The website of the Catalyuna History Museum has a fantastic overview of the history of the region, which dates far into pre-history back to the pre-Paleolithic, 450,000 years ago. Other than a few pre-historic, oldest things that we saw were from the Roman Empire.
Underneath the 14th and 13th century cathedral and palace in the old Barri Gotic part of Barcelona lies the Roman town of Barcino, which thrived from around 15BC to the 7-8th century. The defensive fortification wall around Barcino is still visible at street-level in a few places, and was our first glimpse of the very old as we wandered around the already-old-to-us medieval Barri Gotic part of town. Following the wall around the town leads to interesting discoveries such as the historical Jewish quarter, and glimpses of the wall where it has been incorporated into modern shops.
Roman town of Barcino
In the area of a 13th century cathedral and palace is the Museo de Historia de Barcelona at Plaça del Rei. Here you descend under the current street level and under the cathedral and palace to the excavations of the Roman town of Barcino.
Wandering around on the steel cat-walks above the excavations of the Roman town of Barcino is fascinating. There were commercial laundry facilities, where clothes where cleaned with ash and urine (yes!) and a fish-processing factory that produced garum and salted fish. Both of those were fortunately missing the original smells…
Most interesting was the winery, with a grape-pressing room, drained by a stone trough leading to a fermenting room and then another room with large (1m+ diameter) ceramic vessels where the wine was aged. Back in the day more than 10,000 liters of wine per year was produced in Barcino. Then, as now, drinking wine was an important part of daily life. Some things never change.
Cathedral of Santa Eulàlia, 14th century
Moving almost 1000 years forward in time, the largest cathedral in Barcelona, the Cathedral of Santa Eulàlia was built from the 13th through 15th centuries.
Even today, as a 21st century atheist used to seeing large beautiful buildings, the old cathedrals of Europe leave me speechless. Walking into the vast interior space, with huge columns supporting the ornate ceiling, and incredible artistry and craftsmanship in the stone and wood carvings, often covered in gold, is just overwhelming. I can’t imagine the effect that it would have had on a 15th century peasant. Obviously that was the intent, to shock and awe people into following your religion, and if that didn’t work, well, the horrible methods of the Spanish Inquisition were another approach, popular at the time.
The magnificent church organ was being playing during our Monday tour and filled the vast space with its rich, deep sound as we explored the various parts of the church.
Montserrat is a mountain north and west of Barcelona. Seeing it from the plane, on the flight out of Barcelona, it was apparent what a large and unique massif the mountain really is, sticking out all by itself in the foothills of the Pyrenees.
From Barcelona, a commuter train took about hour to get there, and then a cable car (or cog railway) gets tourists up to the site of a Benedictine Abby, the Santa Maria de Montserrat. There is a steep trail leading up from the monastery / train / cable-car / hotel complex which climbs up a few 100m through the conglomerate rock formations. Some fun climbing to be had here, although I didn’t have either gear or time this trip. Numerous hiking trails wind up and around the mountain summits, leading to various viewpoints and refuges.
The interior of the monastery is incredibly rich, with gorgeous stonework, wood carvings, gold leaf and paintings. Touring the monastery I am struck, over and over, by the incredible opulence of the place. Not being a Catholic, or a Benedictine monk, I don’t understand what this over-the-top display of wealth is meant to convey, but it’s clear that whatever they worship here it is certainly not simplicity or humility.
On a side note, they make very yummy herb liquor. No arguments that the abbey is beautiful to look at, but it doesn’t take long before I’ve had enough of the claustrophobic, heavy, ornate grandeur and am ready to be out in the great outdoors again.
Random Old Stuff
In the few days we had we only scratched the surface of what this amazing city has to discover, and wandering around there was a literally a historical artifact at every corner.
As someone said, “In Europe they think 100km is a long way, and in North America we think 100 years is a long time”.
Darren Foltinek, 2011