Saturday, April 04, 2015

Barcelona's art and architecture make it a favorite

In the Gothic Quarter, 1996. Christine is a freshman at Kenyon College. Patrick is 12.
BARCELONA, Spain -- We were here 19 years ago with the whole family, and at that time Cindy pronounced Barcelona her favorite city. She has always loved Art Deco architecture and its Barcelona cousin, Modernisme. Gaudi is its best known practitioner.

Gothic Quarter, same fountain 2015
The Moorish architecture of southern Spain made her think that maybe Barcelona was just a passing fancy. Manchester, England, wooed her with its Victorian brick.

But no. After visiting Barcelona again in March, she said that now she is sure. Barcelona and its curving, vegetable facades, its wrought iron balconies, and its geometric tiles are her favorite. Along the tree-lined streets, artistic touches are everywhere, from the sgraffito plaster facades to the decorative manhole covers.

Actually, Barcelona has a couple thousand years of architecture on display. You can tour large sections of the old Roman city in the City Museum.

The Gothic quarter preserves the cathedral and religious buildings. There are Renaissance palaces converted into schools.

Invasion of the Anglo Saxons

Barcelona made huge upgrades to its transportation systems and tourist facilities for the 1992 Olympics. As a reporter and editor, I did some stories about all of the investment. It has paid off in attracting foreign investment and visitors. In the process, the city has lost some of its charm.

Sgraffito facade. Layers of plaster of different colors create the effect.

Gaudi's Casa Batllo.

Tourism has become industrialized. Major U.S. and British chain stores and restaurants have invaded the main commercial centers.

The main pedestrian walkway down to the port, called the Rambla, used to be busy with flower stands, bird merchants, and local folks out for a stroll. Now it is like Times Square, mobbed with tourists of every nationality. You hear English spoken with many accents, as well as French, German, Italian, and Spanish. In the tourist centers, you don't hear much of the local Catalan language, which is in the Romance family with Spanish, French, and Italian.

Gaudi's monumental church, the Sagrada Familia (Holy Family) now has a roof over it and construction cranes are all around. It used to be you could walk into the church and walk up to the top of the towers. Now it costs 15 euros, and you need a timed reservation. We didn't buy in advance, and the queue wrapped around the block. 

Barcelona looks a lot like Paris but is more compact, more walkable. We used the subway a lot and took the funicular up to Montjuic, which has public gardens, a castle, and the Poble Espanyol, a collection of buildings constructed in styles from various parts of Spain as part of the 1929 Exposition. Now they are mostly shops and restaurants.

Decorative iron work on Gaudi's Güell Palace

Dancing the Sardana in front of the Cathedral, 1987
I first visited Barcelona in 1987 and shot this picture (above)  on a Sunday morning. I was glad to see that the tradition, then decades old, is still practiced. This time I had a small video camera.

In this video you can see the Palm Sunday procession, and in the second minute, a crowd dancing the Sardana.


Pamplona: Lots of running, no bulls
Cordoba's main attraction: mix of Jewish, Moorish, Christian cultures 
Basque language has mysterious origins
Andalusia has different flavor from rest of Spain 
Tapas or pinchos are our favorite foods in Spain  
Pilgrims still come to honor St. James in Santiago de Compostela 
We didn't run into a lot of Americans in Spain

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