A place of enormous cultural, economic and financial influence in the country as well as globally, Barcelona stands today as one of the most important cities on the Mediterranean sea. The Gothic architecture, the mountains and the sea make for a unique and vibrant city. The most captivating part of the city is the symmetry. It is remarkable how well-planned the city is, right from the times when it was under the Roman Empire. The city lies on a bed of land engulfed by the Mediterranean on one side and the Serra de Collserola mountain ranges to the west. The Catalan capital is naturally a tourist hotspot, with travellers coming from all over the world to experience the rich culture, the scrumptious cuisine, the welcoming vibe and the fandom for sport.
I visited Barcelona at arguably the best possible time, Christmas. The excitement in anticipation of the festival of merriment was tangible, and every street was extravagantly lit in preparation to bring home the holiday cheer. The main street of the city, La Rambla is no exception. Extending from the seaboard up until the bustling Placa de Catalunya, La Rambla hosts one of the biggest Christmas Markets in the city every year, with plenty of stalls offering food, souvenirs and Christmas decor. La Rambla is one of the most crowded spots in Barcelona, and is essentially the life of the city. There’s a plethora of restaurants to choose from in the area as well, as I’m sure you want to have a true Barcelona luncheon experience by sipping a Sangria and enjoying a Tapas plate and finishing off with some fully-loaded Paella to leave you with a full stomach. After your overwhelming meal, I’m sure you’d want some place to relax and unwind at, and no better place to be in Sunny Spain than a beach. Spend your afternoon at La Barceloneta, swimming in the Mediterannean, walking down the boardwalk, relaxing on the sandy beach, or even engaging in some water-sports like surfing if your body allows you to after the ginormous meal you’ve just had. In the evening, head on over to one of the many markets in the city, the most famous being the Mercat de la Boqueria, near La Rambla. These markets are teeming with people, with all sorts of goods, food and drink on offer, a true experience of the city life of Barcelona.
Unique to Barcelona is the city’s architecture, and one man has left a lasting legacy through his works, showcased in several parts of the city. I’m talking about Antoni Gaudi of course. The most iconic of Gaudi’s works is the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia, whose construction began in 1882. This gigantic Roman Catholic Basilica is Gaudi’s masterpiece, and to this date is an unfinished project, even almost 100 years after Gaudi’s demise, during when the project was only 15% complete. The Basilica opened to the public in 2011, and has become one of Barcelona’s most visited spots. Do opt for an audio-guide when you take a tour of the Basilica, as it will give you the most amazing insights behind the thought-process Gaudi applied while constructing this behemoth of a structure. The detailing on all three facades of the church is second to none, with several depictions of Catholic stories. Each facade depicts a chapter of Jesus’ story, to beautiful effect. The Nativity facade is dedicated to the birth of Jesus Christ, The Passion Facade tells us the story of the Passion of Christ and the sufferings of the crucifixion, and a portrayal of the sins of man. The newest and the largest facade of the Sagrada Familia is the Glory Facade, which depicts the road to God, and the celestial glory of Jesus. It is truly amazing how Gaudi was able to put his stories into the Basilica in such an intricate manner, and create a wonderful spectacle, unlike any other Cathedral or Basilica in Europe. The building has received the highest possible status in the form of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a testament to Gaudi’s architectural genius. It is anticipated that construction of the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia will be complete by 2026, on the centenary to Gaudi’s demise, a fitting tribute to one of Barcelona’s greatest ever citizens.
Another one of Gaudi’s best works is that of Park Guell, another World Heritage site constructed by the architect as a symbol of urbanisation, as Barcelona expanded beyond its city center and into its districts. Gaudi is renowned as a naturalist, with every structure of his depicting a facet of nature, and it was only natural (pun intended) that he would undertake the construction of a public park to preserve Barcelona’s natural aspect amidst the inevitable expansion of the city. The park consists of several architectonic elements to provide an artistic touch to what is essentially a system of gardens and housing. A short hike from Park Guell takes you away from the architectural marvels of Gaudi and into an area that used to be a warzone. The Spanish Civil War in the 1930s saw several makeshift structures built for strategic importance, and one such place is the now abandoned Bunkers del Carmel. Built on the Carmel Mountains, these bunkers served as a small army point where anti-aircraft guns were installed. Now, these bunkers serve as a fantastic viewpoint for the city of Barcelona, where one can truly marvel at the symmetry of the buildings, and feast their eyes upon the many iconic spots of the city from a bird’s eye view. If you can’t quite fathom the symmetry of the city from my writing, I have a suggestion for you: Look up Barcelona from Google Maps in a satellite view and you’ll see what I’m talking about!
After taking in the view of the city from one point, I was off to another. I was indeed backpacking across Western Europe, just outside Barcelona, hiking near the foothills of Mount Tibidabo. See where I’m going? From almost everywhere in the city, one can see Mount Tibidabo and the famous Sagrat Cor, which translates to Sacred Heart, another Roman Catholic Basilica which has also become a heavily visited spot in the province. The Sagrat Cor coupled with the Tibidabo Amusement Park and the city of Barcelona below makes for a nice panoramic backdrop. The bus ride to Tibidabo from the city is quite interesting as it passes through several districts of Barcelona, where one can see the contrasting views from each other, with Catalan flags a regular occurrence, as most of the locals are vocal for Catalonia to be an independent country from Spain.
The next day saw me move away from the city for a bit, as I took a two hour train journey to the Montserrat mountain range. Montrisol de Montserrat is home to a Benedictine Monastery, but the Montserrat mountains itself are quite unique in the sense of their shape, and make for quite the spectacle, and quite the backdrop for the monastery itself. The natural towers of limestone stand behind the monastery almost akin to its guardians, no one would even dare to cause any trouble out here. One needs to take a train from Barcelona and get off at Montrisol de Montserrat, before proceeding to take a short funicular ride to get to the top. The premises of the monastery provide great views of the Catalonian landscape below, and I’ll let the picture do the talking here, as one can’t really glorify these limestone mountains to an extent of what they deserve in words!
With that out of the way as an early morning detour from the city, there was only one thing missing from the checklist, one that really defines the city of Barcelona. Yes, you guessed it, football. Spain is a football-mad country, like most of Europe, and is home to arguably one of the biggest clubs in world football, FC Barcelona. The Camp Nou stadium is the holy grail for fans local and global alike, and the opportunity to watch some of the best players in the world, Lionel Messi among others was too good to pass up on. It was a wonderful evening match, with the sunset sky almost matching the Blaugrana colours of Barcelona’s home shirt, and an unforgettable experience for me, witnessing the cream of the crop of footballers plying their trade before my very eyes. Barcelona went home comfortable 4-1 winners on the day, and I went home with a complete sense of satisfaction. Barcelona? Completed it mate!