By: ANNA MARIE MATEESCU
Catalonia is an independent, yet integral part of Spain. Despite the fact that the Catalan language was banned from being spoken under the fascist Franco regime (and that Spanish was the only language allowed), nowadays when the older generation above 60 speaks Spanish, they will often speak a form of “Spatalan”. Spatalan is mostly Spanish but with a lot of Catalan tossed in, which can be difficult for foreigners to understand at times. Keep in mind that Catalan is as separate a language from Spanish, much like French and Italian are. It is not a Spanish dialect.
BARCELONA is a city on the coast of northeastern Spain. It is the capital and largest city of the autonomous community of Catalonia, as well as the second most populous municipality of Spain. With a population of 1.6 million within city limits, its urban area extends to numerous neighbouring municipalities within the Province of Barcelona. It is home to around 4.8 million people, making it the fifth most populous urban area in the European Union after Paris, Europe’s rural areas, Madrid, and Milan. It is one of the largest metropolises on the Mediterranean Sea, located on the coast between the mouths of the rivers Llobregat and Besòs. It is bounded to the west by the Serra de Collserola mountain range, the tallest peak of which is 512 metres (1,680 feet) high. Initially founded as a Roman city, during the Middle Ages Barcelona became the capital of the County of Barcelona. After merging with the Kingdom of Aragon, Barcelona continued to be an important city in the Crown of Aragon as an economic and administrative centre and the capital of the Principality of Catalonia. Barcelona has a rich cultural heritage; today it is an important cultural centre and a major tourist destination. Particularly renowned are the architectural works of Antoni Gaudí and Lluís Domènech i Montaner, which have been designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Since 1450, it is home to the University of Barcelona, widely considered the most prestigious university in Spain. The headquarters of the Union for the Mediterranean are located in Barcelona. The city is known for hosting the 1992 Summer Olympics as well as world-class conferences, expositions, and also many international sport tournaments. Barcelona is a major cultural, economic, and financial centre in southwestern Europe (as well as the main biotech hub in Spain). As a leading world city, Barcelona’s influence in global socio-economic affairs qualifies it for global city status. It is known for principal seaports, the busiest European passenger port, an international airport (Barcelona–El Prat Airport, which handles over 50 million passengers per year), an extensive motorway network, and a high-speed rail line with a link to France and the rest of Europe.
According to the Köppen climate classification, Barcelona has a maritime Mediterranean climate with mild winters and warm to hot summers, while the rainiest seasons are autumn and spring. The rainfall pattern is characterized by a short (3 months) dry season in summer, as well as less winter rainfall than in a typical Mediterranean climate. Barcelona is one of the most densely populated cities in Europe.
The Barcelona metropolitan area comprises over 66% of the people of Catalonia, one of the richer regions in Europe and the fourth richest region per capita in Spain, with a GDP per capita amounting to €28,400 (16% more than the EU average). The greater Barcelona metropolitan area had a GDP amounting to $177 billion (equivalent to $34,821 in per capita terms, 44% more than the EU average), making it the 4th most economically powerful city by gross GDP in the European Union, and 35th in the world in 2009. Barcelona city had a very high GDP of €80,894 per head in 2004, according to Eurostat. Furthermore, Barcelona was Europe’s fourth best business city and fastest improving European city, with growth improved by 17% per year as of 2009. Barcelona was the 24th most “livable city” in the world in 2015 according to lifestyle magazine.
From art to food, soccer to fun nights out, Barcelona makes an excellent city break. Part of what makes it such a tourist magnet is the amazing range of things to do and see. The landmarks of Ciutat Vella and the Gothic District give way to local neighborhood scenes in Gracia, with its friendly bodegas. If you’re looking for a more relaxed vibe, head to one of the beaches which line the Mediterranean coastline – home of beach bars and seafood restaurants – to enjoy balmy summer evenings. As the capital of Catalonia, locals are fiercely proud of their unique identity, which can be seen in the local language, impressionist architecture, and the extremely outgoing and sociable culture.
Its 1-km street is the center of tourism in Barcelona. It cuts through the center of the city, from Plaça Catalunya in the north to Drassanes station in the south. If you use the Liceu Theatre as a landmark, roughly halfway down Las Ramblas, you’ll find shopping, dining, and a buzz of activity here, including many street artists and performers on display. There’s always something to catch your attention, but watch out for pickpockets, who are known to work this part of town. Locals complain that the restaurants are overpriced along Las Ramblas, but no one can deny that enjoying a coffee or a glass of cava while watching the festivities unfold before you are an enduringly popular thing to do. Is it touristy? Yes. Should you still go? Certainly!
Barcelona’s most picturesque neighborhood is the Gothic Quarter. The narrow, cobbled streets and medieval buildings make exploring fun, and the mix of shops and restaurants in the public squares means you can spend all day here without getting bored. Take the metro to Jaume I station and head for the Cathedral of Barcelona before moving southeast towards Plaça Reial, with its fantastic cafés and bars at the fringe of a public square. For shopping, Calle Avinyo cuts straight through the Gothic Quarter and has a range of women’s and men’s fashion boutiques.
MERCAT DE LA BOQUERIA
Barcelona’s most famous market. This bustling food market on Barcelona’s Las Ramblas is the largest and most popular in the city. You can shop for a dizzying variety of fresh seafood, fruits and dry goods, but the main reason to come here is to sample the rows of small tapas bars. It’s best to come hungry and feast on local dishes like battered baby squid, garlic prawns, cheeses, and cured meats. We always tend to wash this down with a glass of cava sangria. It’s best to visit Mercat de la Boqueria in the morning, when the crowds are smaller and the vibe is more authentic. Remember this is still a market for locals as much as it is a tourist attraction.
Discover the work of Antonio Gaudi. Originally envisioned as a garden city, Park Güell is a public park that showcases the surreal and highly symbolic art of Antonio Gaudi. The park sits on top of a hill and gives you a panoramic view of Barcelona.
Signature touches by the artist, like colorful mosaics and wide terraces, are scattered throughout. In the summer, the park is full of life, with musicians busking in the shade. It’s more subdued in winter, but still offers a nice change of pace from the frantic city streets. Check out the Gaudi House Museum within the park grounds for more information on the visionary creator’s life. It’s free to enter the park, but you have to pay to enter some of the attractions within.
Watch FC Barcelona at Camp Nou Stadium Cheer on some of the world’s best soccer players. FC Barcelona is a legendary soccer team, but they also represent the soul of the city. Known locally as the Blaugrana, their slogan is “more than a club”. This is at least partially thanks to the role that Camp Nou played during the harsh rule of fascist dictator General Franco in the mid- 20th century. The soccer stadium was one of the only places where locals could speak the outlawed Catalan language. These days, Barcelona has grown into one of the world’s few ‘super clubs’, with a stadium to match. Around 100,000 eager fans attend games at Camp Nou, and the atmosphere is electric. Ticket costs start at €50 for seats up in the higher tiers, but for important games – particularly against fierce rivals Real Madrid – prices rise sharply. If you’re not in town when there’s a match taking place, you can take a tour of Camp Nou stadium for around €25, including a peek into the trophy room.
LA SAGRADA FAMILIA, first built by Antoni Gaudí, is one of Barcelona’s most impressive modernist structures – and it isn’t even finished. Among the many people who have contributed to the La Sagrada Familia’s construction after Gaudí’s passing in 1926 were Domenec Sugranes I Gras, Josep Maria Subirachs, and Mark Burry. Book a Barcelona hotel near La Sagrada Familia and pay a visit to this surrealistic church. Built during the late 19th century, Gaudí’s massively ambitious designs have still not been completely realized – building work will continue for at least another decade. The sand-colored church’s soaring spires are visible throughout the city, but its peculiarly fluid form is best appreciated up close. Every surface overflows with sculptures depicting biblical scenes while carved snakes and lizards seem to scuttle overhead. The shadowy lighting means the massive chamber seems almost grotto like, and other visitors’ softly murmured whispers make a visit surprisingly soothing no matter how busy it gets.
It might be a building site, but La Sagrada Familia is a functioning church. Visit during Christian festivals for special services and concerts to experience La Sagrada Familia at its most sacred. Almost a modern point of pilgrimage, faithful Christians travel from all around the world to pay their respects. Join the throngs for a communal show of appreciation for Gaudí’s visionary building. Throughout the year, visitors can also enjoy a divine experience by ascending its towering spires – you’ll be greeted with panoramic views of Barcelona and beyond.
FIGUERES is the capital of the comarca of Alt Empordà, in the province of Girona Catalonia, Spain. The town is the birthplace of artist Salvador Dalí, and houses the Teatre-Museu Gala Salvador Dalí; a large museum designed by Dalí himself which attracts many visitors. The city’s main attraction is the world famous museum of its native son, Salvador Dalí. After the Prado in Madrid, it is the most visited museum in all of Spain. It is often seen as part of a day-trip from Barcelona or the packaged hotels of Costa Brava. But beyond the museum, Figueres can be a pleasant place to spend a night or two. The town, much like Girona, is a relaxed alternative to Barcelona with relaxing cafés on side streets, and a compact Old Town core. The Empordà region in general will appeal to those interested in the history and/or burgeoning viticulture and gastronomy of Northern Catalonia. Figueres works well as a base for day trips to these destinations. It also happens to be the case that Figueres is 15 minutes by car or 25 minutes by train from the beaches of the Costa Brava. The name of the town means “fig trees”, as historically they grew with great abundance around the area. Local youth often colloquially refer to the town as “Figui” for short. As Figueres is in Catalonia, and Catalonia is an independent yet integral part of Spain, everybody in Figueres can speak Spanish, albeit to varying degrees.
An ancient medieval city with its origins dating back more than 2,000 years in history, Girona was officially founded as long ago as 79 BC. Visiting Girona, Spain not only turns the resort reputation of Costa Brava on its head, but shows how there’s more to Catalonia’s independent streak and unique customs than its brimming capital of Barcelona. Only 90 minutes away, the old city of Girona has a deep-rooted historical charm and culture dating back more than 2,000 years. And it’s just as deserving of attention. Girona is easily explored by foot and the Barri Vell (Old Quarter), also known as the Golden Triangle, is the best place to start your journey through time. However, it also has a rich Roman past. The Força Vella Fortress was built by the Romans in the first century BC, which was very well protected by a defensive rampart. It remained unchanged until the year 1,000, and today you can still see parts of the walled fortress.
The Black Virgin of Montserrat is a patron of Catalonia, and people from all over the world come to worship here and see this miracle-working sculpture. According to legend, it was discovered by the shepherds of the region in the 9th century; they suddenly noticed a bright shining light which indicated them the place of the Santa Cova (Holy Cave of Montserrat), where the statue was hidden. When the shepherds wanted to move the Black Virgin to the nearby village of Manresa, it became so heavy that they considered it as a sign to leave the statue on the mountain. The Black Virgin is one of the exceptional Madonna’s wooden images of a totally black color. It has a mystic healing power and protects people from negative energy. It is situated in the Basilica of Montserrat, and can be visited for free. Whether you are religious or not, visiting the Black Madonna at Montserrat is a spiritual and worthwhile experience. You will join in line with a group of people, many of whom have come as pilgrims to the statue – the atmosphere is electric.