Spain really suffered under the forty year dictatorship of Generalissmo Francisco Franco. Even Germany which was totally devastated after World War II, was in much better shape in 1975 when he finally died. The country made a peaceful transition to a constitutional monarchy and conditions began to improve. In 1992 when Barcelona was the site of the Olympics, it rightfully gained the attention of the world and made improvements to infrastructure that make this city a pleasure to visit. Although it is nicely situated on the sea, it is not nearly as picturesque as the other ports we've visited, but the medieval Gothic Quarter and the wide boulevards of the modern neighborhoods blend into a city that is a pleasure to be in wherever you are. Many of the older buildings look a bit like those in Paris, but have distinctive decorations that make them uniquely Catalonian. Large pieces of modern art decorate the road sides and the parks. This is a city that takes art seriously.
One reason why is that this is the birth place of Picasso. Although art is not a major interest, we took a tour of the Picasso Museum, which gave us a better understanding of the man and his work. Picasso showed an artistic genius at an early age and his talent was initially fostered by his father who was an art teacher. The museum had many examples of his early work, early meaning while he was still a teenager. He made numerous realistic paintings that revealed the inner life of his subjects working quickly, often completing a painting in an hour. Some of his paintings showed how easily he could imitate the style of the master artists who came before him. By the time he turned twenty, he was bored with realistic art; perhaps the fact that photography was common by then was also a factor. Picasso went to Paris and experimented with more abstract and modern approaches. The guide said that with Cubism, he attempted to reveal the many sides of a person's face and body on a flat surface. Picasso lived to be 94 and painted rapidly and prolifically until the day he died. Unlike many great artists, his genius was recognized while he was still alive and he had so much money, he didn't know what to do with it all. When he filled an apartment up with his art, he would move on and buy another. He also had this approach with the many women in his life. Once he no longer felt passion for them, he moved on. This took a toll on his children as well as their mothers; one of his sons committed suicide.
Another Barcelonan artist that is less famous, but more beloved by me, is the architect Antonio Gaudi. His designs are highly imaginative and have few straight lines or conventions. When first saw them, I thought he must have been on LSD when he created the plans. Seven of the thirteen buildings he designed here are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. His biggest project was the La Sagrada Familia church, a building that has been under construction since 1882. Its plans are so ambitious, for a number of years after Gaudi died, further construction came to a halt. These days 130 artisans are working on it again, being paid by the admissions tourists are charged to go inside, even though the inside construction has barely been begun. Although many churches are decorated with Biblical allusions on the inside, Gaudi's church is just as highly decorated on the outside. It will have eighteen towers, twelve for the disciples, four for the apostles, one for Mary and one for Jesus. Only eight have been built thus far.
The more conventional Cathedral of Santa Eulalia has been finished since 1454, but the facade is a more recent addition. These days corporations pay to have their name on stadiums and arenas. In the 19th century, wealthy individuals and companies donated to the church. A facade and bell towers were added to the cathedral and numerous side altars. Each altar was donated by a company or guild and they competed with one another to determine who was the holiest. The end result is an impressive, although dark interior, with gold leaf plastered in every nook.
Much of the wealth here was generated by Spain's many colonies. There is also a chocolate museum here, honoring this tasty and lucrative industry which was brought to Europe from Mexico.
Every time we come here we walk Las Ramblas, a one kilometer pedestrian boulevard filled with street artisans and little shops. Although it was not as busy today as it was in warmer weather, it still was a happening place. Nearby a Christmas market was selling all manner of holiday decorations. Some appeared to have been made in China, but many reflected local traditions, like the logs that were decorated with red faces and red ears. We're not sure what that was all about, but with familiar carols playing over the loud speakers, we found ourselves in a holiday mood, despite the mild weather.