We get together with four artists from different fields of expression (theatre, design, architecture and video games) who are in love with Barcelona. They weren’t all born in this city but they all speak of it with such adoration, admiration and respect.
“Barcelona has a lot of passion, it wants and achieves a lot of things, it holds a very clear position and you can live here without concerning yourself with Gaudí and architecture. People who live here are happy because the city is a creative territory that generates a special kind of energy”. That’s how Javier Peña defines the city that welcomed him from the moment he got here.
“It’s a city that slopes downhill because it extends from the mountains behind it to the sea, and that’s how people orient themselves. Barcelona is a practical place: it’s a history-laden city with contrasting neighbourhoods where walking’s fun”, says Joan Puigcercós.
For Lluís Pasqual, Barcelona has the scent of the sea thanks to its seafront. Using a metaphor from the theatre, he says that the city changes its scenery every 400 metres, which is absolutely amazing. “There’s Eixample district, the Gothic Quarter, El Born, Gràcia, El Raval... There are many Barcelonas and they’re all within your reach; it’s a warm-hearted city with such distinctive aspects as its cuisine, its human history and much more”, points out the director of ENTI.
Recollecting the past, Merche Alcalá says she grew up in the post-war Barcelona, in the Icària area, with cultivated fields all around. Things have changed now, with the modernization process that has marked the city since the Summer Olympics in 1992. “The whole city is different, even including its weather: now it may rain or even snow in one neighbourhood but not in another!”, she adds.
This diversity of people, climate and neighbourhoods is what makes the city so special. What’s more, it’s a place that invites you to stroll about. “You don’t even need a guide in Barcelona. You can just wander around and at every corner you discover an interesting building, shop or restaurant... It’s a place that’s brimming with surprises even for the locals!”, Puigcercós points out. And that’s not only true of the city centre, says the director of ELISAVA, a resident of the outlying Horta area: “My neighbourhood resembles a village but it actually lies within the city; I can grab my bike and ride to the Collserola mountains or to the Horta Labyrinth in a matter of minutes, but I’m also close to my job at the Ramblas. Where I live it smells like the mountains and sometimes you can even catch sight of wildlife there”.
“A special feature of Barcelona is that you can get everywhere on foot. If you compare it to other European cities, you can get from one area to another on foot here in 20 or 25 minutes, while it could take you 40 minutes in the Metro elsewhere”, emphasizes Manel Casals, the General Director of the Barcelona Hotel Management Association, who has also dropped by to chat with us.
What’s more, Barcelona’s typically gentle Mediterranean weather is wonderful and people who visit us appreciate it. “The sun helps to make everybody a lot happier. But in our profession it can also be a tough rival – when it gets sunny, lots of people like to go to the beach, which may not leave them time to go to see a play”, the theatre director muses.
The conversation turns to the big change in the Ramblas. This promenade still displays its traditional character at around 8 a.m., before it gets filled with people walking up and down its 1,200 metres. “In the old days the Ramblas were an antidote for any Barcelonan who felt lonely – there you could always find someone you knew to talk to and have a coffee together at a terrace”, recalls Pasqual.
The Catalans are polite and discreet, hospitable and not at all meddlesome, so everybody feels quite free when strolling about the city among them. This is also why the city is a melting pot of people, styles and cultures. Alcalá sums it all up, saying “This is an infinite city”.
“The city has so many contrasts that it’s impossible to define it”, she goes on to say. According to the director of the Teatre Lliure, the Catalans like to perform in plays more than to watch them, which may be why Barcelona has so many venues where you can enjoy musical or theatrical productions of all types. But in addition to recommending that people should take advantage of their stay to go to the theatre, Lluís says everyone should drive up to the Carretera de les Aigües, where you can get a panoramic view of the city, and then drive down to Montjuïc hill for a close-up look at the sea.
In this connection, it may be noted that Barcelona’s hotels can also be unique vantage points overlooking the city. “The hotels here have become popular meeting places for the Barcelonans because they have some very special spaces and amenities, like their terraces: these hidden corners on the heights offer panoramic views of the city stretching from the Agbar Tower to the Old Port”, states Casals.
After Pasqual’s and Casals’ scenic tour, it’s time to gaze upon the superb constructions of two geniuses of Modernista architecture: Lluís Domènech i Montaner and Antoni Gaudí. “The Sagrada Familia’s interior is impressive. On entering the portal of Gaudí’s unique structure with its staggering proportions and the incredible coloured light from its stained glass windows, you can feel its tremendous energy, regardless of whether or not you’re a religious person”, says Peña. “And the fact that it’s being built right now, at this moment in history, makes it even more spectacular”, he adds.
Puigcercós proposes a gently downhill itinerary which begins at Domènech i Montaner’s Sant Pau Modernista Complex and then goes on to Antoni Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia; after that the tour leads down the elegant Passeig de Gràcia with its beautiful Modernista buildings, and it comes to a close at the Palau de la Música, a veritable masterpiece of Modernisme.
While enjoying this route, you can also take a look at some of the city’s other architectural gems like the Monument Hotel, the Hotel Claris, the Mercer Hotel Barcelona and the Hotel Casa Fuster. “All these buildings have grown up with the city and have a unique and very special story”, explains Casals.
“Discovering the city from the roofs of some of the buildings of the historic centre is an unforgettable experience”, says Alcalá, an architect in love with Barcelona who is fascinated by the vast number of hidden places that she has yet to discover. Other very interesting spots recommended by our guests include the magic shop ‘El Rey de la Magia’ and the cutlery shop at the Plaça del Pi, both of which have traditional display windows revealing the true essence of the city.
Despite Barcelona’s timeless character, however, Puigcercós remarks that it is a city that reinvents itself each day in all regards. “You can’t wrap it up and you can’t miss out on it either”, adds Lluís Pasqual.
Photos: © Paco Lago