BARCELONA – SPAIN'S CULTURAL HEART
Lying on the Mediterranean Sea near the north end of the Costa Brava, Barcelona is more than Spain's second largest city of Spain, its largest port, and its chief commercial and industrial center.
It is also Spain's most user-friendly city, where walking is the only way to experience this birthplace of Antonio Gaudi, Pablo Picasso and Joan Miro, three of many Barcelonans who have defined the world of Spanish romanticism and cultural flamboyance.
The Carthaginians founded the city, and it flourished under the Romans and Visigoths before falling to the Moors and to then to Charlemagne. Evidence of that past is everywhere, in its structures, overhead and under foot.
Today's Barcelona is now exactly what it always has been the Spanish center of anarchism and other radical political and intellectual movements and it's that past that gives the city its ongoing vitality with a population determined to prove its differences.
Certainly, you can easily immerse yourself in Barcelona's charm and delights found in its great cathedrals, its ancient buildings, cosmopolitan attitudes, its unique architecture, trendy nightspots, its music and art.
Yet, for many who visit here Barcelona's identity can be summed up in a single word – Gaudi. For when they leave this city, the most vivid memory many take with them is the work left behind by 19th and early 20th century architect, Antoni Gaudi, whose imprint on this city is enormous even though he left relatively few examples of his style.
His impact on building flair was so powerful, and his work so unique and overwhelming that there is even an English language fashion insult named after him. Over dress with flamboyant style and bright colors and someone (hopefully your fashion knowledgeable partner) might say, "Don't you think that's too Gaudi?"
Gaudi was as much an artist as he was a builder of structure. You simply cannot mistake his work for someone else's and that is probably why his personal style did not travel well in his day although Gaudi's style of few straight lines and barely any right angles is today's architectural fashion.
It is easy to visit his major works with their wavy building fronts, rooftop sculptures that hide pipes, and elaborate tile work since several are within easy walking distance of the Placa de Catalunya, the city center. The crown jewel of his talents is at the nearby Sagrada Familia, the massive cathedral that is still under construction, long after Gaudi's death in 1926.
Park Guell, in the northern part of the city and easily accessible by tram, is both a cultural and entertaining experience with building shapes that deliver fun and delight to both children and adults. Visit Gaudi's old home and museum at the edge of the park.
However, the city is too energetic and historically complex to be identified by only one person's work. It is the most cosmopolitan, modern and avant-garde city in Spain and a place where English is spoken almost as a second language.
At the Placa de Catalunya, you are at the city's heart, its primary gathering place. Las Ramblas – extending 1.2 kilometres from the plaza to the Mediterranean - is comparable to Paris' Left Bank, and it is where Barcelonans pass time at bookstalls, buy flowers, converse with artists, have their portraits painted in chalk, sit in cafes and watch the world walk by.
Lined with shops, cafes, flower stalls, street performers, and a wonderful food market called Boqueria, it is one of the city's most popular places. On your walk, you will pass by the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona's circa 1848 opera house, gutted by a fire in 1994 and has since been rebuilt.
Close by is the Barrio Gothic (The Gothic Quarter) with its winding streets, busy squares, small cafes, and ancient structures. The city began here as the Roman settlement, Barcino, and the old Roman main roads go through the area today.
Most of the preserved monuments date from the 14th and 15 centuries, when Barcelona was a major maritime power. It is easy to lose yourself in the Bario with its many narrow and winding streets, but once you locate the Cathedral of Santa Eulalia (13th–15th centuries) everything makes sense.
Boutiques, antique shops and artisan galleries are plentiful. It's best known attractions include the Picasso Museum and the Santa Maria del Mar cathedral, one of many cathedrals worth inspecting in Barcelona. Built between 1329 and 1383 its simple lines and sophisticated elegance stands in contrast to Barcelona's mostly ornate and Gaudi architecture.
IF YOU GO:
El Corte Inglés, at Plaza Catalunya, is Spain's largest department store chain and seen by the Spanish as a symbol of their culture. It's the go-to place for Spanish fashions, gourmet foods, tickets for cultural events, Spanish wines, and a travel agency.
In addition to upscale international names like The Four Seasons and Le Meridien, there are no shortages of clean and quaint Spanish-based accommodation catering to any traveller's budget.
The Picasso museum is located in five medieval palaces linked together to make a single museum housing 3500 oils and drawings from Picasso's Barcelona period and later. Contact: Barcelona Tourism Office - http://www.barcelonaturisme.com/wv3/en/
PHOTOS by Toshi
1. Gaudi's Rooftop covers for exposed vents
2. Gaudi's Rooftop sculptures
3. Las Ramblas, Barcelona's popular walking area
4. One of Gaudi's unique houses in central Barcelona 5.Sagrada Familia, Gaudi's massive cathedral still under constructionTravel Writers' Tales is an independent travel article syndicate that offers professionally written travel articles to newspaper editors and publishers. To check out more, visit www.TravelWritersTales.com
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