BARCELONA
 

BARCELONA - THE TOWN

INTRODUCTION

The City of Barcelona is the capital of the province known as Catalunya (Castilian Spanish as Cataluña, whilst in English as Cátalunia). It has its own distinct character standing apart from being the “heavy and austere” image that tends to be associated generally with Spain. It is in this city that culture literally “bubbles” on the surface with its extremes of expression matched only by its ambitious, imaginative and hard-working population. The history of the region shows us that they are people with a tendency to be very capably and creative as individualists which they pursue with emotional tenacity. At the same time their strong loyalty and pride to their regional origins binds them together with equal passion.

For the purposes of the traveller it is easier to divide the city into the following districts and when possible each item of interest indicates the district in which it will be found.

Barri Gòtic & La Ribeira
These are basically the “downtown” heart of the old part of the city around the Cathedral and the tourist attraction of the walking street, La Rambla.

El Raval
The El Raval district boarders to the west of the Barri Gòtic and has been in the past traditionally the workers persons district. It is now being slowly upgraded and is now a cosmopolitan area for living besides its commerce.

Montjuïc
Named after the Jewish cemetery the Montjuïc lies to the west of the El Ravel and includes a pleasant large Park with several attractions and several other buildings left over from the 1992 Olympics.

Port Vell, Barceloneta & Port Olímpic
These three districts are linked together and cover the port area stretching from below El Ravel and Barri Gòtic to the south west edge of Sant Martí district. This was once a scruffy area which underwent transformation with advent of the Olympics.

Eixample
This district is a more recent part of Barcelona and lies directly to the north of El Ravel and Barri Gòtic. Through it runs the greater part of the wide Avinguda Diagonal. When in the middle 1800 the city expanded beyond its city walls, Eixample was used to expound the architecture chosen by rich merchants and it is here the famous Sagrada Família is to be found.

Gràcia, Tibidabo & Zona Alta
These districts are on the northern limits of Barcelona in the hilly area with 15 parks which included the most well known, Parc Guëll.

From a tourists point of view there are so many attractions that they have been listed separately in this site under each category. However, as a brief guide we have short listed below the most popular and major cultural locations for the visitor. Barcelona has many other attractions and this can be seen by just checking the number and variety of the many museums within the city.

La Rambla – Barri Gótic
Barcelona Cathedral – Barri Gòtic
Parc de la Ciutadella - Barcelonata
Sagrada Familia – Eixample
Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya - Montjuïc
Palau de la Música Catalana – La Ribeira
La Pedrera – Eixample
Fundació Joan Miro - Montjuïc
Museu Picasso – La Ribeira
Museu d’Art Contemporani Contemporània – El Raval

BARCELONA - DESCRIPTION

This city is probably one of the most praised of all cities in Europe and there are countless written accounts of its fascinating cultural attractions. Below we have just skimed over its surface – a city that has held two international World Fairs in 1888 and 1929, and recently the host for the 1992 Olympic Summer Games.

The heart of old Barcelona is the section known as the “Barri Gòtic”, a warren of narrow streets and medieval gothic palaces as a reminder to the past that have been built on ruins of pre-Roman times. In the turbulent middle 1850s, the city elders decided to change the face of the rest of the town by removing the old city walls and creating grand boulevards designed to impress and at the same time allowing for future functional expansion. The winning architect was Ildefons Cerdá whose design remains today as a testimony to his excellent layout. Happily for the city, it also coincided with the emergence of their internationally famous architect Antoni Gaudí whose creations still to this day amaze and inspire all those who view his works. Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926), has left his signature in the form of sculptured buildings and objects in such an impressive manner that there are “Guided Gaudí Tours” which come highly recommended.

The imposing towers of the Cathedral in Praça de la Seu mark the third version of this building to be built on this same site. The first was completely destroyed by the Moors in 985, the second built by Count Ramón Berenguer I was also later destroyed, and the present version was begun in 1298 by King Juame II but because of constant disagreements of ruling fractions over many centuries, it was only finally completed in 1892! It is said that successful Cátalan Gothic architecture is achieved when it masters not only height but also length and width. The cathedral is considered a success in this respect and it also holds a curious catalogue of past history. The emblazoned arms of six European Kings remind us when in 1514 it was the home of the famed Knights of the Golden Fleece. A twisted crucifix tells the story when it apparently had to avoid a Turkish cannon-ball! A Moorish head is said to represent “Ali Baba” who was defeated at the Battle of Lepanto.

The “Palau de la Generalitat” was built in the 15th Century and this is a Palace that possibly truly marks the independent spirit of the Cátalunia. Inside this building so much of Barcelona’s turbulent history was born, declared, and died. The “Generalitat” was founded in 1359 by Jaume I as a form of parliament with fiscal responsibilities. It was not until Philip I of Spain came to the throne that it was abolished and replaced by a body under the royal control with the name of “Real Audencia”. Opposite to the palace is the City Hall from which in 1374 to 1714 the “Counsel of a Hundred” elected citizens that governed the affairs of the city almost like it was their own republic. Nearby, is the “Palau del Lloctinent” built in 1557 that now houses a magnificent collection of medieval documents form the Archives of the Crown of Aragón.

The “Palau Reial Major” was the residence of both the Counts of Barcelona and the Kings of Aragón. The palace has an unusual 16th Century structure of five levels of galleries built by Antoni Carbonell and an imposing reception hall with huge rainbow arches constructed Guillen Carbonell in 1362. It is related that in this hall King Ferdinand narrowly missed being assassinated. Also, it was here that Fernando and his wife Queen Isabel received Columbus on his return from his first voyage of discovery.

The original Jewish Quarter in the medieval times was known as “El Call” and ly close to Carrer Bisbe. In the 11th and 12th Centuries this small section was a centre of learning but in 1243 King Juame I ordered its inhabitants to wear a special hat to show that they were of a different religion and also semi-isolated the area. Regardless of this form of marked persecution they continued to flourish and attracted other Jews expelled from other cities. They continued to enjoy their freedom until the end of the 14th Century when they suffered persecution from riots under the pretence that the Jews were spreading the plaque. Eventually in 1424 they were all also expelled and stones from their homes and synagogues were used for new buildings.

The Plazuela de Sant Just houses the two palaces of “Moxió” and “Palamòs”. The latter now is the home to the City Gallery of “Catalans Most Illustrious” and it is without question the grandest remaining medieval private building. Built originally in the 13th Century it was at one time was the home of Don Galcaran de Requesens who was responsible for the Cátalan Civil War (1462-1472). He supported the Crown and tradesmen in a fraction against the ruling nobles. I was near to this building that the artist Joan Miró was born in 1893.

Towering over the port is the statue to Columbus constructed in 1888. There are many Cátalans who somehow believe that this illustrious Italian born discoverer was in fact Cátalan born to a Jewish family on the Island of Mallorca. Nearby are the restored medieval shipyards of the “Drassanes”. Another area to explore must be the famous “Ramblas” which have been built over what were once a river bed. It is on a promenade down these vibrant arteries of the city that diversity and glamour meet. The city also has its own version of the Paris “Left and Right Bank” with the Rambla de Catalunya marking its division. Another of the many landmarks is the 350 foot towers crowning Gaudí’s unfinished masterpiece of “Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia”. Among the many creations by Gaudí we wish to single out for visit both the “Convento del Santa Teresa” in Sarrià, and the “Palace del Pederalbes”.

There is so much more to be seen! We hope that the above will “wet your appetite” to the vast wealth of architectural and historic structures and their many fascinating interiors that await every visitor to the unforgettable Barcelona.

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