Buscando Barcelona

During my semester here,  I was given the unforgettable opportunity to go to one of the legendary FC Barcelona Futbol games. I can honestly say I’ve never experienced anything like it.  My roommates and I went over to the stadium early hoping to score a jersey to wear to the game. We all got lucky! The jerseys were only 30euro! What a steal! I bought an Ibrahimovic jersey and crossed my fingers that I made the right choice. All of our friends gathered outside Camp Nou and excitedly mauled poor Eloi from CEA to get our tickets.  We sat up high in the stands and could see the entire field. Unfortunately we were stuck right in front of the rowdy Zaragoza fans, but after they were down 2-0 they hushed up pretty quickly!  While I’ve always been more of an American football fan, I can definitely see why the fans get so crazy! Messi and Ibrahimovic were incredible! The way they can shoot the ball across a massive field and send the ball soaring over the goalies head was something even the greatest of American soccer players struggle at. Its truely in their blood to play futbol. I ended up making the right choice with the Ibrahimovic jersey! He scored 2 goals during the game and helped lead FC Barca to a 6-1 victory! I only wish I had gotten to go to another game! I can definitely say that I will be keeping up with Barca Futbol back at home!

Named for the seaside along which it is situated, La Ribera was the main hub of the city of Barcelona during the 13th century when Catalan commerce ruled the western Mediterranean ports. MerchaCarrer de l'Argenteria (Silversmith street) by OrliPix.nts, entrepreneurs, craftsmen set up shop close to the water in this district. To the right of Via Laietana, south of Calle Princessa and bordered by Port Vell and the Parc de la Ciutadella, La Ribera boasts a neighborhood within a neighborhood; that of El Born. It is here that the best illustration of the past and the present can be seen. The guilds of the old town are still visible in the street names. At one time Carrer de Sombreres was the location of the hatters of the town, silversmiths worked on Carrer de Argenteria, and if you needed a new sword you would visit Carrer de Espaseria. Today, it is on those streets that the new guilds reside, most notably, the Calle Montcada. As La Ribera’s best known street, it is no surprise that the palaces and best attractions line it. Boasting the largest concentration of Gothic palaces in the city, the street is home to the new museum guild.

Spanning five contiguous palaces, the Picasso museum is the most visited attraction in Barcelona. I would go into more detail here, but it will be later described in detail as one of my cultural experiences in Barcelona. Another museum to note is the Textile and Clothing museum, as well as a pre-Colombian art gallery. This makes up the museum guild of modern La Ribera. Other modern day guilds include the multitude of unique local boutiques of designer clothes, some of which occupy their historical counterpart’s Gothic workshops. This juxtaposition of the past and the present further drives home the fact that Barcelona is a modern city that manages to hang on to its roots.  

File:Santa Maria del Mar 2.jpgDeep within this district is one of Barcelona’s many churches. The Santa Maria del Mar was begun in 1329 and the people worked tirelessly on this incredible gothic work of art for over 50 years. It is often said that the church was actually built right on the sand of the beaches and years of city expansion extended the shoreline pulling the church farther into the city. While this is a lighthearted thought, it is not actually true. This idea may have come from the miscommunication of the name and location of the church that originally existed on this site, the Santa Maria dels Arenys, or Holy Mary of the Sands. Below del Mar, and dels Arenys is a burial site dating back to the first century AD which was why the site was chosen. Dels Arenys was also the likely location of the first Episcopal seat of Barcelona in the 4th century, so there is obvious significant meaning behind the location. The original church was the religious home of the cult of Saint Eulalia, the patron of Barcelona who was supposedly buried there in 303.  File:Barcelona santa maria del mar 1.jpg

 Also known as the people’s church, it was decorated to reflect the life of the neighborhood surrounding it. Doors and altars were decorated with dockworkers, another representation of the guilds that dominated the area, this reference being to the bastaixos or guild of longshoremen. The main altar is crowned with a wooden model of a ship from the 15th century. Unfortunately, the rest of these kinds of decorations were lost when the church was set on fire during the Spanish Civil War. Luckily, the beautiful stain glass windows survived and bring back some of the beauty to the bare walls, octagonal columns, and high vaulted ceilings. In the end, this fire that burned for 11 days was a blessing in disguise because the true beauty of this architecture can now be fully appreciated. The columns of the Santa Maria del Mar are the widest of any gothic church in Europe spanning just over 43 feet apart. This allows for an incredible solemn grandeur that is often imitated but rarely duplicated by other churches.

Next to this church is The Fossar de les Moreres , a memorial plaza in Barcelona. The plaza was built over a cemeteary where defenders of the city were buried following what is known as the Seige of Barcelona the end of the Spanish Secession in 1714. This seige is remembered on the date of its occurance, September 11th. The plaza retains its everyday use as a public space, but always has an eternal flame burning over the heroic poem by Frederic Soler, “El Fossar de les Moreres” for which the plaza is named. Many Catalans pay homage to the defenders of city who were killed and are buried at the memorial every year on this date.

Also near the water is the Consulat de Mar, also known as La Llotja. It was originally a seaside exchange mart built by Pere Llobet, the architect of the Salo de Cent in the Ajuntament building, but a flood destroyed it. Pere III decided to rebuild it as part of his redevelopment plan in the late 14th century. Possessing a single arcaded room with gothic pillars and a flat beamed ceiling this contract room is the oldest constant operating stock exchange in Europe. However, that was not its only use. For several years in the late 19th century, the main art school of Barcelona inhabited its upper floors, and renowned artists Picasso and Miro studied there.

File:Plaça angels.JPGFormerly a forgotten area of Barcelona, the neighborhood of El Raval went through a major cleanup in the early 1990s in preparation for the 1992 Summer Olympic Games hosted by the city. The dramatic turn from inner city neighborhood to progressive city neighborhood was incredibly beneficial not only to El Raval, but to Barcelona as a whole. Because of its working class population, drugs and violence were prevalent in the area. When the time came to clean up the neighborhood, the council decided that the Placa dels Angels was the best place to start. They cleared the plaza and made it an open area directeFile:CCCB 20070408.jpgd toward younger citizens and families in an effort to drive away the drug dealers. It is off this plaza that two of the most valuable contemporary buildings exist.

            First is the Museu D’Art Contemporani De Barcelona, MACBA for short. Home to late 20th century art, the building itself is a testament to this era as well. It was designed by the American architect Richard Meier’s and is based on rationalism. The straight lines and bright white façade with large windows create a stark contrast with the rickety old apartment buildings surrounding the structure. The curved lines incorporated in the architecture seem to be a small testament to the laundry constantly fluttering in the wind from the balconies of the apartments, as if Meier was trying to soften the contrast between the old and the new. The courtyard in front of the MACBA has become a place frequented by young people in the neighborhood and contemporary art exhibitions draw in diverse groups of people, a welcome change for the area.

                        Tucked behind the MACBA is the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona, or the CCCB. Residents of the Raval neighborhood can attend art exhibitions, debates, festivals, films, concerts, and lectures that promote the arts in an effort to bring contemporary culture into the neighborhood.  There is an open courtyard in the middle for people to chat and dbarcelona ravaliscuss the exhibitions as well as a cute little café. When we visited, there were several college-aged kids having a café con leche and a cigarette talking with each other. Another group of elementary school children were just leaving from a field trip to the museum. There is a really pretty square courtyard in the middle that has a stunning contrast of classical and modern architecture. The top of the glass facade is angled in such a way that you can see all the way over the rooftops of El Raval to the Mediterranean Sea. It creates a beautiful effect on the glass and brings a little of the water into the neighborhood.

            From there we walked down Rambla del Raval, one of the spaces opened up by the City Council. Lined with palm trees it is similar to Las Ramblas, but much less touristy. It is the hang out spot for the neighborhood’s residents, which is largely Pakistani among other immigrants. It was very pretty and you could see the differences between the old apartments and those that had been remodeled in an effort to update the neighborhood. We passed a new, high class hotel which backs up to a street that is filled with prostitutes at night. It was strange seeing such a stark contrast between luxury and poverty, but is a poignant reminder of the work that still needs to be done to clean up the neighborhood for good.

Seeing the ancient Roman walls next to modern architecture allows for a direct connection between the old and the new. So it was only fitting that our first field trip in Barcelona: Past and Present be to a location which most effectively illustrates this. The perimeter of this old Roman city is still visible today, and can still be walked by following this outlineStarting at Placa Nova, follow Carrer de la Palla to Carrer dels Banys Nous, to Carrer d’Avinyo toward the port. Then take Carrer Ample, Carrer del hostal d’en Sol, Carrer de Angel Baixeras, Carrer del Sots-tinent Navarro, Carrer de la Tapineria, back to Avinguda de la Cathedral.These six-foot-thick walls run for about 1350 yards and once enclosed 25 acres in a fat coffin shape. Four main gates to the city were denoted by the 2 main avenues that crossed at the forum at the center of the city. This forum is believed to be beneath the plaza in front of the Cathedral.

There are several interesting sites in this area of the city, like the three original columns of the Temple of Augustus in the courtyard of Carrer del Paradis (which unfortunately we didn’t see because it is under restoration right now), but my favorite would have to be the Placa del Rei in front of the Cathedral. It’s a wide open space frequented by visitors and locals alike. I love the Barcino sign off to the side and the fact that you can still see part of a Roman aqueduct projecting into the square. It is hard to believe that this sprawling, busy, metropolis was ever anything but that. Barcelona  started out as any other; small and exclusive with most of its population living outside the city walls. 

           Having just been back to the plaza to visit the Christmas market, I still got the chills knowing that ancient Roman ruins were right beneath my feet. Seeing them was even more interesting when our class visited the Museo de L’Historia de la Ciutat. Robert Hughes, the author of our textbook Barcelona, was right when he said that the ruins aren’t much to look at aesthetically. I have to admit I was expecting a Pompeii-like scene, or something similar to Rome itself. However, that is not to say that the ruins were disappointing. In fact, it was hauntingly beautiful. The silence as we walked through really made you appreciate the humble beginnings of this great city….but the museum workers, and other visitors were none too happy when that reverent silence was broken by a water bottle that was sent flying down the metal walkway in to the ruins themselves by my slightly clumsy friend Mary. Ooops! She was incredibly embarrassed, but at least the bottle was tightly closed! Luckily the ruins were left unharmed, but I’m not sure that Mary will be if the museum sees her there again with another water bottle!

            Next to this museum is the Salo de Tinell, another impressive architectural monument in the city. Its arched cavern-like construction was one of the largest of its kind in Europe spanning over 50 feet. It was designed by Pere III’s architect and placed on top of Berenguer IV’s royal palace, yet another example of Barcelona’s penchant for using the past to define the present. Though its name means “banqueting chamber,” that was not its sole purpose. Throughout the 1370s it was used as Parliament for the region and in 1493 it is said that Ferdinand and Isabella received news of the New World from Christopher Colombus in that very room. Though there is no real evidence to back that claim up, it definitely adds a certain presence to the already magnificent structure.

Today, Parliament has moved to Placa Sant Jaume, also in the Barcino, or Barri Gotic district. Facing each other are the Generalitat (Regional government) and the Ajuntament (City Hall). This is another plaza in which people congregate for various events of the city. The Generalitat celebrates St. George, or Sant Jordi, the patron saint of Catalonia with a sculpture on the façade overlooking the square. The city hall across the way is a major historical site. It was from the Salo de Cent within this building that the Council of the Hundred ruled Barcelona as a city-state for nearly 500 years. This government had a more populist view than that of the Corts which was succeeded by the current Generalitat. The Council of the Hundred was selected by the count-king of Barcelona’s electoral college of 200 men who all represented various trades and professions. The council chosen were common citizens nominated though a lottery. While its not quite as busy as the plaza in front of the Cathedral, many a historic speech has been made and many demonstrations have occurred between these two important buildings.

 

            Seeing these monuments next to ancient ruins brings up an interesting dichotomy in the definition of the modern city of Barcelona. Is it solely the area within the Roman perimeter leaving the neighborhoods as mere extensions? Or has the city encompassed those neighborhoods willingly embracing each of their unique beginnings?   Your viewpoint really depends on how you view the city. Are you more a fan of the historical origins of Barcelona? Or do you agree more with the fact that the city changed as the times changed and that Barcelona is now a sprawling, thriving metropolis?

            While I think that both sides have valid points, I’m going to have to side with the post office. Incoming mail to anywhere within the city limits is addressed to Barcelona, Espana. While I live in L’Eixample Esquerra, my mail I receive is still addressed to the main city of Barcelona, not L’Eixample. This applies to any other neighborhood whether it be Gracia, El Born, Barri Gotic or Barceloneta. Then again, the post office makes these distinctions with the postcode, similar to how they do in the United States, which consequently brings me back to where I started. It seems this is one of those age old questions that may never be legitimately answered. Whatever the case, it is easy to see that Barcelona of the present can never be fully appreciated without first understanding the Faventia Julia Augusta Paterna Barcino of the past.

Viena RThe world's greatest sandwich. The New York Timesambla

            After hearing that they served what was deemed “the world’s greatest sandwich” by the New York Times in 2006, my friends and I of course had to try it. We headed to center town to find Viena Rambla, home of the Iberian Flauta. I have to admit, I was thinking in American standards here and expected a huge Subway style sandwich with lots of toppings and delicious bread. Here’s what I got….a foot long crispy baguette that had been rubbed on the inside with a tomato with a single layer of thin sliced Iberian ham. Let’s just say I was a little disappointed. While the sandwich was incredibly delicious (and I’m not even that big of a fan of ham), I don’t really think it lives up to its title as the best sandwich on the planet. True, the bread was baked to perfection, and the tomato rub gave it just the right amount of flavor, it just wasn’t enough. Where’s the cheese? Why only one layer of meat? I guess I’m so used to American style sandwiches that I forgot that I was in fact, in Spain and this is a completely acceptable sandwich. To the Catalans, this really is the best sandwich in the world. Not only does it taste great, it completely reflects not only their laid back lifestyle, it’s made with three of their favorite foods!

Café on Montjuic

            While my family was visiting me over Thanksgiving, I took them up the funicular to see the Olympic Village and the beautiful views from Montjuic. Tired from all of our touristy activities, we decided to stop and have a drink and snack at a small outdoor café, who’s name I cannot seem to remember. I searched and searched on google and in my guidebooks with no luck. It was similar to the outdoor cafes that line the boardwalk at the beach. Anyway, it wasn’t the name that was important, or even the food for that matter. I will always remember that place as a great time spent with my three sisters and my parents. We didn’t have to have a big fancy meal at some 5 star restaurant. My family was happy to have a couple Estrella Damm’s, a few Fanta Naranjas and a bag or two of those delicious extra crispy potato chips that they don’t seem to make in the United States. The weather was beautiful, the view was unforgettable and the conversation was hilarious. I really missed my family a lot and it was the perfect place to relax and enjoy one of the hidden local spots of Barcelona with them.  

Margarita Blue

            This restaurant is tucked away into the El Born neighborhood, where you’ll only find it if you’re looking for it. The food was delicious and is known as Tex-Mex Mediterranean because it mixes Mexican style food with Mediterranean ingredients. Their patatas bravas were to die for, and combined with guacamole salad and a fajita with fresh veggies and cheese, you really can’t lose! My friends and I went there to celebrate my 21st birthday. Their food was delicious but their cocktails were even better. We all had big, fruity cocktails made with fresh fruit and had whole slices of fruit right on the glass. The atmosphere of this restaurant is very laid back and fun and we had a great time here. I would most definitely recommend it if you were visiting!

L’Eixample began with Ildefons Cerda, a civil engineer who created the expansion plan for the city of Barcelona when it came time for the old city walls to be torn down to accommodate the growing population and economy in 1856. While the style at the time called for beauty, Cerda knew that efficiency would be more practical no matter what time period Barcelona was in. It was carefully considered and integrated with the old city in a very modern way. And while the more whimsical and beautiful plan won in Barcelona, it was the practical plan that was chosen by the central government in Madrid and the plan that creates the Eixample we see today.

            Cerda focused on key needs, particularly, the need for natural lighting and ventilation, green spaces, effective sewage systems and the ease of movement between people, goods, and services. His plans were far ahead of his time and allowed for the easy integration of new forms of communication and travel, from the octagonal intersections for the visibility of oncoming horse and buggies, to the ease of construction of a city wide underground rail system.

            The grid pattern remains a hallmark of Barcelona, but not all of his plans came to life. Originally, the plan was to have only 3 sides of the blocks covered with an apartment building in order to leave the center open for green space and ventilation. In addition, these apartments were to not surpass a certain height. Instead, what we see today is a majority of the blocks completely built up with no space in the center, along with narrower than planned streets, only 2 of the diagonal streets connecting the whole city, and a lack of class mixing that was the dream of Cerda. This is not to say that the plan was a failure, however. In fact, it is one of the greatest achievements in Barcelona history because it effectively allowed for the easy expansion of the city both physically and demographically, and allowed for additional hospitals, schools, markets, and other public services.

            L’Eixample today is divided into two halves, Esquerra and Derecha, and it is officially divided into a total of five neighborhoods. Left and Right Eixample, Sant Antoni, Sagrada Familia, and Fort Pienc, are all technically considered their own neighborhoods, though they are often simply grouped in with either the right or the left side of Eixample which is delineated by Passeig de Gracia. Other main thoroughfares include the Avinguda Diagonal which slices the grid diagonally, and Gran Via which crosses the entirety of the city from southwest to northeast parallel to the coast.

            I live in L’Eixample Esquerra on the corner of Paris and Calabria. In this neighborhood there are several interesting sites, most of which I visited when working on my neighborhood presentation. There are 18 schools in the district, 2 hospitals, 4 libraries, 5 civic centers, all serving the 248,777 inhabitants within 746.68hm2. The Ajuntament de Barcelona office of my neighborhood is conveniently on the ground floor of my apartment building. We were told that they only offer public services. They help people who are unemployed and those who are having trouble financially or with food.

            The ages and social class of the people living in L’Eixample Esquerra obviously range from the young to the old and from the poor to the rich, but the overall demographic is fairly similar, at least from what I have observed. It’s a rather old community because I often see elderly men sitting in the park or elderly women walking together down the street. I think this is because it is a quieter neighborhood farther away from center town. That is not to say that there aren’t any younger families however, because there are obviously several, just not quite as many as in other areas of town. Our side of Eixample is more for the public services in town so it is a bit less glamourous than Eixample Dreta. Our neighborhood is home to the firehouses and the city jail, instead of the designer shops and famous Gaudi architecture. Regardless, it has become my home away from home and I really will miss everything it has to offer.

One of the hospitals in our neighborhood is the Hospital Clinic. It is the up and coming location for medical research in Barcelona. Founded in 1906 it was originally for underpriviledged patients. Many famous procedures were performed here including one by José Maria Gil Vernet, who performed the first kidney transplantation in Spain in 1965, Ciril Rozman, with the first allogenic of bone marrow in Spain in 1976, and Laureano Fernandez-Cruz, who in 1983 made the first pancreas transplant. Recently, the Clinic was worthy of accreditation C “advanced technology and reference.” Today it is the force behind one of the main institutions of reference for the health sciences in Spain: the Health Corporation Clinic. They are currently under construction to create a new center for biomedical research which is opening in 2010.

            A friend of ours unfortunately had to go to the hospital while we were here due to a surprise case of appendicitis. He went to a hospital outside of our neighborhood, but it was an interesting look in to the general workings of the Spanish healthcare system. He was immediately admitted after a brief examination and was taken into surgery only 2 hours after. After a quick lathroscopic surgery (they used lasers through his bellybutton) Max was as good as new! He only spent one night in the hospital and the check out process was literally painless. There was nothing to be signed, no one to check in with, we just walked right out the door! If only the US had the same set up…. We went to a farmacia afterwards and got his prescription for his pain medicine filled right then and there. No waiting! The US could definitely learn something from this system because it was incredibly convenient!

            Another attraction is one that is a little less known. Parc de Joan Miro is one of the open green spaces that Cerda had envisioned when he planned the city expansion. Filled with wide open spaces, large shady palm trees, a playground, and table tennis, it is a great place for the residents of Esquerra to gather. This was the first park developed after the oppressive Franco era and it boasts a 22m sculpture by the famous Miro called Woman and Bird. While I don’t think it looks like a woman or a bird at all, I have to admit, the colors and the mosaic are very pretty. As you walk through the park you can see children and their mothers playing in the playground, old friends chatting on the park benches, men walking their dogs, and teens playing soccer in the open spaces. At the opposite end, there is  also a library for people to sit and read.

This library is divided into two sections, a childrens and adults and is also named after Miro. Its usually only open in the afternoons, and in the evenings it is filled with elderly men and women who are reading the paper and quietly catching up with each other. The library is very small, but somehow manages to hold 35,000 books, 150 journals, and 4,800 CDs, DVDs, and cassettes. The staff was very patient when we tried speaking Spanish to get our library cards.

Near this park is another famous site in Eixample Esquerra. Plaza Espanya is the roundabout on the main road Gran Via. The two towers framing the road leading to the Magic Fountain and the MNAC were modeled after the Venitian towers and were built for the 1929 Universal Exhibition along with the neoclassical Romanesque statue in the center of the plaza. This plaza boasts the first ever metro stop in Barcelona which connected Plaza Espanya and Plaza Catalunya in an effort to display Barcelona’s modernity for the exhibition.

One of the more unusual attractions of the area is what is known as Gaixample. Running from Gran Via to Arago and Balmes to Urgell, the area is internationally known for its heavily gay community. Bars and clubs that are gay friendly line the streets and there are bright lights and rainbow flags flying. While I have never been to one of these clubs, a girl in our class has and said she had one of the best nights in Barcelona at a gay bar.

One important aspect of every neighborhood is their markets. I went to visit Mercat de Ninot. Unfortunately, their regular location is under construction and they have been moved to a large tent not far from the original area. It was founded in 1933 and was definitely due for some updates! This market, like any other sells meat, seafood, fruit, vegetables, clothing, and other supplies. Though only temporary, the building set up is very nice. It is bright and clean and there is plenty of room for shoppers. It was mostly an elderly crowd shopping and we were clearly the only Americans there. This market is similar to La Boqueria, but much less touristy and a lot cheaper. As we were walking outside looking at the clothes, we chatted with one of the shop owners. He said that although they have moved for the time being, all of his regular customers still came back showing that the residents are very loyal to their markets.

Other attractions include the Les Arenes which was the former bullfighting arena in Barcelona. Bullfighting is a popular Spanish sport, and to keep up with the popularity, the city built a new, updated arena. The old arena which was preserved because of its beautiful Moorish architecture is being renovated into a shopping center, with restaurants, stores, and a large rooftop terrace for exhibitions. Another interesting site is the University of Barcelona which was built in 1882. Beautiful architecture and green gardened courtyards cover the campus and there are always students hanging around bringing the younger crowd into the neighborhood. The Barcelona Industrial School is also in our neighborhood. Converted from an old factory, this school is the equivalent of a trade school back in the United States. The courtyards, like most big schools here are very pretty and are always filled with students chatting between classes. When you walk by, some of the windows are open and you can see students taking tests or practicing their trades.

            Other interesting sites in our neighborhood include the local firestation Bombers, and the city jail. I’m a little nervous about being so close to the city jail, but so far so good, no one has escaped! This goes to show that Europe does not really separate services quite like the United States does. In the US, jails are usually on the outskirts of town in poorer areas, but here, the jail is in a middle/upper middle class neighborhood right across the street from a metro stop, apartments, and grocery stores. It was very surprising to me. A few blocks in the opposite direction is the firehouse. We ran into the firemen one night on our way out to a bar. They were very nice and friendly towards us! Oftentimes I can hear the sirens of the firetrucks when they leave the station because we are so close!

This was a great surprise during our semester in Barcelona.  Having never seen the Redbull Air Races before, even in the United States, we were thrilled to find out through an advertisement in the metro that we would get to see the WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS in Barcelona! It was one of the most fun days I’ve had on the beach since I’ve been in Barcelona!  Not only was the airshow great, but the weather was incredible! Never before have I been on a beach the first weekend of October! Gotta love that Spanish weather!

My friends and I relaxed on the beach, our eyes to the sky, our hands filled with Redbulls and watched the worlds 15 best pilots swirl and dive between the inflated cones over the water. There was even a show by military fighter jets. I was amazed by their perfect formation and their precision in their flips and dives. But what was even more shocking was when a huge passenger jet flew past low over the beach past the crowd and made huge banked turns. It was so close I almost felt like I could reach out and touch it! It made me a little nervous knowing planes I travel in were capable of diving like that! But it was certainly a sight to see! It was truly a once in a lifetime experience!