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An ancient city

The beautiful and ancient Moorish city of Barcelona one of my favourite places in Europe. Its gothic quarter or Barri Gotic is simply stunning, with the medieval Gothic cathedral and town hall, displaying the ornate architecture of the period; gargoyles peeping from every crevice and hanging from every crenellation. Little surprises are everywhere; such as the tiny courtyard at the rear of the cathedral containing a little fountain and garden growing pure white lilies and water plants, guarded by a gaggle of majestic white geese, which were kept in medieval times because they announced unwanted visitors to the precinct.

The modern city

Dim, narrow streets providing shelter from the hot Mediterranean sun, open out to stone spacious stone-paved plazas cooled by huge central fountains, surrounded by tall palm trees among which flocks of pigeons constantly flutter, wheeling and landing, cooing and clucking.
This is a city that does not sleep until the early hours of the morning, but is up and bustling at sunrise, then shuts down during siesta ending late afternoon when life begins again. Tapas bars open after siesta, displaying their wares in brightly coloured bowls on the tops of bars. Bowls of fresh oysters, boiled eggs, local ham rolls, and pickled anchovies are displayed, with local cheeses in colourful array to be enjoyed with a beer or glass of rich Spanish Red wine. Shops re-open their doors and very healthy commerce proceeds apace until after midnight every day of the week except on Sundays. Barcelona is its country’s most happening town, and seems set to stay that way. The 1992 Olympics allowed Barcelona to once again strut its stuff on the world stage, projecting an image of cultural prosperity. It hasn’t looked back since. In part, Barcelona?s topography was its destiny. The city is cradled in a great half bowl, open to the Mediterranean on one side, but contained by a brooding hill called Montjuic on which sits the Estadi Olympic and the city?s park and fair ground. The city rises gently from the sea and climbs its slopes and elevations with admirable respect for the land.

Around any corner in Barcelona there is a fresh surprise for the eyes. The architectural exploits of Gaudi are simply mind-blowing, and there are a number of them to be seen, from simple apartment buildings to the yet unfinished master work, The Sagrada Familia. One could be forgiven for thinking that The Sagrada Familia church is simply a folly. Further examination reveals a biblical story told with steel, concrete and plaster as its voice. It is unique and unforgettable, with eight towers, each shaped like a decorated Christmas tree, and topped with a different piece of fruit reaching towards the blue Catalan skies, sculptured figures of the Holy Family hovering over the main door.

Everyone who is anyone is on the Ramblas

The Ramblas, wide and beautiful and paved with patterned tiling, leads down from the Plaza Catalunya, to the magnificent memorial to Christopher Columbus dominates the huge roundabout at its end, and appropriately overlooks the port area of Barcelona. It is a place of celebration. People come to simply celebrate being alive, by taking a prada in the cool air of the evening or to enjoy a meal at any of the open air restaurants situated along its length. Couples young and old walk arm in arm among the bustling tourist throng, as they hasten to dine, or simply to stand and watch a gold or silver painted living sculpture in slow motion. Families stroll together, adults and children with dogs on leads, enjoying the atmosphere and the company of locals and back-packers alike. All make up the tapestry of life on this busy median strip, whilst on either side traffic roars up and down, tooting taxis competing for space with buzzing mopeds and small delivery trucks. Tall Plane trees line the roadside, and potted palms stand guard over the tables and chairs of each little restaurant, whose white apronned waiters carrying trays, dash between rushes of traffic to bring food and drink to their customers seated under sheltering awnings. Tourists haunt the many souvenir shops, seeking bargains in Lladro porcelain ornaments, Spanish gold jewellery, soccer uniforms, postcards and Catalan pottery. Back-packer hostels rest cheek by jowl with up-market residential buildings and smart hotels, busy internet cafes, tempting little patisseries and ice cream shops.

The Moors

The Moorish influence is everywhere. France pushed back the Muslims in AD 801. At the time, the plains and mountains to the north of Barcelona were populated by the people who by then could be identified as ‘Catalans’. Catalan’s closest linguistic relative today is the langue d’oc, the old language of southern France. Franco, when he came to power, wasted no time in banning Catalan and flooding the region with impoverished immigrants from Andalucíˇ in the vain hope that the pesky Catalans, with their continual movements for independence, would be swamped. But the plan soured somewhat when the migrants’ children and grandchildren turned out to be more Catalan than the Catalans. Franco even banned one of the Catalans’ joyful expressions of national unity, the sardana, a public circle dance. But they’d barely turned the last sods on El Supremo’s grave when Catalunya burst out again in an effort to recreate itself as a nation. The Sardana is celebrated somewhere at least once every day in Barcelona.

Catalunya – a treasure trove of talent

The Catalans are a proud and happy people. Their philosophy is evident in their surroundings, and in every citizen one meets in Barcelona. They have a zest for life, not seen in colder European cities. Music is everywhere. Bands play providing entertainment for the strolling citizens and visitors. A man sits alone beside the fountain in the plaza, and plays his clarinet in the cool afternoon, around the corner modern rhythm and blues bangs out from a cafe attracting a very young audience, whilst at the Grand Theatre further along the Ramblas such famous artists as Jose Carreras or Kathleen Battle star in grand opera. Nearby is the Central Produce Market where the most amazing array of spices, colourful fruits, vegetables, and flowers, fresh and smoked meats, glistening fish, honey and cheeses of every kind compete for space. Noises, smells and colours simply assault the senses when one steps in through the stone doorway of the main produce market. The colour and variety of the produce of the region, is in some way representative of its people, for they are a colourful, supremely talented, warm, freedom loving, proud and passionate people, who have built a city of infinite fascination and beauty that I have grown to love.

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