World Facts Index > Spain > Barcelona

Barcelona's 'Ciutat Vella', is made up of a network of adjoining labyrinthine neighbourhoods, full of flavour and charm, that form the heart of the city. From Plaça Catalunya if you take Les Rambles (or Las Ramblas in Spanish) towards the sea, it is easy to get your bearings: on the right-hand side we have the Raval quarter with the museum area at the top and finally the Barrio Chino (though it's called the 'Chinese Quarter' you don't see more Chinese people here than anywhere else nowadays); on the lies the Barri Gòtic (Gothic Quarter), with its cathedral and the peaceful Plaça del Pi, chocolate stalls, art rooms...and even further over to the left and separated by the Via Laietana, is the Born, within the quiet neighbourhood of la Ribera, which is becoming more and more fashionable. It is here that you find the magnificent Basílica de Santa Maria del Mar and the Museu Picasso (Picasso Museum). The old quarter has finally broken away from its gradual decline and nowadays is a place where artists, foreigners and students live alongside families and merchants who have been there all their lives. Side by side you also find the modernist bars, concert halls and restaurants which make this an attractive area for going out at night among the locals and visitors. Don't miss it, or you will have missed the chance to get to know the very heart of the ancient and cosmopolitan city.

L'Eixample, or the extension, is an area of Barcelona that grew inland, restricted by coastline, and what was an urban grid has today become a central area. In these streets we find emblematic buildings situated mostly between Passeig de Gràcia and Rambla Catalunya and also many buildings that are either homes or offices. The right-hand side of the Eixample is home to the majestic Sagrada Família by Gaudí, an unfinished work but an absolute must to visit. On the left-hand side, the streets follow the block-like characteristics of this neighbourhood and north of it are other neighbourhoods, old villages that have now become part of the city. We are speaking of the charming Barri de Gràcia, of Les Corts, Sarrià and up on the hills, Hortà-Guinardò. To the left the city is flanked by the popular Barri de Sants, which is well connected in terms of transport by one of the main train stations of the city.

Montjüic and Tibidabo are two of the most beautiful hills in the city. The former, situated to the south, is home to many of the buildings and installations constructed for the Olympic Games in 1992 and the Fundació Miró. On Tibidabo there are houses on the hillside with panormaic views over the city, and at the top is an amusement park and the Torre de Comunicaciones de Collserola (Communications Tower of Collserola) which separates the town from the hills of the same name. These green areas of the city are great places to practice sport, such as tennis, jogging or horse-riding. It is best to get to these places by car, although from the port there is a cable car that goes to Montjüic, and this is a year-round attraction, especially for the children. Also in the port we can get a different view of the city by taking one of the 'golondrinas' (little tour boats) that sail along the coast.

The Mediterranean is mild in temperature and calm, it tempers the heat of the city all year round. This privileged coastal location is one of Barcelona's attractions. People of Barcelona can practice sailing and windsurfing all year round and there are plenty of places where you can do this. From the Port Olímpic (Olympic Port) to Barceloneta, there are several neighbourhoods bordering the sea. Here there are plenty of fish restaurants where you can eat excellent rice dishes and fresh fish that varies according to the time of year. The golden evenings of summer are a relaxing balm as you sit in one of the many terraces of the Maremàgnum or the Port Olímpic and by night, bronzed bodies and latin music come together in designer open-air bars. Just half an hour from the city travelling south you find Sitges, with its pretty beaches and coves, and to the north the Costa Brava awaits. Weather permitting you shouldn't miss having a swim in the Mare Nostrum.

History of Barcelona

The Olympic Games in 1992 brought about a renaissance of this millennial city, which has always been and still is the focal point of modernization in Spain. Barcelona has many cities locked within its breast. It can purport to have been a Roman city, an ancient, Gothic and aristocratic city, a significant Mediterranean port, and capital of Catalonia, one of the most dynamic regions of Europe. Her rich historical past is the base on which the foundations of this new city were laid, this outward-looking and cosmopolitan city, which remains habitable thanks to its natural boundaries of sea and mountains.

It is said that the name Barcelona derives from the arrival at her shores from Africa of the hero Hercules almost 2,000 years B.C. According to legend, this expedition was made up of nine boats ' 'Barca' (boat) ' 'nona' (nine) with colonists aboard. Nevertheless, it was the Romans who left an indelible print on the then-named Barcino in the first century B.C. Barcino never had the importance and power attained by Tarraco (modern Tarragona), the Roman par excellence, whose decline finally began at the same time as Barcinona's rise in the Visigoth period.

After a century of Muslim domination ' a time of intensive commercial activity, and peaceful religious coexistence among Jews, Christians and Muslims ' came the arrival of Christian governors, and with this event the Muslim community was confined outside the city and the Jews to one part of it, the Call, nowadays several streets run across it - Palla, Banys Nous, Bisbe and the Plaza Sant Jaume (Plaça Sant Jaume), and it goes as far as Calle Ferran. The Jewish community had been the champion of culture and commerce in Barcelona between the 11th and 13th centuries. However, their confinement to the ghetto of the 'Call' district presaged events in 1492 when they were banished from the Iberian Peninsula. At this time, the city received the name 'La Ciudad Condal', being the capital of various 'condados' (shires) of Cataluña Vieja (old Catalonia). Barcelona championed the expansionist policies of the Crown of Aragon towards the lands of Valencia and Baleares and became the naval base for a strong trading centre. The joint power of Catalonia-Aragon extended to Sicily, Sardinia, Malta, Naples, Albania, Corsica, Athens and part of Greece, and is characterized by pioneering the establishment of social norms, maritime regulations and other customs that other parts of Europe were later to copy. Catalonia was proclaimed self-governing in the 15th century, with the establishment of headquarters in the Palace of the Generalitat (Palau de la Generalitat), across from the Ayuntamiento (Town Hall), in Sant Jaume Square. The city's growth during Medieval times coincided with the blossoming of its Gothic architecture, reflected in such magnificent works as the Cathedral, the churches of Sant Just and Sant Jaume and the basilicas of Santa María del Pi and Santa María del Mar, works representing the zenith of Catalonian Gothic architecture.

Thanks to the marriage of Isabella and Ferdinand ' the well-known Catholic Monarchs ' and after uniting with the kingdom of Castille in the 15th century, Barcelona, Catalonia and the kingdom of Aragon found themselves immersed in profound economic and political decline which continued until the 18th century. This situation was brought about by the conquest and colonization of America, to the detriment of commerce in the Mediterranean, and by the rise of Turkey as a great Mediterranean maritime power. The region's death knell came about from the loss of its statutory privileges as a result of backing the Archduke Charles of Austria in the Spanish War of the Succession, who lost against the Bourbons led by a triumphant Phillip V.

It would not be until the 19th century, with the industrial revolution and the cultural renaissance, that the city returned to its former glory. Industrialization ran parallel to the renaissance of the Catalan language (the 'Renaixença'). The Modernist movement emerged in the arts, a movement for which the city is today best known and admired internationally. The industrial bourgeois pioneered all these movements. Influenced by nationalistic movements in other parts of Europe, they opposed the trend towards Castilianisation embodied in the Decrees of the 'Nueva Planta' originating from Madrid. Modernism, derived from Art Nouveau and exposed to various historical and folkloric influences, decorated many of the buildings of the Barcelona 'Eixample' ' the parts of Barcelona designed and built with the plans of Ildefons Cerdà in reticulated style. It was a district for the cultured bourgeois class of the era. The greatest embodiment of Modernism, Antoni Gaudí, designed some of the most well-known Modernist works. Outstanding amongst them are the Sagrada Familia, Casa Milà also known as La Pedrera, Casa Batlló and Park Güell (Parc Güell), buildings and places that are visited by tourists from all over the world.

The post-war years and the Franco dictatorship spelled a long period of political and cultural repression for Barcelona and all of Spain. Now, after 25 years of democracy, during which Barcelona's citizens have shared their vote between socialists and nationalists, the city has completely recovered. Under the mandate of Pasqual Maragall, the city opened up to the sea with the building of the infrastructure for the 1992 Olympic Games: the Olympic Village (Vila Olímpica), of notably modern design; the Anillo Olímpico (Anella Olímpica, or Olympic Ring) by Montjüic and Puerto Olímpico (Port Olímpic, or the Olympic Port). This was also the city's best era for its football club, Barça.


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