A week-end – or why not a week – in Barcelona will bring you in contact with some of the worlds most amazing architecture. Barcelona was the place where Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí created his own very special variety of Art Nouveau.
His fantastic cathedral Sagrada Familia, the Holy Family, looks like a mixture of gothic style, something out of a fairy-tale and an over-decorated wedding cake. No wonder it never got finished and work is still going on today (building started 1882) – but it is now officially consectrated as a place of worship by the pope. The Casa Milà, an apartment building where the balconies seem to sway and undulate and the façade gives a soft and liquid impression is another of his buildings – you might not want to live in it, but looking at it is something you will never forget.
Top it off with the Parc Güell where you can sit on the finest of Art Nouveau benches, inlaid with shimmering tile and glass mosaics, and you will have got a grip of Gaudí’s world of magic.
Barcelona is of course much more than Gaudí. It has a long and varied history starting off with a Roman fort. Later it was part of the Moorish domain of Al-Andalus, but was conquered by the Christians and developed into a trade metropolis in the 12th century. Still later Barcelona was relegated to the sidelines in various centralized more or less “Spanish” state constructions – something that led to an ongoing struggle to preserve the uniquely Catanlonian cultural heritage and language. Today the official languages are both Catalàn and Spanish, which you will see on street signs and official notices.
The trade boom in the middle ages led to a building boom as well, the results of which can be seen in all the gothic buildings in the romantic old town center, Ciudad Vella or Barrì Gòtic. Take a walk through its narrow streets and admire the medieval buildings: the basilica of Santa Maria del Mar, the City Hall, the Palace of Governement and the hospital are all left over from this time.
The place to stop for a drink and tapas is the picturesque square Placa Rejal in the heart of the Old Town. Tapas is the large variety of appetizing small dishes that originally served as a fore-runner to the meal proper, but is nowadays a whole dinner in itself. Remember, this is a city of the night – you eat at ten o’clock in the evening and if you have the stamina you go on to night-clubs afterwards, to stumble home worn out at dawn. That of course prevents you from extensive shopping on Las Ramblas the next day – and walking along this street that cuts through the medieval town and goes on to the brink of the Mediterranean is a must. Chic boutiques and not so chic shops filled with tourist mementoes and cheap ornaments jostle for place with trendy cafés.
Not to be outdone by medieval times, Barcelona is in the grips of a new building boom today, set in motion by the summer Olympics of 1992. Take a visit to the future and go to Parc del Forum.
Extraordinary glass and concrete buildings and – well, not a beach, since there is not a grain of sand, but a place to swim in the sea and sunbathe on a large paved expanse. It’s near the centre, easily accessible by the undergrounds yellow line (stop: El Maresme Fórum). There, you can also see a huge solar panel located at the Forum Esplanade. It is the largest urban solar structure in Europe, with a surface of 10.500 m2. The electricity produced achieves an annual reduction in emissions equivalent to 440 tons of CO2. Impressive!
And while the future is on our minds, remember this is a city where the transport of the future is available to all – get a bike card and you can pick up your public bike at a number of stations, go wherever you want and return it at another station…