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Barcelona is the capital and largest city of the autonomous community of Catalonia, a region in the northeast corner of
Spain. With more than 4 million inhabitants, the Barcelona metropolitan area is the second largest in Spain (after
Madrid), and the sixth largest in the European Union. It has a Mediterranean climate (being located on the Mediterranean
Sea) and a good harbor, a factor which undoubtedly contributed to its steady growth over the centuries.
There are two legends as to the founding of the city, and you may choose your favorite: the first legend has the city
being founded by Hercules Himself, son of Zeus. The second has the city being established by Hamilcar Barca of Carthage
in the third Century B.C., and being originally named Barcino to commemorate Hamilcar’s family name. Hamilcar’s son
turned out to be more well-known than his father – his name was Hannibal, and he became famous for marching elephants
over the Alps to attack Rome from the north, also in the third Century B.C.
Barcelona was unquestionably occupied by the Romans, who left ruins behind (as they did in many other places). The city
was then conquered by Visigoths, and then by Arabs, and then by Louis, the son of Charlemagne. A succession of counts
ruled Barcelona and its surrounding region, which grew and developed its identity as Catalonia. A language also developed,
called Catalan, which to the casual observer seems to have elements of both French and Spanish. To this day Catalan is
spoken in the region, and many Catalonians seem to consider themselves to be not quite a part of Spain (except maybe when
Spain does well in the World Cup). There is even a Catalonian separatist movement afoot.
In the 20th Century, Francisco Franco definitely considered Catalonia to be part of Spain, and its resistance to his forces
during the Spanish Civil War was not appreciated. After Barcelona fell to him in 1939, he treated the residents poorly – a
number of executions took place, the region’s privileges of autonomy were revoked, and the speaking of Catalan was
suppressed. But after Franco’s death in 1975, it did not take long for the many Franco statues in Barcelona to vanish from
their pedestals, and the Catalan language, far from forgotten, returned with a vengeance.
It took some time for the city of Barcelona to recover economically from its decades of mistreatment. An event that
accelerated this recovery considerably, though, was the 1992 Summer Olympics, which were held in the city. Sports venues
were built (obviously), the harbor and beach area were cleaned up, and the city’s infrastructure was vastly improved.
Including the fine international airport, where we landed after a short Spanair flight from Madrid.
On walking through the Barcelona airport, we noticed that many of the signs were trilingual, and that Spanish, the country’s official
language, was listed third, after Catalan and English. We’d read on the Internet that there were three main ways to get
into the city from the airport: a taxi, a bus and a train. The taxi was by far the most expensive and the train was the
cheapest, but we ended up taking the Aerobus, which was almost as cheap as the train and which had a stop significantly
closer to our hotel. This stop was in the Plaça de Catalunya, a large square at the end of La Rambla, the principal tourist
street in the city and the site of our hotel, the Eurostar Ramblas Boquería.
Spanair Jet, Barajas Airport, Madrid
Nella at Barajas Airport
Neglected in the brief history above is mention of the artistic importance of Barcelona and Catalonia in the late 19th and
early 20th Centuries. During this time, architecture throughout much of Europe had taken on a style called Art Nouveau,
a style which emphasized decoration using forms taken from nature. In Catalonia, Art Nouveau became a form known as
modernisme, a style in which the imaginations of the architects took them past (sometimes way past) the
Being surrounded by such architecture must certainly have had a profound effect on developing artists of the region. Three
such artists were named Miró, Dalí and Picasso. After getting situated in our hotel, we resolved to visit a well-known
example of modernisme, the Palau de la Música Catalana.
The Palau de la Música Catalana is a concert hall that was designed by the architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner and built
between 1905 and 1908. The exterior is covered with mosaics and sculptures and is not exactly sedate. Have a look:
The interior is similarly ornate, but we weren’t able to get any photos beyond what we could see from outside. To visit
the hall, one must take a guided tour, and tickets are often impossible to get on short notice. We took this tour on a
previous visit in 2005, and a strict no-photography rule was enforced. Nevertheless, we highly recommend the tour if you
can get tickets – it’s a concert hall like no other. More information is available at
Heading back toward the hotel, we stopped at a landmark that reflected styles of an earlier age (and which had no problems with
allowing photography) – the Barcelona Cathedral.
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