The Spanish city of Barcelona sits on the Iberian Peninsula, 100 miles from the French border, and just a few steps from the Mediterranean Sea. With its roots reaching back into pre-history, the hands of many cultures have shaped Barcelona.
But it was the Catalan spirit that created something truly unique.
In Barcelona, everything you see, taste, reach out and touch… every detail is an expression of Catalan creativity.
For this is more than just a city, Barcelona is a dream. And just like our dreams, Barcelona is sometimes chaotic, often intense, and always, always seductive.
To the north, glide up Passeig de Gracia, a boulevard lined with creations by some of the giants of the Art Nouveau and Modernista movements.
But it’s not just the city’s main avenues that lull the senses into a divine stupor; Barcelona’s side streets and alleyways are often rabbit holes into the sublime. And when the Mediterranean sun turns up the heat, cool off in one of the many plazas and let the city come to you.
If Barcelona is a dream, it is dream set to music. Music is everywhere… on the streets, in flamenco cafes, and clubs. For this is a city whose soul is laid bare in the stirring laments and pounding heartbeat of song. This passion reaches its crescendo in the Palace of Catalan Music, where even the statues, intoxicated by the joy of music, burst from the very walls.
Just off La Rambla a different kind of theatre awaits. La Boqueria began as a goat market in the 13th century. Today, it’s the place to sample delicacies from across Catalonia,
such as jamon from forest-roaming pigs, fattened to perfection on herbs and acorns. Wherever hunger strikes in Barcelona, a tapas bar is just a few steps away. For like everything they do, Catalans have turned the humble snack into an art form.
For in Barcelona, life and art are inseparable.
The National Palace sits on the slopes of Montjuic, a broad hill laced with trails, gardens and historic treasures. Take the cable car even higher,
and enjoy the commanding views from Montjuic Castle. For many in Barcelona however, this is a place of sorrow.
For it was against these walls that prisoners cried their final defiant words before Franco’s firing squads.
Over the last 100 years, Montjuic has been continually re-imagined and re-shaped, first by the World’s Fair in 1929, and again by the Summer Olympics of 1992.
But the slopes of Montjuic were not the only part of the city to be given an Olympic makeover.
Millions of tonnes of sand were pumped onto two miles of shoreline, giving run-down waterfront barrios a new lease of life, and lifting Barcelona high into the ranks of the world’s great beach cities.
Whether it’s the sea, the soil, or the wind, Barcelona is a dream inspired by nature.
And this dream was at its wildest in the imaginations of the Catalan Modernists, who embraced nature’s lyricism in defiance against the harsh lines and cold logic of the Industrial Revolution.
Experience Catalan Modernism in full bloom, at Sant Pau Hospital, the visionary work of Lluís Domènech i Montaner. With an entrance representing open arms, and grounds scented by the medicinal fragrance of lavender, laurel and lemon, if ever a hospital could heal on aesthetics alone, surely it was this.
But it was another Catalan, Antonio Gaudi, who took Modernism to the next level, and far beyond.
Of the nine UNESCO World Heritage sites in Barcelona, Gaudi is responsible for seven of them.
Halfway along Passeig de Gracia is the Block of Discord, where contrasting buildings by four modernist masters jostle for attention.
But it’s Gaudi’s Casa Batllo that steals the show. It is here Gaudi began to realize his full powers, breaking every city by-law to create what locals call, the house of bones.
Gaze up at the facade, which resembles a lily-covered pond straight from the brush of Monet.
Then follow the serpentine halls and swirling interiors ever upward before emerging onto the back of a dragon.
Just around the corner is the last private residence designed by Gaudi, Casa Mila.
Some say the facade evokes coastal cliffs festooned with seaweed; others say it conjures up the mist-shrouded peaks of Montserrat.
Whatever the case, Casa Mila has inspired generations of artists, including a young American filmmaker, who in these chimneys found the inspiration for Darth Vader and his Storm Troopers.
Gaudi would have loved that, for he was more than just an architect; his genius extended to furniture design, interior decoration, and, landscaping.
Then, take the stairs to Turo del Calvari, and behold the spires of Gaudi’s greatest vision, as they continue their climb towards the heavens.
La Sagrada Familia is due for completion within the next decade, to commemorate the 100-year passing of the man they called, God’s Architect.
Yet even unfinished, over four million visitors a year are stunned into silence as they gaze up into this vast, visionary kaleidoscope. Gaudi is the very essence of Barcelona.
For just like his creations this is a city filled with grand visions, all brought to life by endless fragments of bliss.
Barcelona is a city that shares with the world a message…
such are the wonders we create, such is the life we live, when we allow ourselves to dream.