From my perspective Barcelona became a world class city in 1992 when the Olympics brought the attention of us all to its beauty and culture. It had finally come out from the forty year black cloud that was Dictator Francisco Franco. Undoubtedly, the Romans also thought it was a pretty great town when they founded it 2,00 years ago. Our tour of the city took us past many of the Olympic venues, which are still being used and are a vital party of city life, unlike some other Olympic cities like Athens, where the grass and weeds are rapidly reclaiming it all for Mother Nature. Our view of the city from Montjuic was spectacular in every direction we looked. We could pick out the bull ring, which has been turned into a mall since the Catalans have banned bullfighting in this province.
Then we joined a million other tourists walking Las Ramblas, the mile long pedestrian area that runs from the harbor where Christoper Columbus points to the New World that he found (but in the wrong direction), to the middle of town near the Gothic Quarter. Located in the heart of the old city, the Gothic Quarter offers a glimpse into medieval Barcelona, with some structures even dating back as far as Roman times. We were warned repeatedly about pickpockets, and so far no one in our group seems to be missing anything. We saw numerous protest signs and Catalan flags hanging from the balconies. A sizable minority in this province wants to secede from Spain and some protestors have been jailed. Our guide said that it all boils down to unfinished business from the Spanish Civil War and the forty year dictatorship of Franco. Spain has more unmarked graves and missing persons than any other country in the world other than Cambodia from this civil war time. From my perspective tiny counties have a hard time making it in this competitive world, but hurts and grievances can overcome the most logical thinking. Catalans speak a language as similar to French as to Spanish and after being forbidden to use the language under Franco, it is now the sole language used in schools. We saw a circle of seniors citizens doing a very sedate circle dance in the streets that was another effort to retain the old customs. In another neighborhood city teams were forming pyramids five people high, climbing on each other’s backs - another Catalan thing.
A name that is almost synonymous with Barcelona is Gaudí. This hometown architect had a unique style and approach to buildings that is impossible to describe. He did not believe in squared off corners and decorated his buildings with flora and fauna or religious symbols, depending on what his clients valued. Gaudí adorned many of his buildings with colored tiles arranged in mosaic patterns. This adds another important dimension to his designs which is so often overlooked by architects - the use of color. His masterpiece was supposed to be a county church. La Sagrada Familia has been under construction since 1882. We’ve seen cathedrals that took 700 years to finish, but this one has been built during modern times for the most part with machinery that can lift massive stones to the top of the arches and carve stone more quickly than in medieval times. When you enter the church from the east, the stained glass is blue and green and the figures come from the nativity story. At the western end the stained glass is yellow and red and the statues show the passion and death of Christ. The interior supports are designed to look like trees and are plain in color so they can reflect the colors of the glass as the sun streams in. The choir loft seats 800; the original plan was to have 1,200 but the steep stairs to the loft would take that many people forever to climb. Today’s workers are trying to honor Gaudí’s original plans, but some of them were destroyed during Franco’s times, so some guessing is involved.
We are sad to say that tomorrow this cruise is coming to an end. Half the passengers are going home and we are joining the other half to spend a few more days here. A cruise review will be forthcoming, perhaps once we start our second cruise home and have more time to reflect and compare.