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A glimpse of Barcelona



Barcelona has seduced me. I only caught a glimpse of her but it was enough to know that I would happily abandon the place where I live for her charms; her old world sensuality, her wide avenues, her narrow cobbled streets, her laughter, and her dreams. Many Catalans still dream of independence, and the city and the region have spent much blood chasing that dream.

Today she wears the confidence of a city at peace with itself, and sure of its place in modern Spain. Some may still long for the days of the bullet and the bomb but the irrepressible life of the city is what strikes the traveller today.

We spent a mere thirty-six hours there; some, but not much of it, sleeping. To sleep for too long in Barcelona seems like blasphemy, an insult to the pagan deities who coexist uneasily with the mother church, and whose appearance seems to have been given form by one of the city’s greatest artists, the architect Antoni Gaudi; on the roof of his famous apartment building, the Casa Mila, commonly referred to as La Pedrera, “the stone quarry”.

The facade of the Casa Mila ('La Pedrera')

La Pedrera was built between 1906 and 1910 in the free-flowing, fluid form known as “modernisme” developed in the late 19th century in Barcelona from the art nouveau style. La Pedrera was designed as an apartment building like no other, with a rippling wavelike facade and an almost total absence of straight lines throughout. Perhaps its most startling feature is the design of the vents and chimneys on its undulating roof, modernistic abstract sculptures of

"Witch-scarers"

such sinister aspect that they are often referred to as the “witch-scarers”. To me they represent in abstract form the pagan deities of the “carnivale”, the unsettling confluence of Christian and folk religion.

Spain is riddled with contradiction. It was the home of the Inquisition, an institution devoted to the preservation of faith in the existence of a merciful God, yet capable of the most extreme cruelty. For centuries the most visible image of Spain has been the bullfight, only now being rejected, particularly in Catalonia. Throughout history it has been defined by its rigorous Catholicism but flourishes today as a beacon of sensuality.

Perhaps it is the climate; or the wine. Or perhaps it is just the irrepressible Spanish spirit that will not recognise the lateness of the hour. As darkness descends upon the city its citizens come to life. The streets and squares begin to throb with the music of humanity seeking company and pleasure. In the bars and cafes, along Las Ramblas and on the side streets the crowds move to the beat of the drums of night. Tomorrow is forgotten. The day will come in due course; and give way again to the beat of night.

But for the tourist Barcelona is not only a city of the night. Bathed in glorious sunshine it reveals itself as the most habitable of cities. The avenues, as wide as a  New York City block, draw the eyes and the soul up towards the soaring buildings and beyond to the Mediterranean sky, surely the representation on earth of the vault of Heaven. In the narrow side streets the press of humanity and the business of commerce impress upon the visitor the vibrancy of human intercourse. The city is alive as few cities are. It lives, works, and plays to the insistent beat of hot blood coursing through its streets.

It is heady stuff for the northern European, and the average American. To enjoy Barcelona to its full one needs to give oneself up to it, not something that is easy for those whose lives are constrained by work, discipline or long winter nights. But should there be any hesitancy about letting go, then I suggest a visit to the Sagrada Familia. Gaudi’s most famous work, of which only a single tower was completed at his death, is a testament to the ascendancy of the individual artistic spirit over convention.

The spires of Sagrada Familia

Its soaring towers and fluid form conform to no known architectural model. It seems to represent the rising of the spirit towards Heaven, a building that flows from the foundations of earth to the skies, unconstrained by the conventional laws of form and structure. To look upon it is to look upon a work of such imagination as to almost dwarf the capacity to comprehend it. Gaudi’s body lies in its crypt, and his vision inspires those who strive to finish his work. It is a challenge to every cathedral ever built before it. When completed it will not sink into the pit of historical antiquity. It will live and breathe and soar, as does the city in which it was conceived.



The BEST holidays

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