It was in 1992 when Barcelona came on the map as a real tourist destination. Before that, it didn’t even have a beach! It has since grown into one of the most visited cities in Europe, but not everything was always perfect.
In preparation for the Olympics, Spain demolished two miles of industrial buildings and piers in order to “build” a beach. Going there now, it was certainly hard for me to tell that what I was looking at didn’t exist 25 years earlier. Where before you would have simply seen a port, you now find palm trees and the sail-shaped W Hotel. That’s right, palm trees weren’t in Barcelona before 1992. Twelve species were imported to make the city more tropical and inviting.
The Olympics weren’t the only time that Barcelona got a face lift. Hardly more than a century ago, the Cathedral of Barcelona had a rather uninspiring facade. It wasn’t until 1913 when the new neo-Gothic front of the building was completed.
Barcelona does have Antoni Gaudí as a primary architect for some of the city’s more famous buildings. His masterpiece is the Sagrada Família, the world-famous church original begun in 1882. Construction would have lasted several more centuries had modern advances in building not sped up the project. It will still be many more years before the 18 spires are complete. When it is finished, it will be another massive face-lift to the city.
If you’ve been to Barcelona, you might have noticed a nondescript office building rising more than two dozen stories above the marina. That was once the police headquarters, built high enough so that the law could see out over the city. It really is an office building now, but knowing it’s history certainly gives the area a slightly more sinister aspect. At least it did for me.
It’s not just the buildings of Barcelona which have made a revival. The culture itself has slowly come back to life in the past half a century. Catalan, the language of Catalonia (which is the region of Spain where Barcelona is located), is the only language in the world to have been banned twice in its homeland. It was in 1978 with the rise of Democracy in Spain when Catalan was restored as an official language.
The local population still has its difficulties with the government and law enforcement. While this doesn’t usually make the world headlines, evidence of it can be seen throughout the city. Murals depicting the difficulties are painted on alley walls, and peaceful protest gatherings are not uncommon.
However, it would be hard to spot all of this just walking around the beautiful city. I only learned about these things from an Alternative Walking Tour I found at the Travel Bar. It’s true that many of the locals protest the massive amount of tourists the city sees every year, but in my opinion, it is the tourists which have made the city what it is today. As with many locations around the world, tourism has become a primary source of income for the city.
Barcelona truly is a wonderful city, and has much to offer. Not the least of which is its cuisine. Most people thinking tapas and paella when they think of Spain, but there is so much more. One of my favorite central markets in the world is in Barcelona – Mercat de La Boqueria. In fact, as one of the cheapest places in the city to eat, I had most of my meals there in the few days that I visited. Fresh-pressed juice smoothies were only €1, and Spanish sandwiches weren’t much more.
Sometimes it’s nice to know the story behind how a city came to be in it’s current state. Other times, we just want to relax and have fun, blissfully unaware of any sordid past. For me, knowing the history helped me to appreciate the city far more. Perhaps it will do the same for you. I loved my trip to Barcelona, and can’t wait to return. After all, the warm sandy beaches are a good contract to my home base in Edinburgh!