Barcelona is a vital, stimulating city with an enormous range of cultural life and many forms of entertainment. Check out the weekly Guía del Ocio, the Friday edition of El País and the monthly magazine Vivir en Barcelona for details of restaurants, bars, cinemas, theatres, exhibitions, TV programmes, sports meetings, cultural activities and new publications.
The Sagrada Familia church, symbol of Barcelona’s Modernist movement is the most famous work of the great Catalonian architect, Antoni Gaudí who took over the project in 1883 and worked on it exclusively until his death in 1926. The magnificent Nativity facade was completed under his personal direction, but most of Gaudí’s plans were destroyed during the Civil War. At present work continues, controversially, under the direction of the Catalonian sculptor Josep Maris Subirachs.
The city is studded with the works of Gaudí and the other great Modernist architects. One outstanding block of the Paseo de Gracia features a building by each of the most famous – Casa Batalló by Gaudí, (nº 43), Casa Amatller by Puig i Cadafalch (nº 14) and Casa Lleó Morera by Domeneach i Montaner (nº 35). La Pedrera (nº 92) by Gaudí should not be missed, especially the visit to the roof.
Parque Güell. Gaudí’s great patron, Don Eusebio Güell i Bacigalupi, wished to create an English-style garden city and commissioned the architect to design it. Despite excellent planning, the experiment was a financial failure but remains as a park with magnificent views over the city. A Gaudí museum is housed in what was the architect’s home for 20 years.
The Gothic Quarter merits lengthy exploration, on foot and by day. At night it is not an area in which to linger.
The late Middle Ages were a period of great prosperity for Barcelona and there is a rich Gothic heritage, mainly in the old city area, which abounds in churches and palaces of this period. The Cathedral dates from 1298 and although present facade and spire were built from 1885, following 15th century designs. On Sundays at midday groups of friends get together in the cathedral square to dance traditional “sardanas” and anyone can join in.
The Palau de la Generalitat, the seat of Catalonia’s autonomous government, is considered an excellent example of Catalonian civic Gothic with Renaissance features.
Another very beautiful Gothic Church, Santa Maria del Mar, is in the neighbouring area of the La Ribera and across town, the Monasterio de Pedralbes, founded in 1326.
In the Gothic Quarter, the Museu d’Historia de la Ciutat shows many fascinating aspects of the history of Barcelona.
Museu Frederic Marés, a fascinating, idiosyncratic collection accumulated by the sculptor on his travels. The largest single section is devoted to sculpture and there is a host of small items, memorabilia relating to aspects of day to day life from the 18th to 20th centuries.
For spectacular views over Barcelona take a ride to the top of Montjuic, the hill which flanks the south side of the city. Visit the beautiful gardens, fun fair, a museum, the Olympic Stadium or the Poble Espany (a series of reconstructed typical dwellings from all the regions of Spain). Or just admire the view over the city.
On Montjuic is the Fundació Joan Miró created by the painter himself not only to house his own works but also to provide an exhibition and study centre for modern art in general. The foundation is housed in a spacious well-lit building designed by the internationally known Catalonian architect Josep Lluis Sert. The collection of the Museu d’Art Modern in the Ciutadella Park covers painting sculpture and the decorative arts between 1850 and 1930. Individual, computer-designed itineraries allow each visitor to make the most of the time at his disposal.
The Museu d’Art de Catalunya, also on Montjuic, was renovated in 1992 and houses an unsurpassed collection of Spanish Romanesque and Gothic art. The superb collection of ceramics temporarily housed there has been moved to the Palau Reial de Pedralbes.
Plaça Catalunya and Las Ramblas. Plaça Catalunya is the heart of the city, from where the Ramblas slope gently to the sea. While strolling down, admiring the flower stalls and stopping for a beer in Plaça Reial, do not forget to visit the colourful Boquería market, one of the best in Europe, or to admire the Liceo, Barcelona’s famous opera house.
At the foot of the Ramblas, in the port area, is the Museu Maritim. Housed in magnificent medieval shipyards, this collection takes the visitor through the history of Spanish navigation with a monument to Christopher Columbus.
THE SURROUNDING AREAS
Montserrat, an impressive granite mountain and Catalonian holy place since the founding of a monastery there in 1205. Pilgrims come to worship La Moroneta, the 12th century Black Virgin and to listen to the wonderful singing of the boys’ choir.
Sant Sadurní d’Anoia. The capital of Spain’s sparkling wine industry. Tours of many of the wineries are available, but Cavas Codorniu is particularly well-prepared for visitors.
Colonia Güell. Visit the crypt of the enormous church which Gaudí planned for this industrial community. The interior is stunning.
Sitges. An enchanting village on the coast south of Barcelona. Once a Modernist centre with houses and museums to prove it, the old town is full of character and charm. Vilanova i La Geltrú just along the coast has magnificent beaches.
Tarragona with extensive Roman remains, including an amphitheatre and aqueduct.
Poblet. This Cistercian monastery was founded in 1149 in gratitude for the reconquest of the area from the Moors. Much used for religious retreats by the kings of Aragon, it became their pantheon. Take sweaters!
Ripoll and Sant Joan de les Abadesses. A visit to Romanesque Catalonia. The portal of the church at Ripoll justifies the trip by itself while the group in polychrome wood at Sant Just is remarkable.
Ampuries – extensive Greek and Roman remains, with an excellent museum.
Figueres and Cadaqués is a treat for admirers of Salvador Dalí. The museum at Figueres houses an extraordinary collection of his work and Cadaqués is the attractive coastal village where the artist spent his last years.
La Bisbal and Pals. La Bisbal is devoted to the production of ceramics and is an interesting stop on the way to Pals where the medieval town has been attractively restored. New Pals, on the coast, has beautiful beaches and the neighbouring coastal villages of Tamariú, Llafranc and Calella de Palafrugell are delightful.
There are many other places worthy of mention here, but we suggest that much of the pleasure comes from discovering them for yourself. Maps are available from department stores and kiosks, or we will be pleased to advise you in our office.
If wishing to explore further afield, such as it is worth bearing in mind the “paradores”. Literally “inns” the paradors are a chain of state-run hotels, manly of which are converted palaces, castles and convents, often situated in beautiful locations.
Plaza de Catalunya
(underneath the plaza, down steps by Corte Inglés)
Tel. 304 31 34
Open Mon -Sun 9a.m. – 9p.m.
Tel. 301 74 43
Open Mon-Fri 9a.m. – 7p.m. and Sat 9a.m.to 1.30p.m.
Article by Martha Stevens, manager of Costa Blanca Properties.