Ahh, Barcelona. If I’d heard about ye earlier, I would have visited you before. Much before! But thank God, I got to you when I did because at least I know I can always go back.
And when would I go back? The year 2026, of course, because that’s the centenary of architect Antonio Gaudi’s birth and the year when his apocalyptic vision will finally become a reality carved in stone.
I’m referring to the “Sagrada Familia,” the stupendous cathedral now nearing completion in the Eixample District, which it looms over like a stone colossus and has been variously described as divine, surrealistic, loopy and the first Gothic cathedral designed under LSD.
Trust me, you have to see it for yourself and you’ll come up with your own adjectives.
In a city where architecture is king and Gaudi is often regarded as king of its many famous architects, the only people that could possibly not enjoy it would be the blind and what a tragedy that would be for them. It’s Barcelona where the ostentatiously, decorative baroque style reaches its epitome with its opulent ornamentation, soaring columns and gilded statues. In our part of the world, where everything is built as functional and cheap as possible, you just don’t see architecture that is beautiful for beauty’s sake. And I tell you, it can reduce a sensitive soul to tears. But Barcelona is also filled with classic, neo-classic and mind-blowing examples of modern architecture that would look right at home in New York or Dubai.
And I haven’t even mentioned the “Modernisme Movement” of the late 1890s and early 1900s that Gaudi and his fellow Catalan architects largely invented featuring buildings with sensuous curves, undulating facades and ventilation shafts disguised to look like flowers. All right, enough! You just have to go there and see for yourself.
While in the capital of Catalonia and the second largest city in Spain, you also can’t avoid its historic legacy including the crumbling Roman walls left in the narrow streets of the Gothic or “Gotico” District, the soaring Mirador de Colon (Christopher Columbus column), the Picasso Museum and Catalunya Square at the head of “La Rambla,” Barcelona’s famous market and shopping street that has thrilled and entertained visitors from Medieval times
After many years ago, reading George Orwell’s “Homage to Catalonia,” a paean to the Spanish Civil War and the carnage it caused, I spent one of my most interesting days in Barcelona when I rented a three-speed bike for the day and spent eight hours exploring the city on my own. I slowly wended my way out of the winding Gotico, cruised by the spectacular and gritty waterfront district and finally found myself pedaling up leafy boulevards past Parc Guell, which is adorned by more of Gaudi’s ceramic sculptures, and to the top of a pine-covered promontory a thousand feet above the sprawling city. To my amazement, I found myself in a somewhat unkempt park crowned with some crumbling, concrete bunkers that were an artillery battery during the civil war and later a squatters’ settlement after the war until all the squatters were moved out in the late 1990s and the park created.
The Republican forces had dug themselves deep into the rock, carving out tunnels and underground dormitories where they lived while the war raged around them, including Mussolini’s aerial bombing which served as a “practice run” for the Second World War. It gave me a spooky feeling to be doing this and put me in a very reflective mood about war and its tragic vicissitudes.
And then I noticed the most amazing thing.
Some of the steps leading into the tunnels and the tunnel floors themselves were covered with a rainbow of decorative tiles of many colours. “Decorating a bunker while fighting a war,” I thought to myself. “What kind of people would do such a thing?”
In all honesty, I don’t know if it was the civil war fighters or the squatters that laid the tiles down. But all I can say is Barcelona, and the Catalan people that inhabit it, are remarkable examples of the human spirit.
I strongly recommend going there and seeing for yourself.