The description of our tour today did not prepare me adequately for the wonder that we saw. Each day here we have wandered in one of the original neighborhoods of old Barcelona. Unlike the wide boulevards that our bus travels, these streets are barely wide enough for one car (although they are often two-way) and are full of tiny shops and restaurants that appear to be thriving. Most of the apartment buildings have very small flats with no elevators. Living on the sixth floor is affordable, but it must be a challenge to get a mattress up all those narrow stairs. The little lanes are all charming, but after a while, they begin to look alike. For a navigationally impaired person like me, this can be terrifying. Nothing is straight; the streets dog-leg. After five minutes I could not find my way back to where I started. Each of these neighborhoods has a market and a spectacular church. How they crammed them into this maze is a mystery to me.
But today's neighborhood El Born, was the best one yet for the wonder that appeared when we rounded a corner - the Palau de la Musica. In the very early 1900's the local glitterati decided that Barcelona needed a music performance space commensurate with their riches. They hired the same architect that designed the magnificent hospital we saw a few days ago and raised most of the funds themselves. They jammed this masterpiece, which seats over 2,000 into a tiny corner and in two years it was done. The craftsmanship, art, and imagination that went into this place stunned me. We have seen this type of work in major European cathedrals, but never in a building like this. Instead of carved angels and saints, the decor honored musicians and musical muses. I was so glad that we were using the "whispers" on this tour (as we have the entire trip). We wear listening devices and the guide can speak in a normal tone. This gives us the freedom to wander quite far away and continue to hear every word. There was so much to notice, I could have spent the entire day here. If I had known, I would have planned to attend a music performance. Every classical performer you have ever heard of since the early 1900's had performed here, but more current folks in jazz and contemporary also play here. The place is so popular, sometimes there are three different performance a day. It must keep the setup staff very busy. The reason the hall is used so much during the day, is that the artful placement of windows maximizes the effect of the daylight streaming in. We really appreciated this accomplishment, when we went back outside and saw how surrounded the building was by others nearby. Capturing the light here was a real feat.
The marketplace in the neighborhood was going to be knocked down, when the builders discovered ruins from medieval times rather than Roman ones beneath it. After Austria conquered this part of Spain, they knocked down the neighborhood and built a fort, preserving much of what lay underneath. Roman ruins are a dime a dozen around here, but seeing evidence of how people lived a millennia later was fascinating.
The cathedral in this neighborhood was huge, another wonder of use of space. We could not stand back far enough to get it all into a photo. It was magnificent, but similar to others of that vintage. For me it did not hold a candle to the Palau de la Musica.