These days Barcelona is named together with Paris, London and Berlin as being one of Europe’s great cities. It is no mystery that so many travel agents spend a lot of attention to it and that a city trip to this trendy and fancy city is much appreciated.
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Vitality is its middle name, it has a pleasant Mediterranean climate and is thoroughly saturated with culture, art of living and joy of living.
Barcelona is THE city of modernism, a very special kind of art nouveau which is been treasured here. One can access the old and new city of Barcelona walking distance from its biggest boulevard: La Rambla. Barcelona is a surprise.
It is very easy to get your bearings in Barcelona: just imagine that the city is a piece of paper. In the middle of it you draw a circle, that is the Plaça de Catalunya and a perpendicular line to the bottom is La Rambla.
All the way down you draw a horizontal: that is the waterfront: old docks have been remodelled into cosy marinas, beaches and an Olympic yacht-basin. Remember this little drawing, we will use it often.
Barcelona ‘s Classics
- La Rambla
La Rambla is the main artery of the city, 1.5 km long and bordered with ancient trees providing cool shadow in the summertime. La Rambla is the biggest meeting place of Barcelona and in the summertime you can rent one of the hundreds of chairs and watch the street performers, buskers, musicians, artists, painters and the never ending parade of people walking over the big boulevard.
La Rambla is so popular that two new words originated from it: ramblejar and ramblista. The first is a verb which means walking on La Rambla and the second is the person doing the walking: if you are one day soon walking on La Rambla, you will be a ramblista too!
La Rambla used to be the bed of a river coming from the mountains and flowing towards the sea. When the city expanded towards the north it was reclaimed. Today is has been paved according to a design by Miro: a wavy and flowing pattern.
At one end, the end near the sea, there is the statue of Columbus on a 50 m high iron column. He points to … the wrong side. The intention of the architect was to show the people the direction of the New World, but for some reason they lost their sense of direction and poor Columbus is now pointing towards Malaga!
At the other end of La Rambla you will find Plaça de Catalunya: the most important traffic intersection. If you ever get lost in Barcelona: just ask for Plaça Catalunya and from this central point you can take a cab, a bus or the metro or even go on foot in any direction. Many of Barcelona ‘s hotels are situated here and the neighbouring streets and boulevards make one great shopping centre.
- Barri Gotic
Remember our little mental drawing we made earlier? On both sides of the Rambla you can now draw two more strips: in a couple of hundred meters lie enough points of interest, musea and monuments to keep you busy for the best part of an entire week!
The Barri Gotic or the Gothic district is a maze of small and worn-out alleys situated on the left side of La Rambla. It was built on the foundations of a Roman city: Barcino. Some of the old walls that are 2300 years old(!) are still standing and were incorporated in the present situation. The cathedral is the centre of the district and the monastery is supposedly the coolest place in Barcelona, with its lush gardens. The construction of the cathedral started in 1298, its towers dating from the 14th and 15th century.
In the Barri Gotic you can find plenty of palaces and musea and historic buildings. Best thing to do is to buy a decent guide book to help you explore the early history.
- El Eixample
Back to our mental map: starting from Plaça de Catalunya and on the right coming from La Rambla, the checkerboard design of El Eixample ( the extension) is starting to emerge.
In the middle of the 19th century the rich bourgeoisie wanted to create a new district with a new pattern of geometric blocks: an example of progressive urbanisation.
El Eixample is art nouveau at its best. The entire district is an architectural surprise. There is a city walk you absolutely must do: starting at the Plaça de Catalunya and ending at the Plaça de la Universitat. (You can get a map at any the tourists offices of which there are plenty in Barcelona.)
There are literally hundreds of interesting modernistic buildings on this route from architects as Gaudí, Montaner en Josep Puig I Cadalfach. To be absolutely fair to all: there are also plenty of magnificent and often very expensive shops on the route. Window shopping here is great, buying even better…
As it is unthinkable to visit Paris and not the Eiffel tower, it is evenly unthinkable to leave Barcelona without having a walk on the Eixample route and discover the more than 2000 listed and protected buildings in modernistic style.