Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia, an autonomous region in northeastern Spain (41º 23' N, 2º 11' E). It is in the comarca of Barcelonès. It is also the largest city of Spain after Madrid. Barcelona is located on the Mediterranean coast, between the mouths of the rivers Llobregat and Besòs, 160 km south of the Pyrenees mountain range, the border with France. Population of the city of Barcelona proper was 1,583,000 as of 2003 estimates. Population of the urban area was 4,042,000 as of 2000 estimates. Population of the metropolitan area (urban area plus satellite towns) was 4,667,000 as of 2003 estimates. The mayor of Barcelona is Joan Clos.
Legend attributes the Carthaginian foundation of Barcino to Hamilcar Barca, father of Hannibal. Later on, Romans redrew the town as a castrum (a Roman military camp) centred on the Mons Taber , a little hill nearby the contemporary city hall (Plaça de Sant Jaume). This planning is still visible today on the map of the historical centre and the remaining fragments of the Roman walls. Important Roman remains are exposed under the Plaça del Rei , entrance by the city museum, Museu d'Història de la Ciutat . The city was conquered by the Visigoths in the 5th century, by the Moors in the 8th century, reconquered in 801 by the Frankish kings, and sacked by Al-Mansur in 985.
Barcelona seen from the cableway
over the harbour
Barcelona became a Frankish county, which eventually became independent and expanded to include the Principate of Catalonia, later formed the Crown of Aragon who conquered many overseas possessions, ruling the Mediterranean Sea from Barcelona to Athens. The forging of a dynastic link between the Crown of Aragon and Castile marked the beginning of Barcelona's decline. This legacy exists to this day as evidenced by the fact that the city (and Catalonia as a whole) still has a substantial proportion of people whose first language is Castilian.
The city is home to the University of Barcelona, founded in 1450.
The city was devastated after the Catalonian Republic of 1640 - 1652, and again during the War of the Spanish Succession in 1714. King Philip V of Spain demolished half of the merchants' quarter (La Ribera) to build a military citadel as a way of both punishing and controlling the rebel city.
During the 19th century, Barcelona grew with the industrial revolution and the introduction of many new industries. During a period of weaker control by the Madrid authorities, the medieval walls were torn down and the citadel of La Ribera was converted into an urban park: the modern Parc de la Ciutadella, site of the 1888 "Universal Exposition" (World's Fair). The exposition also left behind the Arc de Triomf and the Museu de Zoologia (a building originally used during the fair as a cafe-restaurant). The fields that had surrounded the artificially constricted city became the Eixample ("extension"), a bustling modern city surrounding the old.
The Plaça Reial next to La Rambla
The beginning of the 20th century marked Barcelona's resurgence as Catalans clamoured for political autonomy and greater freedom of cultural expression.
Barcelona was a stronghold for the anarchist cause, siding with the Republic's democratically elected government during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). It was overrun by Franco's forces in 1939, which ushered in a reign of cultural and political repression that lasted decades. The protest movement of the 1970s and the demise of the dictatorship turned Barcelona into a centre of cultural vitality, enabling it to become the thriving city it is today. While it may still be the second city of Spain, it has a charm and air that is unique and prized. A decline in the inner city population and displacement towards the outskirts and beyond raises the threat of urban sprawl.
The city has been the focus of the revival of the Catalan language. Despite massive immigration of Castilian speakers from other parts of Spain in the second half of the 20th century, there has been notable success in the increased use of Catalan in everyday life.
Barcelona was the site of the 1992 Summer Olympics. The city's controversial Forum of Cultures was held between May and September 2004, lasting a marathon 141 days.
See also: List of Counts of Barcelona
To its north the city borders the River Besòs and the municipalities of Santa Coloma de Gramenet and Sant Adrià de Besòs ; to the south it borders the Zona Franca , L'Hospitalet de Llobregat and Esplugues de Llobregat; to the east is the Mediterranean; and to the west Montcada i Reixach and Sant Cugat del Vallès.
Barcelona is divided into several districts; the following list favors Catalan-language names, rather than Spanish-language names; as of 2004, they are the most commonly used and the only official ones:
Ciutat Vella (old city): the Raval (also known as the Barri Xinès), the Barri Gòtic, and the Barri de la Ribera.
- The Eixample: Sant Antoni, Esquerra de l'Eixample ("the left side of the Eixample" with the sea at your back) Dreta de l'Eixample ("the right side of the Eixample"), Barri de la Sagrada Família
- Sants - Montjuïc: Can Tunis, Montjuïc, Hostafrancs, Sants
- Les Corts
- Sarrià - Sant Gervasi: Pedralbes , Sarrià, Sant Gervasi, Vallvidrera
- Gràcia : Vallcarca, Barri de la Salut, Gràcia, El Camp d'en Grassot
- Horta-Guinardó: Horta, Barri del Carmel, La Teixonera, El Guinardó
- Nou Barris : Can Peguera, Porta, Canyelles, Ciutat Meridiana, Guineueta, Prosperitat, Vallbona, Verdum, Vilapicina, Roquetes, Trinitat Vella, Trinitat Nova, Torre Baró, Torre Llobeta and Turo de la Peira.
- Sant Andreu: Barri del Congrés, Sant Andreu de Palomar
- Sant Martí: Fort Pius, Sant Martí de Provençals, Poble Nou , La Verneda
Barcelona offers a unique opportunity for the tourist on foot to walk from Roman remains to the medieval city, and then to the modern city with its open thoroughfares and grid-iron street pattern. The historic city center is fairly flat, while the modern city fans out towards the surrounding hills, bordered by steep streets that are vaguely reminiscent of those found in San Francisco.
Beginning of La Rambla at the old harbour
A notable feature is La Rambla - a boulevard that runs from the city center to the waterfront, thronged with crowds until late at night and lined by florists, bird sellers, street entertainers, thieves, cafeterias, and restaurants. Walking along La Rambla one can see the world-famous opera house El Liceu, the food market of La Boqueria and the Plaça Reial (literally Royal square), with its arches and palm trees, amongst other interesting buildings. It is also worth keeping an eye out for pickpockets, for whom the boulevard is a favourite haunt.
La Rambla ends at the old harbour, where a statue of Christopher Columbus points eastwards across the Mediterranean Sea to his birth place of Genoa.
Next to it is the Museu Marítim (naval museum), which chronicles the history of life on the Mediterranean, including a full-scale model of a galley. The buildings of the museum are the medieval Drassanes (shipyards), where the ships which sailed the Mediterranean were built. The old harbour offers all kinds of other amenities, including the largest Aquarium on the Mediterranean.
To the north of downtown is the Parc de la Ciutadella, which includes both the Parlament de Catalunya (Catalan Parliament) and the Parc Zoològic de Barcelona (zoo). One of Barcelona's most famous residents, the late albino gorilla Floquet de Neu ("Snowflake"), lived (and died) at the zoo. The park also contains science museums.
The Sagrada Família church
Outstanding is the legacy of architect Antoni Gaudí, who lived and worked in Barcelona, and who left several famous works like the Palau Güell in the city's old center, the Parc Güell at the northern tip of Gràcia, and the immense but still unfinished church of the Sagrada Família, which has been under construction since 1882, financed by popular donations like the cathedrals in the Middle Ages (However, it is not a cathedral: the cathedral of Barcelona is the Cathedral of Santa Eulàlia, a Gothic building of the late Middle Ages). The Sagrada Família is billed for completion in 2020.
Another very notable modernist building in the older part of the city is the Palau de la Música Catalana, designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner and built in 1908.
Art visits include the museum of the Joan Miró Foundation, where several paintings and sculptures of this artist are shown, together with guest exhibitions from other museums around the world. There is also a unique museum featuring the lesser known works of Pablo Picasso from his earlier period. The National Museum of Art of Catalonia (in the Palau Nacional left behind by the 1929 Ibero-American Exposition) possesses a well-known collection of Romanesque art, including wall-paintings of Romanesque churches and chapels around Catalonia that have been transferred to the museum. The Contemporary Art Museum is also worth a visit, not only because of its paintings and sculptures, but because of its architecture. The building was designed by the American architect Richard Meier. Visitors should note that the opening times of Barcelona's museums vary considerably and are often highly inconvenient - careful planning is recommended to avoid wasted trips.
In the modern districts of the city are several avenues on which most of the international merchants of clothing, jewelry, leather goods and other items have their stores. The most elegant avenue is the Passeig de Gràcia, where two Gaudí buildings are situated, the Casa Milà (La Pedrera) and the Casa Batlló, along with buildings by other famous modernista architects: Casa Ametller by Josep Puig i Cadafalch and Casa Lleó Morera by Domènech i Montaner. In recent years, office developments along Passeig de Gràcia have been allowed to break up the architectural unity of the 19th and early 20th century buildings lining the avenue - a process which shows no signs of slackening.
For spectacular views over the city and the coast line there are two hills. One, Montjuïc hill, is next to the harbour and perched above a large container terminal. On its top is an old fortress which used to guard the entrance to the port. Around the hill are the Olympic Stadium, the Sports Palace, the latter designed by Japanese architect Arata Isozaki , and the Botanical Gardens. Uptown is the hill of the Tibidabo, over 500 meters high, with an amusement park and a monumental church on its summit. The church mosaics provide a curious example of Nationalist Catholic art, much in vogue during the dictatorship.
World Heritage Sites in Barcelona
World Heritage Sites of UNESCO in Barcelona:
In addition to its port, of great historical and contemporary commercial importance, Barcelona is served by El Prat International Airport in the town of El Prat de Llobregat .
Barcelona is a hub for RENFE, the Spanish state railway, and its main suburban train station is Sants-Estació. The AVE high-speed rail system was recently extended from Madrid to Lleida in western Catalonia, and is expected to reach Barcelona by 2005. Renfe and the Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya (FGC) run Barcelona's efficient and widespread commuter train service. Barcelona's transit company, Transports Metropolitans de Barcelona (TMB), runs the Barcelona Metro system and city buses. See List of Barcelona metro stations. Barcelona has recently adopted another transport option with two new tram lines known as Trambaix and Trambesòs.
Barcelona, with its mild weather and dense medieval center, is renowned for its parks and open spaces. Besides the beaches, the Ramblas and Parc Güell are the most famous of these. See above for a description of the Ramblas. See separate article on Parc Güell (1914), the large fantastical park designed by Antoni Gaudí for a housing estate and opened to the public in 1922.
The site of the Barcelona International Exhibition in 1929 and 1930, the Parque de Montjuïc was laid out by engineer Jean C. N. Forestier and architect Nicolas M. Rubio Tuduri. It is chiefly notable now for the cultural institutions that use the former palaces and exposition buildings. The German Pavilion, a landmark of modern architecture designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe for this Exhibition was exhaustively reconstructed on its original site in 1986. Montjuïc Stadium was renovated and expanded by Vittorio Gregotti for the 1992 Olympic Games.
In 1983 the Plaza dels Paisos Catalans in front of the Sants railway station was redesigned by Helio Piñon Pallares and Albert Vaiplana Vea in pink granite paving with an undulating metal pergola and various hard furnishings that have become popular with skateboarders. At the same time, the neighboring Vapor Neu factory, was converted into the Parque de la España Industrial for public recreation. This park, designed by Luis Peña Ganchegui and Fancesc Rius Camps and completed in 1985 integrated the industrial shapes of the site with a dominant water feature and displays of sculpture.
Since 1983 a formal program of park creation has been carried out by the Mancommunitat de Municipis de l'Area Metropolitana de Barcelona. The purpose of this program has been to reclaim space for the public which is threatened either by neglect or overdevelopment. Typically these new parks are carefully designed by architects, planners and landscape architects concerned not just with functional elements, but also with the unique characteristics of the site and its position in a layered understanding of the city. Though the budgets may be small, the level of ingenuity and care in design and implementation is often very high. Some examples:
- Carrer Brasil, 1996, Olga Tarraso and Jordi Hernrich. A ramble built over parking spaces.
- Parc de la Torrente Ballesters (Viladecans), 1997, Arturo Frediani/SOB Associates. The design recaptures the pattern of agricultural use using beds of flowering plants. Trees and a pool strengthen the sensual escape from the surrounding city.
- Parc de Canserra (Barbera del Valles), 1996, Studio BCQ
- Parc de Torrente Congost (Granollers), 1996, Enric Battle and Joan Roig. A narrow linear park defined by hedge walls and a grid of trees on the bank of the Congost River.
- Upgrading of Parc de Torreblanca, the historical site of an urban farm.
- Fontsana, Sant Joan Despi, on the site of a former refuse dump.
- Parc del Bess, La Mina housing estate
- Parc de les Planes, located at the boundary of three districts.
- Parc del Litoral, at the mouth of the River Besos
- Parque de la Creueta del Coil, 1987, Oriol Bohegas , Josep Martorell, David Mackay, architects.
- Parc Nou del Prat, on the Llobregat delta, adjoining Sant Cosme and the airport
This program of planned parks is often among the civic improvements for which the city actively seeks international events as spurs for redevelopment. For example, the upgrades to Montjuïc and the seaside industrial areas for the 1992 Olympic Games were accompanied by the building of recreational facilities in other parts of the city lacking development. One notable site is the Vall d'Hebron, a deep ravine in the foothills of the Collserola range north of the city. The urban design by Eduard Bru created a terraced sequence of belvedere-like platforms with views of the city.
Barcelona is home to FC Barcelona, known as Barça, one of the most famous football clubs in the world. The Museu del FC Barcelona is the second museum in Catalonia in number of visitants. The club has always been associated with Catalan nationalism and has one of Europe largest stadiums, the 98,600 seater Camp Nou. There is another club in Barcelona, Espanyol, full name Reial Club Deportiu Espanyol.