Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, is a lively, charming city to visit. There are many different buildings from different centuries located in a walk-able area (Eixample) and visitors could engage in a variety of activities there – Passeig de Gràcia for the shopping, La Rambla for the souvenirs, Born Gotic for the museums and expositions, not forgetting the beautiful Mediterranean beaches. At night, the streets perpendicular to Passeig de Gràcia come alive as people flock to the clubs and bars. It is a simply feast for the eyes to take a walk down Avinguda Diagonal (the busy road with 12 lanes) to admire the modern architecture, turn at Passeig de Gràcia to admire the numerous modernist buildings (2 buildings in the UNESCO heritage sites designed by Gaudi are located there) and through Plaça de Catalunya (where protests occasionally are held). Most of the days, Plaça de Catalunya appears peaceful as pigeons and tourists share the space. I have good memories here too as one night, Eva and I sang songs loudly in this plaza.
Continue in a straight line and you will reach La Rambla (which used to be a place for selling flowers but it is now converted into a street selling souvenirs) and turn left at one of the junctions and you will reach Barri Gòtic which is the maze-like, old city of Barcelona which has many Gothic-styled streets and buildings. If you continue straight in La Rambla, you will see Colom and reach the beautiful beaches. It is a tourist-friendly city with good signposts and several tourist offices in the city. Barcelona has a pretty bad reputation for pickpockets – once we got onto the train heading to the city from the airport, a fellow tourist has already lost his valuables. A visit to Barcelona would be incomplete without seeing the house, the public park and the church designed by the architect Gaudi.
1. Casa Batlló
Casa Batlló, located on Passeig de Gràcia, is a modernist building designed by Gaudí and is rightfully in the UNESCO world heritage list. Gaudí incorporated many elements of nature in his architectural works, making the building into one which is imaginative and fantastical. It is some fun to look at the various components of the building and try to guess which element of nature inspire them. One can easily tell that the facade of the building was partly inspired by bones and skulls. There were other areas in the building inspired by the human rib cage, the cave and the back of the dragon amongst others. Gaudí was also a believer in recycling as he used leftover ceramic discs to decorate the courtyard of the building.
He also believed in having as much natural light into the building as possible. He made this light well to allow natural light to enter and illuminate the building and he deliberately put darker tiles and smaller windows near the top and lighter tiles and larger windows near the bottom of the light well so that the colour of the tiles would appear homogenous in the day since the sunlight is stronger at the top.
Furthermore, unlike other buildings, Casa Batlló is not just about the architectural marvels; it is also about the experience Gaudí created. For instance, there is a peculiar glass window at the light well such that when you keep your eyes on it as you walk down the passageway, you would feel as if you are in the ocean. The water storage room on the roof hidden by the beautiful chimneys teases both your auditory and visual senses.
Gràcia is the village of Barcelona. There are many small shops selling interesting things and numerous cafes in the squares for people to chill. It is just a walk away from Avinguda Diagonal but I feel like I am a world away from that busy road. It is a relaxing place for people to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the city.
3. Picasso Museum
The Picasso Museum is located in a nice medieval building in Barri Gòtic (the Gothic quarters). It tells the story of Picasso in a chronological order and I adore the “Las Meninas” suite in the museum – a collection after performing a comprehensive analysis, reinterpreting and recreating several times the original “Las Meninas” by Diego Velazquez. It allows visitors to compare the different “Las Meninas” and try to figure out the questions that Picasso asked himself when he drew each painting differently from what he did previously. For instance, “do the eyes have to look like this? Does the body have to look like this?” The museum also pays tribute to Picasso’s best friend, Jaume Sabartés, who donated many paintings by Picasso to the Picasso Museum. The signposts in the museum are quite messy though; it is highly possible that one may end up missing a gallery or visiting some of the galleries twice.
4. Barri Gòtic
Barri Gòtic not only houses the Picasso Museum, it also has the city hall, government hall, Cathedral of Barcelona and the Santa Maria del Mar (popularized by the novel Cathedral of the Sea written by Ildefonso Falcones). I was reading the novel while travelling to Barcelona and in Barcelona itself so I was excited to see how the cathedral looks like. Falcones wrote that the Bastaixos carried the stones (used to build the cathedral) on their backs from the pier through the many small alleys to the site of the cathedral. He also mentioned that the colours of the stained glass windows are designed to “play with the strong Mediterranean sunlight” so that the cathedral looks new when you visit it at different time.
We also caught the “La Festa Catalana” held outside the Barcelona Cathedral one Saturday evening and managed to watch the castell (human tower) – a Catalan tradition. It is quite a dangerous sport as the young girl slowly climbed over the bodies and stood at the top of the human castle. It was quite an eye-opener. “La Festa Catalana” was actually intended for the tourists. I would love to join a real Catalan festival one day. 🙂
5. Park Güell
Park Güell is an impressive public park (free!) designed by Gaudi. It was a commercially unsuccessful housing site (only 2 of the planned 60 houses were completed) but nonetheless, it is a beautiful park on one of Barcelona’s hills. It is interesting to see how his architectural works intertwine with the surrounding nature so harmoniously. I really like the walkway inspired by pine trees and it was quite an out-of-the-world experience to walk through it.
Those are the two residential houses that Gaudi built. His own simple and humble residence is located further uphill of these two houses. As you can see, he gave a lot of thought into designing the houses – almost as though they are straight out from the fairy tales.
6. FC Barcelona
I visited Camp Nou, the largest football stadium in Europe, which has a sitting capacity of 99,786. The Camp Nou Experience, as it was called, was an expensive one as admission fee for an adult is 23EUR. Anyhow, it was a pretty cool experience. You first enter the museum where there are shelves after shelves of trophies that the football team, along with the handball, basketball and floorball teams, have accumulated over the years. They show pretty recent trophies as well to my surprise. Even the championship trophy for La Liga (Spanish league) last season was on display. Golden boots of Lionel Messi, which recognized the player who scored the most goals in the season, were also on display.It was interesting to walk down the memory lane to see how football boots and trophies have evolved over the years. They also displayed random objects, such as a jersey or a pair of football boots, from selected matches such as when Barcelona defeated Manchester United on two occasions in the Champions League.
Beyond the museum, visitors get to see various parts of the stadium from the changing room, press room to the tunnel and we get to see the stadium from 3 different heights. It’s indeed a very grand stadium but what I really like is that even from the most peculiar of all angles, spectators could still get a good view of the entire pitch. I also saw how people tended the grass by hand and that certainly boosted the quality of the playing field.
7. Arc de triomf
Having seen the Arc de triomphe in Paris, the arc de triomf in Barcelona is comparatively less spectacular. However, it is tranquil promenade with palm trees and cute street lights on both sides. The park at the end of it (Park of the Ciutadella) is a nice place to relax with man-made lakes, adequate greens and beautiful buildings. The parliament building is also located within the park. On my way back to the metro, I happened to see a protest as firemen marched through the arc de triomf down the promenade, beating the drums and waving the Catalonia flags. Apparently, the firemen were unhappy about the budget cut and my guess was that they were marching towards the parliament building. That was quite a sight to see for a Singaporean. The protest got kind of intense at a later part: http://metro.co.uk/2013/05/30/gallery-barcelona-firefighters-budget-cuts-demonstration-2013-3820423/
Montjuïc is a hill located in Barcelona and there are quite a number of things to see on the hill itself. At the foot of the hill, you will see Las Arenas – now a shopping mall but previously the place for bull-fighting. On the way up to the hill, you will first see the National Art Museum of Catalonia which is a pretty grandeur entrance to the hill. I didn’t have enough time to see the museum.
Anyhow behind the museum, there are several interesting things – the Olympic Park where Barcelona held the 1992 Games and the Castle of Montjuïc. The Castle of Montjuïc was built to serve as the fortress to defend the city against potential attack from the sea. It has a pretty bloody past – Franco used the castle to imprison political prisoners and the President of Catalonia, Lluís Companys i Jover, was executed here by Franco. The castle was open for visiting only very recently and from the castle, you can have a good view of both the Mediterranean Sea and the city.
9. Sagrada Familia
Sagrada Familia is another of Gaudi’s projects and because Gaudi died before the building was completed, Sagrada Familia is still incomplete as of now. Even though it still stands as a work in progress, it is already in the UNESCO World Heritage list. The entrance fee (18EUR) apparently goes towards funding the construction of the church. Similar to other buildings designed by Gaudi, there is a lot of thought put in each architectural detail. Different from the other buildings, the decoration of Sagrada Familia was a product of a joint effort by Gaudi and architects who came after him. For instance, the two exterior facades are made different so as to accentuate the theme each facade represents. There are supposed to be three facades but only two are completed at this time. The picture below shows the Nativity facade and so Gaudi puts in some elements of nature such as leaves to accentuate the idea of life. On the other hand, the Passion facade is simpler and more angular to accentuate the idea of suffering and this was done by Josep Maria Subirachs.
The interior of Sagrada Familia was simply stunning. It was huge and it could accommodate approximately 13000 people. It was also bright as the stained glass windows were purposely coloured so that the amount of sunlight penetrating into the interior could be maximized. Similar to the design of the facades, the glass windows have different colours to accentuate different themes. The roof of the church was held up with tree-like structures. I would love to see Sagrada Familia again when it is completed.