Barcelona: A City Like No Other (Part One)

by Willie "Tatang" Vergara




                                              Flag of Spain                                       Flag of Barcelona

After spending only 4 days in this city, I found that there is too much to write about with too many pictures to share. Having visited 4 other major cities in Spain in the past 3 years, I thought that the City of Barcelona would not be any different from all those I’ve seen. I was pleasantly mistaken. The difference lies in various aspects: a distinct ethnic pride in being Catalonians in point of language, culture, music, art and architecture, among many others. Therefore, instead of boring the reader due to an otherwise long article, I have decided to show this in two parts.

Barcelona, Spain is located at the northeastern coast of the Iberian peninsula, in Catalunya, along the shores of the Mediterranean. Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain in both size and population. It is also the capital of Catalonia, 1 of the 17 autonomous regions of Spain. I visited this “city like no other” last June 2009 together with my wife, Tess, and my daughter, Ria.



Atenea Aparthotel – Exterior and Interior

We stayed in an apartment-hotel called Atenea – not really a luxurious one but very clean and has good dining and kitchen facilities.



Barcelona Airport is the second busiest airport of Spain, second only to Madrid.

In many public areas like the airport, signs are in 3 languages: Catalan, English, and Castilian. Catalan, which used

to be banned as a medium of instruction during the long reign of General Franco, is spoken by the Catalonians.



At the vicinity of Atenea Apart-hotel


The city of Barcelona has a population of 1.5 million; add another 2.5 million in the adjacent areas.

 For many decades now, Barcelona has been a major tourist destination.



Romano-Gothic influence in the Cathedral of Barcelona


Teens display their wares in front of the Roman ruins


Barcelona has its own proud history, tradition and cultural influences. The documented history

of the city dates back to the founding of a Roman colony on its soil in the second century B.C.


The tallest building above is the Torre Agbar, considered as one of the 50 buildings in the world with  the most unusual shape. The architect took his inspiration from the mountains of Monserrat, which will be shown in Part Two of this article.


Ria and Tess at Rambla


The foundation of Barcelona is the subject of two different legends. The first attributes the founding of the city to Hercules 400 years before the building of Rome. The second legend attributes the foundation of the city directly to the Carthaginian Hamilcar Barca, father of Hannibal, who named the city Barcino after his family, in the 3rd century BC.


Barcelona experienced rapid economic growth during the last150 years or so. The 1888 World's Fair was some sort of a Renaissance period where arts and culture flourished in all of Catalonia.


Port Vell


         Barcelona is a hub for activities related finance, commerce, media, entertainment, arts and international trade. Barcelona

         is a major economic centre with one of Europe's principal Mediterranean ports, and Barcelona International Airport is

         the second largest in Spain.


        Founded as a Roman city, Barcelona became the capital of the Counts of Barcelona. After merging with the Kingdom of

        Aragon, it became one of the most important cities of the Crown of Aragon.



Specially designed by Antoni Gaudi, these street lamps dominate the Gaudi Avenue

Gaudi is one of the biggest reasons why Barcelona is so unique from all others.

We shall visit his fabulous (some call it “gaudy”) works in Part Two.


Barcelona is definitely one of the world’s major tourist destinations.


                    Not to be forgotten is the Football Club of Barcelona (FCB for short), one of the most successful clubs

                         in the sport, where it has produced among the greatest athletes – Maradona, Messi and Ronaldino.



Rick Steves in his travels to Europe mentioned about the locals dancing in front of the Town Hall. We didn’t

see any dancing ladies but we didn’t realize that we were bound to have something better! All we had to do

was to follow the groups in uniform headed towards the Barcelona Town Hall.


   Ever seen a child standing on a man's shoulders while he is balancing high in the air on a tower of men six people high?  We were

   very lucky to have had the experience of seeing this amazing spectacle on the occasion of the 40th Year of the castellers of Bar-

   lona. What exactly are castells?



      Castells is a Catalonian word that means castles. It is a cultural phenomenon unique to Catalonia and consists of erecting

      human towers. This tradition originated at the end of the 18th century in Valls, Tarragona, when rival groups of people

      called colles, began to compete in constructing the different kinds of human towers that we see nowadays.


The casteller groups come from all around Barcelona and the region to build

their  human towers in Plaça Catalunya during this festival.



There are three parts to a castle; the pinya or base, the tronc or trunk and the crown of the castle.

The pinya is the horizontal base of the construction on which all the accumulated weight rests and is used to stabilize and strengthen the erected structure, as well as softening or breaking the falls if any should occur. This vertical structure is the trunk and consists of a certain number of people on each storey, varying from 1 to 9 people depending on the castle and this also gives us the name of the castle. At the very top of the castle are the canalla (which means youngsters), and they make up the pom de dalt, the crown of the castle, and because they are more agile, they are the ones in charge of climbing to the very top.


The strongest people are at the bottom, and on top of the pinya are the most agile and lightest. The last person to climb the whole tower or castle is the anxaneta, a young girl or boy who, on arriving at the very summit raises his/her arm and salutes the public. This is the highlight of the event as the castell is considered to be crowned.



Traditionally castle performances have always taken place on Sundays at midday in the Town Hall Square, as one of the main features of the local holiday festivities. On these red-letter days three colles or groups meet and erect three castles each. Nowadays castles can be seen on many days during the year.


Leisurely Walk Along the La Rambla

La Rambla is a street in central Barcelona, popular with both tourists and locals alike. The name rambla means an intermittent water flow, and is derived from the Arabic ‘ramla’ which means ‘sandy river bed’. A 1.2 kilometer-long tree-lined pedestrian mall between Barri Gòtic and El Raval, it connects Plaça Catalunya in the center with the Christopher Columbus monument at Port Vell.



Almost everything is available at the Las Ramblas, including varied international cuisine.



Street entertainers, small eateries, souvenir shops, tourists moving around in horse-driven carriages, a giant

Joan Miro artwork made of glazed tiles on the pavement, people just enjoying the ambience, and there

was even a completely nude man on a bike whom I missed to photograph!



La Rambla can be considered a series of shorter streets, each differently named, hence the plural forms Las Ramblas.


From the Plaça de Catalunya toward the harbor, the street is successively the Rambla de Canaletes, the

Rambla dels Estudis, the Rambla de Sant Josep, the Rambla dels Caputxins, and the Rambla de Santa Monica.



Towards the end of La Rambla is the monument of Columbus, pointing at a “wrong” direction.



Construction of the Maremàgnum in the early 1990s resulted in a continuation

 of La Rambla on a wooden walkway into the harbor, the Rambla de Mar.


La Rambla can be crowded, especially during prime time tourist season.

 Most of the time, there are many more tourists than locals occupying the Rambla.


Spanish poet Federico García Lorca once said that La Rambla is "the only street in the world which I wish would never end".




   The Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, often simply referred to as La Boqueria, is a large farmers’ market in the

Ciutat Vella district of Barcelona, Catalonia and one of the city's foremost tourist landmarks, with an entrance from

La Rambla. The market has a very diverse selection of goods where everything is fresh.



Everything is fresh here: Fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy products, bread and pastries.



                                         Bull Balls                                                                             Happy Pigs

This market dates back to 1217 and it must be the world’s most famous wet market”.





Take a chance to have brunch at a small “turo-turo” inside the La Boqueria. This is a stall named

after its owner “Pinotxo”, who is perhaps the world’s most famous person of his kind.


Many tourists dine here with another agenda: To have their photos taken with Pinotxo, a warm,

jolly and aging man who is always more than willing to pose with you. Try to “google” PINOTXO.




The theatre is at the farther end of La Rambla, near the Marina. The main façade along La Rambla appears modest

 and ordinary but the auditorium is huge and gorgeous. With 2,292 seats, it is one of the biggest opera houses in Europe.



The Hospital San Pau is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It was a fully functioning hospital until the month that we were there (June 2009). I gather that there are still tours of the hospital being given several times a day. The Hospital de Sant Pau was founded in 1401 when six small medieval hospitals merged. The hospital's former buildings near the center of Barcelona date from the 15th century, and now house an art school and the National Library of Catalonia.



There are a lot of things happening all year round in Placa Reial.


About half of the staff of most restaurants in Placa Reial are Filipinos.



One of the city's biggest squares, it is the junction of several major thoroughfares: Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes,

Avinguda del Paral·lel, Carrer de la Creu Coberta and Carrer de Tarragona, and leads to the Palau Nacional

through Avinguda de la Reina Maria Cristina.



The square was built on a site that had been previously used for public hangings, until the

creation of the now demolished Ciutadela (citadel) fortress in 1715, where the gallows were moved.

This glass building reflects the statue and the hotel at Placa Espanya.


Venetian Towers - they are 47 m (154 ft) tall and lead the way to the MNAC via

Avinguda de la Reina Maria Cristina, an avenue commonly used to host trade fairs.



Arenas de Barcelona, a bullring. It was built in 1900 in the Moorish Revival style and is being

converted  into a shopping center. Bullfighting, a Spanish national sport, is banned in Catalonia.



I suggest the tourist ends his/her visit at Placa Espanya by knowing when the Font Màgica or Magic fountain operates.

 It is one of Barcelona’s major attractions, and definitely more spectacular than the one in Bellagio, Las Vegas.

 The best time to photograph the Font Magica is right before nightfall.



The Magic fountain is a large fountain built in 1929. When the fountain is active, it constantly changes color and shape.

 It was originally intended to show people what could be achieved with filtered electrical light.



During the summer evenings, when the fountain is activated, it attracts

thousands of visitors who watch the spectacular display of light, water and music.


At the same time, the Palau National is illuminated (upper left), providing a beautiful backdrop.

The show runs every thirty minutes. The start and end date depend on the time of the year.


A closer look at the Palau Nacional



The Palau de la Música Catalana (Palace of Catalan Music) is a concert hall designed in the Catalan modernista style.

It was built in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain for the Orfeó Català, a choral society founded in 1891, a leading force in

the cultural movement that came to be known as the Renaixença (Catalan Rebirth).


The project was financed primarily by the society as Barcelona's wealthy industrialists and upper class.

The Palau won an award as the best building.

In 1997, the Palau de la Música Catalana was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Today, more than half a million people a year attend musical performances in the Palau

that range from symphonic and chamber music to jazz and Cançó (Catalan song).


The design of the Palau is typical of Catalan modernism in that curves predominate over straight lines;

 dynamic shapes are preferred over static forms, where floral forms are used extensively.


In contrast to many other buildings built in the modernism style, however, the design of the Palau pays strict

attention to function and makes full use of the most up-to-date materials and technologies available at the

beginning of the 20th century (e.g., steel framing).


The rich decoration of the façade of the Palau incorporates traditional Spanish and Arabic architecture.

The exposed red brick and iron, the mosaics, the stained glass, and the glazed tiles were chosen and

situated to give a feeling of openness and transparency.



             The former ticket windows are beautiful concentric arches                     One of the elaborately decorated columns

                     adorned  with floral mosaics of various materials.                                        of this musical palace.


Stained-glass skylight

The concert hall is one of the most beautiful in the world. Move your eyes skyward and you see a beautiful

stained-glass ceiling. It is the only auditorium in Europe that is illuminated during daylight hours entirely by natural light.






The Gasol Brothers:

Marc, center Memphis Grizzlies & Pau, center LA Lakers

 say, in Catalan...

"Amics, visitar la nostra bonica ciutat Barcelona"

("Friends, visit our beautiful city Barcelona")











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