Barcelona! Wow, where to start? It’s a city that lives its history every day, yet offers a modern lifestyle and has become a hotspot for tourists. I have been to Barcelona many times and can honestly say, that I haven’t even begun to see all that it has to offer!
A Bit About Barcelona’s History:
What’s in a Name?
It wouldn’t be like me to not include the historical origin of the name “Barcelona”. “Baŕkeno” is an Iberian origin and is found on an ancient coin. There is another story that claims the city was founded in the 3rd century BC by a Carthaginian general named Hamilcar Barca. In all honesty, however, historians have found no evidence of a Carthaginian settlement. But, what historians do know is that by the middle ages, the city was known by the various names/spellings of Barchinona, Barçalona, Barchelonaa, and Barchenona.
I guess what I’m saying is that this time or at least for this location, there really is no definitive answer on the origin of the name! Both theories have some basis but neither is conclusive.
Barcelona Throughout History:
Some say Barcelona was founded by Hamilcar Barca in the 3rd century BC. Others say there is evidence of the city as early as 5000 BC and it was founded by the mythological God, Hercules. There seem to be lots going on with how and why Barcelona came about!
Barcelona has been influenced by many different cultures. First the Romans in 15 BC. In Medieval times, by the 8th century, the region was conquered by the Arabs. By 1137, a union of marriage, once again changed the ruling of the land. Barcelona, because of its location on the sea, became known as a hub for slave trading. This period of slave trade lasted until sometime during the 15th century.
During the Spanish civil war, the city saw a mass fleeing of citizens. The area fell under the ruling of anarchists who opposed the Republican government. In 1939, Franco’s coup d’etat destroyed the Catalonian Republican government.
Franco died in 1975. It has been since then that many are calling for the return of the Catalonian government. To this day, there are certain groups who want the reinstatement of Catalonia in Barcelona. I have personally witnessed the riots and demonstrations of these groups. This is one of those situations where the Barcelonians live their history in today’s life.
Spain joined the European Union in 1986. In 1992, it hosted the Summer Olympics. These two events have played a major role in the modernization of Barcelona. As a result of this modernization, Barcelona has become a huge destination for tourists.
In 1987, shortly after joining the EU, Barcelona was divided into 10 districts for administrative purposes. These districts were based on historical significance in the neighborhoods. As you wander through the different districts, the style of architecture and the feel of each district maintains that historical significance. Another example of history influencing the everyday life of the people of Barcelona.
- Ciutat Vella
- Les Corts
- Sarrià-Sant Gervasi
- Nou Barris
- Sant Andreu
- Sant Martí
Since the late 80s, Barcelona has become a leader in tourism, industry, and fashion. Most of the residents live outside the “city limits” for no other reason than cost.
Antonio Gaudi has played a huge role in the history and design features of Barcelona. Much of the tourism of today is centered around his legacy.
His architecture and design include the elements of ceramics, stained glass, wrought iron forging, and carpentry. His designs include thoughts on religion, nature, and architecture. His work is amazing. Around the city you can view his works:
- Sagrada Familia**
- Park Guell**
- Casa Batllo**
- Dragon Gate**
- Church of Colònia Güell: Gaudi’s Crypt**
- Gaudi House Museum at Park Guell
- Casa Mila**
- Casa Calvet
- Palau Güell**
Gaudi has left such an impression that seven of the above works have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites. I have those designated with the **, above.
My Many Adventures in Barcelona:
The first time I visited Barcelona was in 2010. It was a pre-cruise destination and honestly, I was so jet-lagged when I arrived, that I was up all night long! So, I did what any adventurous soul would do and that is I wandered the city until about 3 am. I have to tell you, the city has a whole different personality after-hours! Don’t get me wrong, I mean this in a good way. It was amazing the number of people out and about. Everything was calm, people were sitting on benches on Las Ramblas chatting while others were walking hand in hand. It was nice, it was serene and it was safe!
My next trips were spread out through 2022. Each and every time I visit Barcelona, I wander over to Sagrada Familia to see the progress (I’ll explain a bit later in the article).
What is the Best Way to Take in the Must-See Attractions?
For first-time visitors, no matter where their destination, I always suggest the Hop-On, Hop-Off buses. The routes include the best of the best places and include commentary, in multiple languages, which is always very interesting. Many destinations offer multiple routes, depending on where your interests lie. And, in many destinations, you can purchase multiple-day tickets so you aren’t forced into trying to jam everything into one day.
- Red Line: Estació de Sants- Creu Coberta- Plaça d’Espanya – CaixaForum Barcelona – Poble Espanyol – MNAC – Anella Olímpica – Fundació Joan Miró – Telefèric de Montjuïc – Miramar – World Trade Center – Colom/Museu Marítim – Port Vell – Museu d’Història de Catalunya – Port Olímpic – Platja de Bogatell/Cementiri del Poblenou – Parc de la Ciutadella/Zoo – Pla de Palau – Barri Gòtic – Plaça de Catalunya – Casa Batlló/Fundació Antoni Tàpies – Passeig de Gràcia/La Pedrera – Francesc Macià/Diagonal.
- Blue Line: Monestir de Pedralbes – Palau Reial/Pavellons Güell- Futbol Club Barcelona – Francesc Macià/Diagonal – Eixample – MACBA/CCCB – Plaça de Catalunya – Casa Batlló/Fundació Tàpies – Passeig de Gràcia/La Pedrera – Sagrada Família – Gràcia – Park Güell – Tramvia Blau/Tibidabo – Sarrià
- Green Line: Fòrum – Port Olímpic – Platja de Bogatell/Cementiri del Poblenou – Poblenou – Parc Diagonal Mar.
Pro Travel Tip:
I have highlighted the blue line, because in my opinion, if your time in Barcelona is limited, this should be your choice.
Antoni Gaudi was not the original architect of the Sagrada Famalia. Construction began on March 18, 1882, overseen by the architect Francisco de Paula del Villar. Del Villar resigned in 1883. As a result of his resignation, Gaudi took over the project and dramatically changed the original plans. Gaudi devoted the rest of his life to this project. His remains are in a crypt within the basilica. At the time of Gaudi’s death, the project was 15 to 25% complete. The completion date of the project has been changed several times for a myriad of reasons. As a result of the Covid pandemic, the new estimated completion is sometime in 2026, coincidentally, the centennial of Gaudi’s death. The Pandemic, however, is the only time that construction actually ceased and the building was shuttered.
On November 7, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI consecrated the church, thereby making it a minor basilica. In 1984, the Sagrada Familia and 6 other works of Gaudi were designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
What is Going On With the Basilica?
Approaching the Sagrada Familia, it’s impossible to take it all in! There are so many sculptures, details, and spires! Throughout time, prominent people have stated opinions about the structure’s “uniqueness”- some positive, some not so positive. Every inch seems to have significance! On my first visit, I learned that indeed, every inch does have significance, which tells the story of the life of Jesus.
Gaudí’s original design calls for a total of eighteen spires, representing in ascending order of height the Twelve Apostles, the Virgin Mary, the four Evangelists, and, tallest of all, Jesus Christ. Nine spires have been built as of 2021, corresponding to four apostles at the Nativity façade and four apostles at the Passion façade, and the Virgin Mary spire.
Themes throughout the decoration include words from the liturgy. The steeples are decorated with words such as “Hosanna”, “Excelsis”, and “Sanctus”; the great doors of the Passion façade reproduce excerpts of the Passion of Jesus from the New Testament in various languages, mainly Catalan; and the Glory façade is to be decorated with the words from the Apostles’ Creed, while its main door reproduce the entire Lord’s Prayer in Catalan, surrounded by multiple variations of “Give us this day our daily bread” in other languages. The three entrances symbolize the three virtues: Faith, Hope and Love. Each of them is also dedicated to a part of Christ’s life. The Nativity Façade is dedicated to his birth; it also has a cypress tree which symbolizes the tree of life. The Glory façade is dedicated to his glory period. The Passion façade is symbolic of his suffering. The apse steeple bears Latin text of Hail Mary. All in all, the Sagrada Família is symbolic of the lifetime of Christ.
Areas of the sanctuary will be designated to represent various concepts, such as saints, virtues, and sins, and secular concepts such as regions, presumably with decoration to match.
Source Wikipedia last edited on 26 April 2022, at 03:12 (UTC).
Funding of the Sagrada Familia:
Amazing enough, the funding for this project does not come from the government and never has. Initially, the funding was solely from private donations. In today’s times, entry fees and private donations now finance the construction budget.
Las Rambla, A Destination All To Itself in Barcelona:
Yes, it’s cliche, but I love, love, love Las Rambla! Strolling down the wide, pedestrian-only walkway, you will find shops, vendors, restaurants, hotels, and yes, the proverbial red-light district (nighttime only). There are several vendors that offer up the most interesting seeds for flowers and vegetables. I always have to buy a few packets to take home. My last purchase was for cilantro which was very hard to come by in Europe and burning hot red peppers.
This boulevard is a lively place, with always something going on. People sitting drinking massive glasses of Sangria and eating plates full of tapas and paella. Lots of music. Great shopping. Yes, it is a bit touristy but would’ya gonna do!
A Bit About Las Rambla:
Considered the city center, the boulevard is actually made up of five streets that run in succession. It is about 1.2 kilometers long and runs from the waterfront to Plaça Catalunya, the central square of Barcelona. It is considered to be the dividing line between “Old Town” and a more modern Barcelona.
Interestingly enough, its original use was as somewhat of a sewer system giving a path to the water running down from the mountains to the sea. It wasn’t until sometime in the 15th century that area was turned into roads making room for markets, transportation, and social gatherings. In fact, the present-day seed vendors and flower shops you find along the boulevard have their roots (pardon the pun) in those early markets. In the early days of the open markets, the stall owners would give a flower to each customer in appreciation of their purchase/s.
A trip to Barcelona is not complete without a half-day or day trip to Montserrat. Having three main peaks, Sant Jeroni , Montgrós, and Miranda de les Agulles, Montserrat is a mountain range and was designated as a national park in 1987. The name Montserrat translated, means “serrated” and is named this because of the jagged peaks that make up the mountain range.
Why Go To Montserrat?
Santa Maria de Montserrat, a Benedictine monastery, is in the sanctuary and houses one of the only Black Madonnas in Europe. It is said that the Black Virgin and the baby Jesus she is holding have healing powers. Many people view the trip as a religious pilgrimage for this reason. The Virgin is carved from wood and is believed to have been carved in Jeruselum. There is a legend that states that the sculpture is so heavy that the Benedictine monks could not move it, so built the abbey around it! To say the least, the abbey has a very important religious significance to the Catalonians and most have completed an overnight retreat in Montserrat to meditate and watch the sunrise.
The views from the monastery are absolutely phenomenal! If you are an outdoorsy person and love to hike, there are plenty of opportunities at Montserrat to do just that. Mount Jeroni is the highest peak and is a very popular spot for hikers. The unobstructed views allow you to “see forever”!
Getting to Montserrat is relatively easy. Montserrat is a little over an hour out of Barcelona. There are many tours available as well as a train and private drivers. Once you are there, if you want to go to the summit of Mount Jeroni, there is a funicular that will take you up.
Montserrat is a little over an hour from Barcelona. Visiting is a fabulous experience. Many people say that Macchu Picchu changes your life, I feel the same about a visit to Montserrat! The last time I went was part of a pre-cruise excursion. It was a great way to kick back from everyday life before getting onboard the ship. Kind of gets you into that zone of relaxation!
Other Things to Do in Barcelona:
- Cable Car over the Harbor
- Walk the Drawbridge over the Harbor to the Shopping Mall
- Go to the Beach
- Spend Time in Plaça de Catalunya, the Central Square I discussed above
- Wander the Barri Gòtic neighborhoods
- See a performance at Teatre del Liceu
- Go to a Flamenco Show
But most of all, enjoy your time in Barcelona!
Teatre del Liceu, Sagrada Familia, Las Rambla, and Montserrat are not only popular with tourists but are also part of everyday life for Catalonians. the history of this beautiful city is in the blood of the people who live there. They truly do live their history every day!
Hopefully, you can tell from my write-up how much I love Barcelona! Somehow, someway, I feel a real connection there. Like it’s my spot! As many times as I have visited, it doesn’t get old for me. Through the years, I have kept track of the progress of Sagrada Familia. I felt a pinch when the construction was delayed due to Covid. In 2017, a van crashed through on Las Rambla and I felt like MY neighborhood had been violated. I visited shortly after that incident and was just sickened at the thought of people being mowed down. It’s a big town/small town. For those of you who have traveled to Barcelona, I think you know what I mean. For those of you who haven’t been, please go. I promise you will love it.
Until next time friends, remember “To Travel is to Live!”