Beguiling Barcelona

Design paradise

Beguiling Barcelona

A city once founded by Roman soldiers, Barcelona holds key to some of the most unique and distinctive architectural styles. Tanushree Podder explores the hometown of Antoni Gaudi, the master architect.

If I were asked to describe Barcelona in three words, they would be Picasso, Gaudi and Dali. We were playing the game of three words. It was amusing to hear my friend describe the city with three words that went tapas, tapas and tapas. But then, I am an art lover, and my friend, a foodie. That’s Barcelona for you. It has something for everyone.

To say that Barcelona is a beautiful Mediterranean city would be like holding a candle to the sun. The capital of Catalonia is a buzzing, beautiful and dynamic city, where the past melds effortlessly into the present. This is a city which sates your eyes as well as the stomach.

Almost everyone who had been to Barcelona had recommended that I begin my tour of the city with a walk around the Ciutat Vella, which is the oldest part of the city. It holds many interesting secrets and structures in its bosom. Since it was founded in the 15 BC by the Roman soldiers, the city has a significant vestige of their architecture and culture. The Romans called it Barcino. Remnants of the original city wall can still be found in the old city.

Art lover’s day out

Barcelona is a city that is impossible to be covered in a day or two. Trying to make the best of the limited time I had in the city, I joined the horde of camera-toting tourists, as they traipsed around the Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter), which holds a fascinating number of historical structures. The narrow and winding cobbled streets led to the heart of the Gothic Quarter, where the Cathedral of Barcelona stood, imperious and grandiose. The 13th century Cathedral is dedicated to the patron saint of Barcelona, Santa Eulàlia, who was martyred at the age of 13 and is buried under the altar. Interestingly, Sardana, the traditional Catalan circle dance, is performed here on Saturdays and Sundays.

Not intending to miss taking an elevator to the subterranean depth of Barcelona where Roman ruins lie, I made a beeline for the Museu d’Història de Barcelona, which is one of the largest archaeological museums in Europe. Here, under the Cathedral and Palace lies the erstwhile Roman town of Barcino, now excavated and open to public. Wide-eyed with wonder, I took in the laundry shops, wine unit, garum (fermented fish sauce) processing units and ancient bits and pieces of Roman lifestyle.

A predominantly medieval ambience permeated the streets and houses in the area. As I rambled along the Las Ramblas that led towards the sea, I caught sight of the Raval district, infamous as the notorious red-light area. Surprisingly, it also has a significant number of museums and art galleries. Tucked into the ancient building unobtrusively are tiny boutiques and cafés that buzz with the excited chatter of travellers.

Gaudi ‘gyaan’

It is sacrilege to miss Gaudi’s creations whilst at Barcelona and I had no intention of committing such folly. If you have time for just one structure in the city, let that be La Sagrada Familia, I had been repeatedly told by well-wishers.

Antoni Gaudí was Barcelona’s most famous and successful architect. He was hit by a tram on the Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes in June 1926 and died three days later. As I made way towards the famous church, I recollected that Gaudi was still working on its construction when he died in 1926.

Construction of the Expiatory Church of La Sagrada Familia began in 1882 and the architect was Francesc de Paula del Villar. Gaudí began work on the church that is expiatory, meaning that it is being constructed to atone for all wrong doings, in 1883. Its three facades are designed to represent the Nativity, the Passion and Death, and the Glory of Christ. The 12 apostles are symbolised by the 12 towers, and four massive bell towers signify the four Evangelists. Christ and Virgin Mary are represented by the two gigantic domes. The surreal structure was a flight of Gaudi’s imagination, far removed from any other cathedral in the world. With turtles on it columns, palm trees on its pillars, birds and fruits on its stone façade, the cathedral is indeed an awe-inspiring creation. Watching it, I realised why I had been advised not to miss it.

La Sagrada Familia is not the only structure that bears Gaudi’s stamp. He designed several houses for his wealthy patrons in his trademark surrealistic pattern. The Casa Batllo is another example of his whimsical masterpieces, with its inner courtyard walls covered with ceramic tiles that are a work of art, the place is an artist’s delight. Stained glass windows, stone work and tiles, all combine to make it a fairy tale structure. With not a straight line to define the façade, it is an abstract dream of an architect.

The La Pedrera is yet another example of Gaudi’s creations. An undulating facade with chimney stacks known as scare-witches and abstract sculptures make it a rather unusual building.

Barcelona has a sizeable collection of Gaudi structures. Amongst them is Park Guell with its fountain shaped like a dragon and benches created out of ceramic pieces.

Back on the Las Ramblas, I loitered towards the seafront with the prominent Columbus Monument. Wayside artists, busters, souvenir shops, musicians and dancers added to the colourful buzz of people.

Resting my feet at a café, I ordered a pitcher of Sangria and watched people pass by, their rush of adrenaline blending with the sea air. Like I said, Barcelona is not a place to cover in a day or two. I would need weeks to do justice to it. Unfortunately, I had miles to go before I turned in.

* The best way to take in the city is by the hop-on hop-off tourist bus. The efficient subway also makes a hassle-free transport.

* The Barcelona Card is a good way to see the city. It offers entry fee discounts, concessions in restaurants and free rides in the metros.

* Most of the city can be covered by foot, especially the Gothic Quarters, with its narrow, cobbled lanes.

* Divide your itinerary into smaller bits. The Old Town could be done in one half and the Modernista part the next.

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