Barcelona, Spain, is a city rich in tradition which has elements spanning almost 2000 years, from Roman times through the Middle Ages up to the present. This port city has thrived, especially because of its location on the southeastern coast of Spain. The heart of the city is the Old Town, which includes the Barri Gotic, the Gothic Quarter, La Ribera, containing 14th century mansions, the beautiful Parc de la Ciutadella, and the restored and bustling waterfront. The major thoroughfare in this part of the city is Las Ramblas, one of the most famous avenues in the world, lined with shops and restaurants, peopled by street entertainers, lovers, and tourists. Of special note in this section is Barcelona’s Cathedral, which was begun in the 13th century. Try to be there at noon on Sunday for a demonstration of the National Dance of Catalonia, the Sardana. Also nearby is Parc Guell, which began as a real estate venture of Barcelona’s famous architect, Antoni Gaudi, but was never finished and has been converted into a city park.
Gaudi’s presence and influence can be found in many areas of Barcelona. He was part of the Art Nouveau movement which, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, engulfed the city. Gaudi’s most famous building is the church, La Sagrada Familia. Gaudi began its construction in 1882 and the church was still unfinished at the time of his death in 1926. Construction still continues on this masterpiece, but, at this time, its completion date is totally uncertain.
There are a number of houses designed by the architect which offer a glimpse into his unusual approach to architecture. These include Casa Mila and Casa Battlo’. Other houses in the same area by other architects within the modernistic movement offer contrasting styles.
Another neighborhood, Montjuic, which occupies the high ground above the city center, is the old Jewish Quarter and also the sight of many events from the 1992 Olympic Games. Great views of the city and its harbor are available here and on a nearby mountain, Tibidabo.
Side trips in the Barcelona vicinity include beach excursions along the coast north and south of the city, called the Costa Dorada, or a trip to the tiny principality of Andorra, nestled in the Pyrenees between Spain and France.
Probably the most popular excursion is to the Montserrat Monastery, in the mountains just northwest (about 60 km or 40 miles) of Barcelona, a residence for Benedictine monks and one of the holiest places in Spain. The name derives from the “serrated” mountains which form a lovely backdrop for the monastery.
At the heart of this place is the small, wooden statue of the Black Virgin (La Moreneta), which is reputed to have been carved by St Luke and brought to Spain in 50 A.D. by St Peter. More likely, it is much younger, but the rumor persists, and the Black Virgin has become the patroness of the Catalonian region of Spain. Particular attention should be paid to the Basilica Facade, with its sculptures of Christ and the apostles, and the Way of the Cross, a path which depicts the “Stations of the Cross” outdoors in the form of fourteen statues. The path begins at the Placa de l’Abat Oliba.
The setting of the Montserrat Monastery, alone, is worth the trip.