tower, the Catalan museum of archaeology and the Olympic and Sports Museum Joan Antoni Samaranch are also found here on the Hill.
We moved on to Plaça d'Espanya, a busy square located at the foot of the Montjuïc Hill. The traffic heavy square is bordered by interesting sights such as the Arenas and the Joan Miró Park
Central Fountain Architect Josep Maria Jujol designed a large fountain at the center of the square. The sculptures adorning the fountain were created by the Spanish sculptor Miguel Blay Fabregas.
As we drove along the Avinguda de la Reina María Christina Avenue, we saw the twin towers known as the Venetian Towers. The towers are replicas of the Bell Tower of the St. Mark's Basilica in Venice and were built by architect Ramon Raventós for the 1929 International Exhibition
At the other end of the Plaça d'Espanya stands the 'Arenas de Barcelona'. It is a bright brick building built in 1900. The arena was built for bullfights. Now it is a shopping center. From its roof, visitors could see a 360-degree panoramic view of the city.
Plaça d'Espanya is also a commuter interchange complex underneath Plaça d'Espanya. The station complex includes three sets of platforms, serving three different rail lines. Our bus took us through the Plaça de Catalunya, Barcelona's busiest square, to the famous Rambla street (a tree-lined pedestrian mall and many side alleyways), and to Passeig de Gràcia (regarded as the most expensive street in Barcelona). Both the Rambla and Passeig de Gràcia are Barcelona’s famous streets surrounded by modernist buildings, many restaurants, and shopping areas. Both streets are tourists haven and are close to many other attractions including the Christopher Columbus Monument.
While driving through the Plaça de Colón by the harbor, and the Barcelona's central square, Plaça de Catalunya, in the city center, we saw the Monumento a Cristóbal Colón: it is Barcelona's monument to Christopher Columbus. The bronze statue of Columbus that was built to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America.
The La Placa Catalunya is a public square, one of the largest in Barcelona, with green spaces, fountains, monuments, and meeting places.
La Sagrada Familia (Expiatory Temple of the Holy Family)
We took a stroll down Passeig de Gràcia, one of Barcelona’s main boulevards, to reach the incredible Sagrada Família Cathedral by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí: a neo-Gothic masterpiece that is under ‘never-ending’ (for more than 130 years) construction. It is an immense basilica that has been under construction since 1882 and is one of Barcelona's most popular tourist attractions. Author Dan Brown's new book 'Origin' was centered around this famous cathedral. It is now part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site
The Cathedral was the creation of Antoni Gaudí , Barcelona's most famous architect. Seven of his most outstanding edifices in Barcelona are listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites. Around 13 million people visit them every year.
It has been said that Gaudí was inspired by the by the multi-peaked mountain range of Montserrat near Barcelona and wanted to replicate the peaks as part of the cathedral. The Montserrat mountain range is one of the important religious sites in Spain. Pope Benedict XVI consecrated the cathedral in November 2010. The Cathedral attracts around 2.8 million visitors annually.
The Cathedral is a massive structure with a mixture of architectural styles, from Gothic and Art Nouveau, Catalan Modernism to Noucentisme. Gaudi had applied his own styles to further enhance the structure. Right now, the building has three main façades, Nativity (representing birth of Jesus), Passion (depicting the crucifixion of Jesus) and Glory façade (dedicated to the Glory of Jesus). Out of the total eighteen planned spires, eight has been completed so far.
Over the years, the Sagrada Familia's construction progressed slowly due to many reasons including interruptions caused by the Spanish Civil War. Only one tower was completed at Gaudi’s death. Construction restarted again in 1952 after a fire. The main source of funding for the construction is the public donations. The Cathedral is slated for completion by 2026 to mark the 100th death anniversary of Gaudi.
There was an extensive line up to visit the spectacular interior, so we bypassed it. ‘Skip-the-line Sagrada Familia tickets’ (priority tickets) are available to get priority entrance to the cathedral.
The street scenes
We walked around in the 'Plaza de la Seu', which is in the Barri Gòtic (Gothic Quarter) of Barcelona. The streets are wide, clean, and lined with buildings of Gothic architecture. Barcelona Cathedral, La Seu. Catedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulalia is located here. It is the city's Gothic cathedral. The cathedral took a long time to build: first stone was laid in the thirteenth century and the completion was in the early part of the twentieth century. There are plenty of trendy to touristy oriented shops here. The plaza was crowded with tourists and local sightseers. There was a sort of farmers/community open-air market operating at that time. They were selling beers, bratwursts, and cheeses, and jams, pastries, fruits, and other food items.
Other not-to-miss attractions
According to Barcelona visitors’ guide, there are many more attractions that can be part of your itinerary. Here are a few attractions that need special mention.
Picasso Museum is Barcelona's most famous museum. There is a unique collection of about 4000 by Picasso are displayed here in the museum. Camp Nou Stadium is the home of the FC Barcelona football team. Camp Nou also has one of the largest Nike stores in Europe. The gothic quarter, Barrio Gotico, the medieval city of Barcelona, has many beautiful churches, plazas, and markets and museums.
Modernisme was a Catalan cultural movement centered in Barcelona and Catalonia from 1888 to 1911. There are many modernist buildings in Barcelona that are unique. Some of notable buildings are Casa Amatller by Josep Puig i Cadafalch (1890-1900), Casa Milà "La Pedrera" by Antoni Gaudí (1905-1910), Casa Pons i Pascual by Enric Sagnier (1891), and Casa Ramon Casas by Antoni Rovira i Rabassa (1898).
Montserrat Mountains & monastery. Montserrat mountains, monastery, and basilica are one of Spain's biggest tourist attractions. Montserrat mountain is just one hour from Barcelona and is visited by 3 million travellers and pilgrims every year. Barcelona Aquarium has 11,000 marine animals and 450 distinct species. La Boqueria is a historic and famous fresh food market found on the Rambla street. Parc Guell is a wonderful park designed by Antoni Gaudí Park Guell. A few of the city's beaches are Sant Sebastià, la Barceloneta, and Nova Icària, Bogatell. The Barcelona Zoo is another attraction with about 4000 animals.
Food and Drinks
Barcelona is famous for fun, food, and dinks. It has innumerable cafes, bars, and Michelin-starred restaurants. They purvey everything from Tapas, olives, cheeses, Paella, and cured meats and delectable dinners
There are many shopping areas, bars, restaurants, tiny to trendy stores, galleries, and museums at every nook and corner. There are street vendors, musicians, and street performers. Streets are filled with people casually walking around to imbibing the ambiance. There are open-air markets, food stalls, and other stalls selling trinkets, and treats to tourists. Enjoy a glass of Sherry, Rioja, cava, sangria, or other local and imported wines at a Tapas bar. Everything comes alive in the evening.
One day is not enough
One day is not enough to see and experience Barcelona. Barcelona’s parks, beaches, green spaces, walkable streets lined with historical buildings attracts tourists and locals alike throughout the year. So, walk around, take a hop-on-hop-off bus tour, take the metro or be part of an organized tour group, explore the city. Her sights, sounds, food, theaters, and museums, open-air-markets are open for your enjoyment. Barcelona’s fabulous architecture is yours to discover.
Links and References:
- Internet resources including Wikipedia