Barcelona: Ancient City – Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona: Ancient City of Lights, Architectural Wonders, and Street Mimes
Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona, as forever immortalized by the stirring lyrics of Eurotrash Girl by Cracker, is a lively-happening city full of lights, music, street performers and grungy homeless people.

Barcelona has a long and rich history going as far back as the Carthaginians in the 2nd century B.C. Legend has it that the father of Hannibal (of Alps and Elephants fame) originally founded the city. Smarting from their defeat by the Romans in the first Punic War, the crafty Carthaginians moved into Spain hoping its wealth would put them back on equal footing with the Romans.

Hannibal left Spain in 218 B.C. via the Pyrenees then later the Alps to take his war and elephants to Italy. Meanwhile the Romans slipped in behind him and after several years of hard fighting took over the whole of Spain.

The Romans made Barcelona into a military camp centered in what is now the Placa de Sant Jaume. The Romans held Barcelona and Spain for over six centuries until the Visigoths kindly took it off their hands in the 5th century.

Bust of a Roman Woman
Bust of a Roman Woman
Barcelona was for a time the center of the Visigoths’ realm until they shifted their power base to Toledo. The Visigoths were relieved of their Spanish possessions along with one of their kings by the Islamic Moors of North Africa in the 8th century.

The Moors took Barcelona but in turn lost it to the Frankish armies of Charlemagne in the beginning of the 9th century. A century and half later the Muslims got a bit of revenge when they sacked Barcelona.

Somewhere in all this flotsam and jetsam of invaders, raiders, and Franks emerged the Catalan people. The Catalan language spread throughout Northeastern Spain, parts of France and Italy as their influence and power grew.

After Spain was united with the marriage of Ferdinand II of Aragorn and Isabella I of Castile in the late 15th century, Barcelona and the Catalonian areas began to decline. Catalonia found itself on the losing side of the centralization process of Spain.

The War of Spanish Succession saw Barcelona fall in 1714 to French troops who supported Castilian power. King Philip V of Spain (though he was actually of France and the son of Louis XIV) prohibited the public use of the Catalan language. Two centuries later, Francisco Franco would continue this ban after he took the city in 1939 during the Spanish Civil War. It was only after his death, that Catalonia was able to regain some cultural identity.

Fine Art at its finest on Las Ramblas
Fine Art at its finest on Las Ramblas
Barcelona has had a long history of troubles and triumphs but modern-day Barcelona has transformed itself into a vibrant thriving city.

I flew from Frankfurt to Reus, a city south of Barcelona using Ryan Air. Europe is now besieged with a variety of cheap no-frills airlines that help the economy traveler jet about the continent with ease to their pocketbook. This was my first time to fly a no-frills airline and it definitely was no-frills. I found the filet mignon a little tough and the Dom Perignon a little too dry for me.

In Barcelona, it was nice to see the Euro girls in their risque fashion of midriff-revealing shirts, low-waisted pants, bulging breasts – and these were just the 14-year-olds. The European lax attitude towards sex is everywhere. Men’s magazines rest next to kid’s comic books (this is a sharp contrast from Japan where the Men’s Magazines are the kids’ comic books). Everywhere I could see the slutty ads with half-naked anorexic sirens promoting everything from clothes to fertilizer (but rarely anything actually to do with sex).

I first wandered the streets of the Gothic Quarter. There I watched various musicians and street-performing live statue mimes battle each other for attention and Euro dollars. There was some vicious silent competition on Las Ramblas street as the live statue mimes tried to out-stand each other and not move. One was so successful that after 3 days he was the only one who hadn’t moved. Unfortunately by the time of my arrival the aroma that began to arise from him told us that his secret lay in rigor mortis.

La Sagrada Famila
La Sagrada Famila
The following day I checked out the gaudy Gaudi La Sagrada Familia – a cathedral of massive tacky proportions. Technically, La Sagrada Familia is a church as there is already a cathedral in Barcelona but La Sagrada Familia is far more immense and spectacular to be called a mere church. Its most striking feature are the four tall spindle towers topped by Cubism-influenced crosses.

Antoni Gaudi was a late 19th century/early 20th century Catalan architect for whom the the question: “Is this perhaps too much color?” was blasphemy. He also designed Parc Guell, a city park in Barcelona riddled with fantastic pieces of both multi-colored and naturally-colored stone sculptures that either blend with the surroundings or dominate them.

Picasso, a former resident of Barcelona and frequenter of its brothels, hated Gaudi’s work. Personally I liked the Parc Guell and La Sagrada Familia. The church is still under construction though Gaudi has long been dead. It is predicted to be finished in 2020.

The summer can be brutal so it’s the nights when Barcelona truly comes alive. However, though Barcelona is notorious for keeping late hours this doesn’t mean all the inhabitants appreciate the late night activities that go on outside their windows. One night a drunk American girl from Hawaii who was expressing rather loudly her profound dislike of her home-state at 3 a.m. in the morning had a nasty surprise when all of a sudden from a 4th floor window a bucket of cold water came cascading down to douse the speaker’s energetic tirade. Unfortunately some of it also splashed on the unwilling listener, which happened to be me.

I regret that I spent such little time in Barcelona. Its a city that deserves a lengthy stay. There is much in the way of history, culture, architecture and entertainment to keep the visitor enthralled. I look forward to revisiting Barcelona someday but I shall be wary of raising my voice too loudly next to any apartment buildings in the middle of the night.