Hola Barcelona! Gloriously Gothic and Gaudí
Plaça de Catalunya – beguiling Barcelona’s circular landmark of neoclassical statues surrounding an impressive fountain – is crisscrossed every day by more than two million people.
Most are walking towards the Gothic quarter that bounces southeast of this hub. They are eager to tread the streets built by the Romans who came to ‘Barcino’ in 133 ACE. Some towers and walls remain – many serving as wonderful backdrops for restaurants whose first dinner shifts start at nine!
Hard-working and stressed, folks here are Spain’s busy bees, and Barcelona is their queen.
During the Middle Ages, Catalan’s capital prospered, and the Gothic section splendidly proves this. Beautiful Barcelona would eventually host the Kings of Aragon, hang heretics, expel Jews (1492), and be bombed in the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), but not before making dishes such as tomato pulp on crunchy bread, curd cheese with honey, and cr ème Catalan, a cuisine craze that other regions crave.
Arriving in bustling Barcelona via Air Transat (it was a non-stop, non-tiring flight) I headed for the old quarter, where Gothic glory and Roman ruins greeted me at every turn.
Following narrow streets, I stopped on Marlet Street in the Call (Jewish section). There it was – a 12th century, two-room tiny synagogue! Part of the synagogue’s floor was encased in glass, under which lay the foundation a Roman house.
The synagogue’s display case of serving plates for the Sabbath and Passover proved touching. The menorah, handsomely large, seemed to sit forlornly, waiting for someone to light it. Though Jewish intellectuals, merchants, physicians and astronomers were protected by Barcelona ’s sovereign counts, the Call was sacked in 1391. Gone are the baths, hospitals and schools. Today, only 3,000 Jews live in this city of over 150 million people.
Predictably, it was the churches that mesmerized me, most notably, Catedral de la Santa Creu. A quintessential Gothic jewel that witnessed the wedding of Isabella and Ferdinand, it took over 600 years to complete – ironic, considering it honours Barcelona’s patron saint, Santa Eulàlia, who lived only 13 years. She gasped her last breath after her thirteenth torture, dealt out by the Roman consul Decius for her refusal to renounce her faith.
A small back entrance offered ‘grander’ (more like gander) things to come. A stench and the sound of honking greeted me inside the immense cloister, making me believe I was at the city zoo (which is worth visiting). The noisy culprits were actually 13 white geese, swimming happily in the cloister ’s pond – symbols of Eulàlia’s innocence!
A bit further along, I found my favorite church, the sublime 14th century Santa Maria del Mar, where I met classical guitarist Raul. Together, we walked under this single naved basilica of simple beauty. He then suggested a place for further inspiration.
Welcome to La Vigne del Senyor, home to 120 kinds of wine, mostly white. Indulging in tapas of potatoes, fried squid and judias (lima beans) while imbibing vi negre (red wine - more like red devil), I had a romantic vision: we were back inside Santa Maria del Mar. He was playing his guitar; I was praying for a kiss under its arched ceiling of exquisite light and harmony. Couples have to wait two years to tie the knot here.
Miracles do happen in Barcelona: anecdotes abound. An awesome modern one is the Sagrada Familia Cathedral – Gaudí’s still unfinished labour of love that began in 1882, with its interior a swirl of forms built in granite, basalt and wood of all kinds, astounded me. Four imposing intricate steeples (more to be built) and the facades depicting the nativity and the passion of Christ are testimonies to Gaud í’s brilliance.
Zany and scrumptiously colorful is another Gaudí goody: Casa Batlló shimmers in blue prisms of glass and ceramic – a masterpiece of joy.
Nearby is his La Pedrera with its famous ‘boney’ façade. Pedrera’s hilarious rooftop sporting weird faces made me feel as high as a kite. I was atop ‘Gaudíland.’
There are nine Gaudí edifices, integrated into Barcelona’s period of decorative ‘modernisme’, and most are near Hotel Barcelona Continental, where, if I turned left, I was greeted by the Gothic, while turning right gave me Gaud í.
Steps away from Catalunya Square, Barcelona Continental offers a cozy salon where I enjoyed nutritious breakfast goodies – completely free for all, along with bottled water, sodas, even beer! Thirty-five rooms, most in pink, offer a flourish of Versailles details. I liked relaxing outside on the Continental ’s demure wrought-iron balcony, overlooking La Rambla’s riot of humanity.
Run by the hospitable Malagarriga family, this three-star Catalan cocoon was my refuge for pondering Barcelona ’s people and steeples, both Gothic and Gaudí.