Mediterranean dream! Last minute guide to Barcelona

By Sergio González | 10:58

Gaudi’s Parc Güell

Barcelona is among the most visited cities in the world and it’s also a trendy city among international travelers. No Eurotrip can be complete without visiting the genius architect Gaudi’s city.

Barcelona is set in an ideal location, surrounded by hills covered in the Mediterranean vegetation and a natural port that has always served as an international connection with the rest of the world.

People settled in Barcelona some centuries BC but it wasn’t until the war between Roman Empire and Carthago that Barcelona flourished. Romans legend says it was Hercules who founded the little village of Flaventia when in his fourth labour he saved a wrecked ship and its crew, who loved the place and named it Barca Nona (ninth ship).

However, it seems it was a Carthaginian thing. During the Second Punic Wars, general Anibal’s father, Hamilcar, occupied this small village and founded a capital to watch over Rome moves, named Barcina after their family name.

Though Barcelona flourished thanks to exports, mainly wine, it wasn’t an important city under Roman rule. Nearby Tarraco, today’s Tarragona, was the capital of this part of the Empire and where the amphitheatre and local coliseum were.

But Germanic tribes will start to travel South, circa 250 AD, and the emperor decided that Barcelona was a very good spot to defend the Iberian Peninsula, so it got the strongest city walls and highest towers in the region, meaning everybody moved into the city looking for protection.

During this time, Barcelona’s Cathedral, La Seo, had its first stone set, around 343. It was just a basilica honoring the newly converted emperor and his Christian beliefs but it started to point Barcelona’s importance.

Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Santa Eulalia, Gothic Quarter

Most of Roman remains in Barcelona are located in Plaça del Rei (King’s Square) and Local History Museum (Museu d’Història de la Ciutat), but you can also guess its Roman design by visiting the Barri Gòtic, the Gothic Quarter, and if you pay attention, you can see some debris of the old city walls incorporated to the cathedral.

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Barcelona would acquire bigger importance after the Visigoths, the new rulers of  ‘Spain’, made it their capital, though they didn’t enjoy it very much. The Arab invasion started and Barcelona was one the main objectives.

However, then again, there won’t be a lot of time for celebration. Everybody wanted a piece of Barcelona. It seems it was already trendy back then. The French king Charlemagne and his descendants took Barcelona again and made it the capital of the Hispanic March, a sort of demilitarized zone, the last place every European king swore to defend against the invaders.

Barcelona started developing and grew its influence over the Mediterranean Sea once the Counts of Barcelona made a dynastic union with the nearby kingdom of Aragon. They took over nowadays Sicily or Athens, bringing into the city many classical architecture patterns and style. The Gothic Quarter develop quickly and well under these circumstances, building up The Holy Cross Cathedral, finished in the 15th century. It was built to honor Santa Eulalia, a young Christian who suffered Roman martyrdom.

(Spoiler Alert) Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter is one of its main attractions, though it seems it isn’t what you see. In 2011, some architecture professors from the University of Barcelona published a work in which they pointed out that many buildings in the quarter are no Gothic at all and were rebuilt for the International Exhibit in 1929. Get the complete list of the allegedly fake Gothic buildings here.

Barcelona was a rich city, the first European bank is considered to have been founded here in 1401 (some time before Italian banking started), all the way through Middle Ages but the discovery of America would turn its importance down. Wine and olive oil were profitable goods to export but they simply were not gold or silver.

The Castle of the Three Dragons, up in Barcelona’s hills

Barcelona would get back its important position after the Industrial revolution, which was low in Spain but deep in Catalonia. The profits were used to embellish the city with the modernist buildings (art nouveau) that attract millions every year and that made Barcelona win the RIBA Royal Gold Medal in 1999, one of the most prestigious architecture awards. It’s the only city in the world to boast such honor.

Modernism was Gaudi’s style and almost every construction he designed for Barcelona is UNESCO’s World Heritage. Not only Sagrada Familia Cathedral but also the private houses he designed for Barcelona’s rich bourgeoisie. His imprint in town was already huge when he was alive and many many fellow architects join to his his style, producing a whole modernist city. Don’t miss a visit to the Hivernacle greenhouse or the Castle of the Three Dragons, both built for 1888 Universal Exposition and considered the beginning of the whole modernist movement.

Photo credit: Angela Llop

Photo credit: Fabio Alessandro

Photo credit: Selbymay


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