BARCELONA - This is a city whose architecture you either love or hate. Frankly, I loved its old churches like the massive Middle Age Cathedral of Santa Eulalia, and other buildings that dominate its Old Quarter and the revitalized port area where much of the 1992 Summer Olympics was staged.
I hate almost everything connected with Antoni Gaudi, the flamboyant architect whose abstract creations look like they are melting in the Mediterranean sun. However, I appear to be alone in that observation, because Gaudi’s designs – more art than architecture - dominate the city and are the main reason millions of tourists come here each year.
It must be something in the water but many of the world’s most daring modern artists and architects were born in Bercelona, including Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali and Antoni Tapies.
Gaudi’s buildings stand out amongst the city’s ancient architecture - the churches and grand homes that, apparently, first inspired Gaudi. Somewhere along the way, however, he got sidetracked.
Founded in the 3rd century BC and later occupied by Roman legions, Barcelona has always been a showcase city. Its location, along the Mediterranean coast at the mouth of the Llobregat and Besos rivers, has made it an important trading stop throughout the centuries and a melting pot of peoples.
People here are encouraged to be free thinkers and there is no better proof of that than in the designs of its buildings. Works like the Sagrada Famllia, started in 1883 and still not completed today, are perfect examples.
“It is supposed to be finished in 2007 to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the laying of the first stone but Spain will win a World Cup before the Sagrada is finished - and the likelihood of my country winning the World Cup is many years away,” laughed a local guide. The exact date of completion varies between 2007 and 2020 with locals betting on the latter. While considered one of Gaudi’s greatest works, the Sagrada and its signature four pencil straight bell towers was originally designed by architect Francesc de Paula del Villar but he abandoned the project eight years after it was started and that’s when Gaudi entered the scene.
Above: Everywhere you look in Barcelona, a Gaudi creation looks back at you.
The project became Gaudi’s lifelong obsession and he completely immersed himself in it, fussing over every detail right up until the time of his death in 1926 when he was tragically killed after being struck by a trolley.
The Sagrada was originally called the “pauper’s cathedral” but is not considered a cathedral today.
Judging by the number of tour busses surrounding the Sagrada, it’s become one of the most sought out tourist sites in the city and its four impressive towers can be scene from almost everywhere in beautiful Barcelona.
But nothing will shock or impress you like La Pedrera, located in the Mila House. Prepare yourself for some of the weirdest architecture and sculptures you’re ever likely to see – located on the roof of the Mila House, famous for not having any straight edges. Sculptures that look like they were delivered from another planet bewilder visitors and the building itself is one of the most photographed in Barcelona.
A stroll down Las Ramblas, Barcelona’s main boulevard where pedestrians wander shaded by leafy trees and where many Gaudi-like structures line the way, brings you to even more of the city’s ancient and modern treasures.
Above: The Sagrada was originally called the “pauper’s cathedral.”
Las Rambles also leads to the port area where a collection of water side restaurants usually requires a reservation early in the evening to respond to the eating schedule of the tourists. Spaniards, remember, like to eat and play late into the night. Unfortunately, Barcelona is notorious for its pick pockets and visitors cannot be warned enough to leave their valuables in a hotel safe, especially when visiting high traffic tourist areas of the city.
The residential areas of Barcelona are some of the most beautiful in Europe and the stately apartments with the long floor to ceiling shutters there are simply delightful.
There are many other highlights in Barcelona like its world renowned aquarium in the Port Vell (port area) – a perfect spot for young travelers; Poble Espanyol – Spanish Village – where Flamenco shows are held; the Barcelona zoo, which attracts over a million visitors a year; the Picasso Museum on Montcada Street; or any of the city’s other outstanding museums, the largest of which is the National Art Gallery in Palau Nacional (the national plaza).
The National Gallery building is one of the most attractive in the city – mainly, it says here, because it was not designed by Gaudi.
- The best way to get around Barcelona is on it Metro (subway) system.
- Cabs are reasonably priced but always ask your hotel to call one.
- For more information on Barcelona, go to www.barcelona-tourist-guide.com.