Barcelona is located in the comarca of Barcelonès, along the Mediterranean coast between the mouths of the rivers Llobregat and Besòs. It is 160 km (100 mi) south of the Pyrenees mountain range. The population of the city proper is 1,593,075 (est. 2005), while the population of the metropolitan area is 4,686,701 (est. 2005). Population of the province of Barcelona is 5,226,354 (est. 2005), although this only covers 7,733 km² around the city.
Barcelona has boomed since the early 1990s, when preparations for the Olympic Games wrenched it into modernity. The Barcelona Montjuïc Olympic stadium (Estadi Olimpic) was the venue for the 1992 Olympic games that ran from July 26 to August 21 of that year. Today the Barcelona Olympic stadium is open to visitors to take a look around and see where all the action took place.
Barcelona remains well in the vanguard of other Spanish cities (with the possible exception of Madrid) in terms of prosperity, stability and cultural activity. It’s a confident, progressive city, looking towards the rest of Europe for its inspiration and its innovations. The classic tourist images of Spain seem firmly out of place in Barcelona’s bustling central boulevards and stylish modern streets.
And style is what brings many visitors to Barcelona, attracted by enthusiastic newspaper and magazine articles which make much of the outrageous architecture, user-friendly city design, agreeable climate and frenetic nightlife. Even the medieval Gothic quarter and its once-notorious red-light area have been swept up by the citywide renovation programme, which is still running at full tilt. As the new millennium starts Barcelona has continued to blossom from provincial city to putative European capital.
City of Barcelona
It’s no accident that the city’s current development outstrips most of the rest of Spain. With the return to democracy following the death of Franco, the various Spanish regions were allowed to consolidate their cultural identities through varying degrees of political control over their own affairs. Catalunya (Catalonia in English), of which Barcelona is the capital, has an historical identity going back as far as the ninth century.
Barcelona offers a unique opportunity for the tourist to walk from Roman remains to the medieval city, and then to the modern city with its open thoroughfares and grid-iron street pattern. The historic city center is fairly flat, while the modern city fans out towards the surrounding hills, bordered by steep streets that are vaguely reminiscent of those found in San Francisco.
A notable feature is Las Ramblas, a boulevard that runs from the city center to the waterfront, thronged with crowds until late at night and lined by florists, bird sellers in the higher part, craft sellers in the lowest, street entertainers, cafeterias, and restaurants. Walking along Las Ramblas one can see the world-famous opera house El Liceu, the food market of La Boqueria and the Plaça Reial (literally Royal square), with its arches and palm trees, amongst other interesting buildings. There’s also a Wax Museum near the end. It is also worth keeping an eye out for pickpockets, for whom the boulevard is a favourite haunt.
Las Ramblas ends at the old harbour, where a statue of Christopher Columbus (Monument a Colon) points eastwards across the Mediterranean Sea to his birth place of Genoa.
Next to it is the Museu Marítim (naval museum), which chronicles the history of life on the Mediterranean, including a full-scale model of a galley. The buildings of the museum are the medieval Drassanes (shipyards), where the ships which sailed the Mediterranean were built. The old harbour offers all kinds of other amenities, including the second largest aquarium in the Mediterranean area and an IMAX cinema.
To the north of downtown is the Parc de la Ciutadella, which includes both the Parlament de Catalunya (Catalan Parliament) and the Parc Zoològic de Barcelona (zoo). One of Barcelona’s most famous residents, the late albino gorilla Copito de Nieve (“Snowflake”), lived and died recently at the zoo. The park also contains science museums, like the zoology museum, housed in a modernist building.
La Sagrada Familia by Antonio Gaudi
Antoni Gaudi was one of the most important modernist style architects worldwide. Many of his most extraordinary works are to be found in Barcelona.
Over the course of his career, Gaudi developed a sensuous, curving, almost surreal design style which established him as the innovative leader of the Spanish Art Nouveau movement. With little regard for formal order, he juxtaposed unrelated systems and altered established visual order. Gaudi’s characteristically warped form of Gothic architecture drew admiration from other avant-garde artists.
La Sagrada Familia is one of Gaudi’s most famous works in Barcelona. It’s a giant temple that has been under construction since 1882 (that’s not a typing error!) and it’s not expected to be completed for the next 50 to 80 years…
When you visit the building you will see the contrast in the stone colour between the front and back of the building. Also the actual style of construction appears somewhat different between the new and old parts of the building.
The building is still under construction so be prepared to see a lot of work continuing when you visit. However this in itself is interesting, especially if you visit the museum inside the building. There you will see the stone masons at work carving stones to be used in the building.