Wandering the streets of Barcelona is endlessly fascinating, as the deeper into the city you go the further back in time you step. The labyrinthine medieval section has buildings from the 14th century, and was built on top of the Roman Empire colony of Barcino, established around 15BC, which itself was a re-working of the original town, the founding of which is lost in history. Much more reading on the 2000+ year history of Barcelona.
Today it’s a very clean, safe and tourist-friendly place. One of the most densely populated cities in Europe, where half the population lives at over 40,000 inhabitants per square kilometer means that those neighborhoods are very fun to explore and easy to get around on foot. The oldest part of the city, the touristy Barri Gotic, (Gothic Area) is especially fun, with narrow twisty roads walled by leaning stone buildings, tiny shops, cafes and bars.
While there certainly are cars and delivery trucks driving around, the streets are dominated by motorscooters, bikes and pedestrians, which is incredibly refreshing coming from a car-centric city like Calgary.
Everywhere in the dense “Eixample” neighborhood and “Barri Gotic” parts of the city I am shocked by the stunning level of detail. Elaborate ironwork on balconies, stunning stonework around windows and doors and building facades, decorations in shops and bars, sidewalk tiles, and then by surprise you see one of the Gaudi buildings, and the level of detail and ornate decoration goes up another notch. Take doors and walls for example…
Mixed in with the old (and ancient) is the new, very modern and efficient. A city-wide bike sharing program was very popular, with stations scattered every few blocks containing anywhere from 5 to 40 of the solid red and white bikes, locked to a dedicated frame and accessed by code.
Sculptures fountains and ornate building decorations are everywhere, both traditional, ‘old’ modern and new modern. Already, in 2011, I found an electric car charging station.
I’m not much of a shopper, but tiny little shops jammed full of stuff were everywhere. Of course, tourism is a huge part of the economy here, for good reason! While there are a few chain stores, including the ubiquitous KFC, McD, Subway etc, plus a few local chains, the vast majority of shops were unique. I see a complex, diverse economy as similar to a rich, diverse ecosystem that resists the spread of weeds because everything is firmly established.
Fun street life comes from high density living, and as one of the densest cities in Europe, Barcelona is fantastic for that. In addition to numerous street performers, we stumbled upon two more formal folk music concerts. The woodwind section consisted of double-reed instruments, similar to an oboe, but larger and with a metal bell. Check out the two instruments the musician is playing on the left-side image: a recorder and wrist-mounted drum.
This kid was playing football by himself, off the walls and with any passer-by who would kick the ball around with him.
Dogs, big and little, get together for a game of ball in their own little park. This park was just on the east side of the Sagrada Familia cathedral, and I was torn between taking pictures of that most stunning of buildings at night and snapping shots of this pack of dogs all chasing after squeeky ball toys.
Of course, what Barcelona is perhaps most famous for is the work of visionary designer and architect Antoine Gaudi.
What the city is less-well known for is an amazing history that goes back 1000s of years. According to Wikipedia, the city was founded sometime in the 3rd century BC, and the village was made a Roman garrison in 15BC. A lot has happened since then, and there are numerous museums and old cathedrals that are fascinating to tour.
Darren Foltinek, 2011