Where old and new co-mingle boldly and beautifully
Issue: Aug 2010
Barcelona is Spain’s second largest city after Madrid and has a population of 1.5 million
The Mediterranean coastal city of Barcelona may not have the flamboyance of its sister city, Madrid. But this capital city of one of the 17 autonomous regions of Spain, Catalonia, certainly has a charm all of its own. In Barcelona, history and modernity have found a special synergy that has spawned a culture unique to it. Avant-garde art sit comfortably alongside ancient Roman remains while medieval districts and stylish urban streets intertwine. This is a city at home with its history.
La Sagrada Familia has 18 spires – 12 for the apostles, four for the evangelists, one each for Jesus and Mary
Barcelona has a wealth of historic architecture, the most popular of which are the works of Antoni Gaudi. In fact, his buildings have been declared to be World Heritage Sites by UNESCO, marked for preservation and noted for its cultural significance. His buildings are distinctive for their use of colourful mosaic tiles on the exterior and curved forms influenced by Nature. And though they were designed between the late 19th century and early 20th century, they continue to be remarkably unique by any standards.
No visit to Barcelona can be considered complete without a pilgrimage to the cathedral, La Sagrada Familia. Begun in 1882, this giant monument was the last design Gaudi was working on till his death in 1926. Though he never completed it, this tribute to his Catholic faith is widely believed to be his greatest work. It remains under construction till today and is expected to be completed in 2026, on the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death. A museum on the cathedral’s grounds traces the history of the construction and provides insights into the man behind the structure.
The "skulls" of Casa Batllo are balconies while the “bones” are supporting pillars
The architect, dubbed as “God’s architect” by some because of his reclusive nature and devotion to Catholicism, has other noteworthy creations in the city. Casa Batllo has a façade of what appears to be “skulls” supported by “bones”. Designed to be a premium home for then wealthy aristocrat, Josep Batllo, Gaudi drew inspiration from marine life such as coral for this building. Park Guell, a playground for the aristocracy of Gaudi’s day, features amazing stone structures and dazzling mosaic tile work.
August is a popular month for tourists to visit Barcelona. But if you want to savour the city, then try the months of September and October when many of the cultural events and festivals take place that offer insights into the culture of the city.
Every year, close to the end of September, the city holds its largest street party, the Barcelona La Merce Festival. It lasts five days and encompasses over 500 events such as live music performances by international artistes, parades, firework displays, “castellers” attempting to form the highest human tower and processions of wooden giants.
La Merce Festival is celebrated in honour of Barcelona’s patron saint, Mare de Deu de la Merce
Around 15 August, the Festes de Gracia is held. This Catalonian celebration commemorates the Assumption. Weeklong festivities see the city streets decorated in an explosion of colours and lights. By day, there are parades that evoke Catalan folklore, concerts, floats and arts and crafts activities. By night, live music, dancing, fireworks and outdoor parties can be expected.
From early December to 23 December, Fira de Santa Llucia takes place. The month-long Christmas bazaar is held outside Barcelona Cathedral. Approximately 300 stalls are set up, selling anything from seasonal goods to Christmas decorations. Parades and exhibitions and the enactment of the nativity scene add to the celebrations. A much-loved feature of this festival is the giant Caga Tio, which is a huge “log”, adorned with a smiley face. This Catalan mythological figure related to Christmas is filled with presents. Children beat it with a stick much like they do the Mexican piñata to make it burst and disgorge its contents.
For a more sedate dose culture, Barcelona offers over 55 museums and numerous outdoor art exhibitions. La Pedrera was built by Antoni Gaudi as an apartment but has since become a museum, housing Renaissance drawings and modern art paintings. The Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya in the Palau Nacional has the single best collection of Romanesque art in the world and an impressive Gothic collection as well. The CosmoCaixa is the city’s science museum and one of the best of its kind in Europe. The Catalan Archaeological Museum exhibits archaeological findings from Catalunia from different eras. And the Barcelona Centre of Contemporary Culture has regular exhibitions of photographs, paintings, sculptures and frescos from around the world.
Barcelona is beautiful when explored on foot. Visit the Gothic quarter for a blast from the past. Built on an old Roman village, some relics from the past are still evident in this place. Restaurants, cafes and bars around Placa Reial, boutiques and shops littered around the place and a vibrant nightlife make this district a favourite with visitors.
The difference between pintxos and tapas is that the latter tends to come in larger portions and individual servings
Catalan Cuisine Discovered
Along Las Ramblas, a fabulous tree-lined pedestrian walkway in the Gothic quarter, you can check out famous painter, Pablo Picasso’s old hangout, Els Quatre Gats. This café was where the young Picasso held one of his first solo exhibitions.
While you’re in Barcelona, give pintxos a try. Tapas bars may be everywhere and may be considered quintessential Spanish fare, but it is not native to Catalan cuisine. Pintxos, a Basque counterpart to tapas, is the more likely choice for Catalans. Pintxos are like open-faced sandwiches with a variety of toppings secured to the bread with a toothpick (hence they are also called pincho or Spanish for “spike”).
Camp Nou also hosts other events like musical concerts apart from soccer matches
Football Fantics’ Favourite
It is little wonder that Spain should claim the prize at the 2010 World Cup. After all, the country is home to some of the most famous football clubs in the world. When in Barcelona a trip to Camp Nou, home ground of FC Barcelona, is a must. The stadium is the biggest in Europe and has a museum of the club’s history and shops. Guided tours of the place are available.
Like the surrealist painter, Salvador Dali who was a native of Barcelona, the city is equal parts of eccentric, enigmatic and exciting and well worth a visit or two.
And if you visit this charming city, there is no better place to stay than in the Citadines Barcelona Ramblas. Located literally right in Barcelona's main meeting place, Ramblas, Citadines Ramblas has the perfect locale for you to soak up the atmosphere of Barcelona.
To book a room in the heart of the city, visit www.citadines.com/en/spain/barcelona/ramblas.html.