The Bunker (or el Turó de la Rovira) is the best kept secret of Barcelona. With it's fantastic views across the city, this old war bunker is not to be missed. There are many places to get great views in Barcelona, but this one is definitely my favourite. It is in the best location which allows you to see everything so clearly, from the mountain of Tibidabo to the right, to the ocean and Montjuic, with all of the city inbetween.
Metro Alfons X, line 4. A slight climb up from the metro is required but totally worth it.
Google map: bit.ly/16Dngtk
A treasure of funeral art, located on the Route of Montjuic on the hill, lies Montjuic Cemetery. This graveyard of about 57 acres boasts sea views and a place of calm away from the city's hustle and bustle. The cemetery, which was featured in Pedro Almodovar’s 1999 film All About my Mother, opened in 1883 after an escalation in the population. Montjuic Cemetery is more than a place of the dead as its modernist architecture, sculptures and beautiful, exotic gardens are works of art. The extravagant design meant the graveyard became a prevalent spot for the rich to be buried and many of them had their own mausoleums built in the cemetery. Indicative of this, the cemetery houses some excellent examples of funeral art that include architecture, sculptures and stained glass creations. This is a great place to visit if you’re interested in modernist art, architecture and sculptures and are looking for a free-of-charge, peaceful way to explore Barcelona.
Eusebi Guell's model industrial village built in 1890 to house occupants of the textile industry. The highlight is one of Antonio Gaudi's key works - the unfinished church crypt. The crypt features brilliant use of leaded stained glass, brick and ceramics.
For me the highlight of Catalonia is a person – or perhaps the places he created. Antoni Gaudi’s masterpiece is usually considered to be Barcelona Cathedral, Sagrada Familia. But I prefer his more human scale creations: the Park Güell and the Casa Milà were the highlights of our visit to Barcelona. The former is a wonderful garden built on a hillside, providing splendid panoramic views of Barcelona. Within the garden are several intriguing structures and sculptures designed by Gaudi, who lived in a house by the park entrance (now a museum). Casa Milà is an amazing apartment block, constructed without a single straight line. The public are admitted to much of the building and on to the roof terrace – the high point of a visit in more senses than one.
There are more than the guide places to visit in Barcelona, as a lot of people know you can visit the Olympic areas, Gaudi buildings, the Ramblas and the shopping center. But there is another city. You can get lost in the streets in l'Eixample and visit the gardens inside the 'illes' where you can see flowers, pedestrian areas or pools. You can also visit the old narrow streets in the Gothic neighbourhood and look at the names of these streets that make reference to the work that was done there, in each street lives one 'gremi' and the street has taken the name, for example Carrer cotoners in English Cotton spinners street. You can also visit the remains of the Roman wall that was used to build a new buildings on top.
If you’re in town this week, Monday is Saint George’s Day –the Patron Saint of Catalunya– and the streets will be full of stalls selling roses and books, as well as excited, happy people enjoying this traditional Catalan festivity. It’s a kind of local Valentine’s Day.
This is one of Catalonia’s most popular festivities and people throughout the principality enjoy spending their time browsing the stalls to buy a book and a rose as gifts for their partner or, if they don’t have one, for someone else they love. Traditionally, a man would give a rose to his partner and she would give him a book, but nowadays people give both to their partners and to other loved ones as a token of affection.
Roses for Saint George's Day:
Barcelona’s streets are beautiful on Saint George’s Day; the colourful rose stalls and booksellers’ stands are everywhere, bargains and best-sellers abound –popular authors madly signing copy after copy– and the balconies are decked with the gold and red of the Catalan Flag. If you have a walk around, you’ll probably see rose stalls belonging to NGOs or charities, perhaps you might prefer to buy from these rather than some of the more commercial stalls.
Perhaps you can give a loved one a pleasant surprise as a fond remembrance of your stay in Barcelona.
The tradition of giving a rose on Saint George’s day is said to date from the 15th century Festival of Roses, celebrated on the 23rd of April by which time Saint George was firmly established as an important Saint and when the sculpture you can see on the façade of the Palau de la Generalitat in Carrer Bisbe was made.
The rose bedecked Palau de la Generalitat is open to the public on the 23rd of April, so this is your chance to see Marc Safont’s wonderful Gothic architecture on the Ceremonial Stairs, Gothic Gallery and the Chapel of Saint George, and Pere Mateu’s Pati dels Tarongers, all hidden behind the Neo Classical Façade. The Sardana national dance is widely performed on this day.
Saint George appears in several accounts of battles in Catalunya –naturally, on the winning side– and Jaume I mentions the Saint’s contribution to the conquest of both Mallorca and Valencia.
This may seem strange to some because Saint George –as the first Crusaders discovered to their dismay in the 11th century– was known to the Saracens as the Green Knight and appears several times in the Koran, as well as in many popular legends in which he rescues damsels from dragons.
The name George means farmer or person who cares for the land, the saint has always been connected with the springtime, and he is a protector of the harvest. It is perhaps also for this reason, along with his legendary penchant for rescuing damsels in distress from marauding dragons, (a rose bush is said to have grown from the dragon’s spilt blood) he is associated with the romantic gift of a spring rose. Perhaps also George’s connection with husbandry is the reason the roses all come with an ear of wheat, usually tied to the stem with a little ribbon of Catalan Flag.
The gift of the book on National Book Day is a much more recent tradition, beginning in 1926 throughout Spain. The 23rd of April was chosen because it was the date of Cervante’s death. Although the custom disappeared in many areas of Spain, the practice soon became popular in Catalonia and quickly became part of its Patron Saint’s Day, its origin soon forgotten.
Have a nice day!
Eixample, Passeig de Gràcia, Rambla Catalunya
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On the other side of the Cathedral, down Carrer de Montjuïc del Bisbe, which is to the right of the small square by the cloisters, you’ll find the Plaça Sant Felip Neri, a most beautiful square with trees and a fountain. The pock marks you can see in the stonework of the church were caused by a bomb dropped by the Italian Air force during the Civil War. All the people, mostly children, sheltering in the church crypt were killed by the concussion. The square is mostly made from buildings moved stone by stone when the Vía Laietana was opened. Across the square you’ll see the terrace of the Beautiful Hotel Neri where you can get a bite to eat and a drink from 10.00 till 23.00 and until midnight at weekends. If the square is not too busy, it’s a fine place to sit. Pop inside the hotel and wonder at the proportions of the stonework.
Santa Maria del Pi embodies all the strength, solidity and creativity of the Catalan spirit. The huge single nave transmits a sensation of spirituality, space and mass all at once and its sheer width is striking.
Even the chapels between the buttresses contribute to the expanse instead of chopping it up as they do in some other churches.
The rose window, set in its cliff-like wall of stone, is said to be the largest in the world; seen from inside the church when the afternoon sun falls on it from over the buildings, it is spectacular.
Beneath the rose window and above the door is another outstanding feature and evidence of the great vision and skill of the Catalan architects and builders of the middle ages: the shallow stone arch supporting the choir. It spans the entire width of the church and its rise is so little as to make the arch itself seem an impossibility. It looks far too flat to stand, let alone bear the weight of the choir. Yet its shape is so harmonious and effortlessly elegant it leaves you breathless with admiration.
Building began in 1319 and was completed in 1391 meaning the church was one of the many Gothic buildings started during a period of prosperity but completed during the successive ravages of epidemics, plague and violent unrest.
The tower, finished off flat like most Gothic towers in Barcelona, (Why is the one in the Plaça del Rei different? That story is yet to come…) was probably finished around 1461. Designed by master architect Bartomeu Mas, work began in 1376. It is said that the master builder, desperate to find funds to complete the church, made a pact with the Devil. But the Devil only agreed to provide him with the materials required in exchange for the builder’s soul, to be delivered when the 100th step of the tower was laid. “Right-ho”, said the builder and promptly built up to the 99th and then went on to finish the rest of the church. This took so long he died of old age before getting round to laying the 100th step thus cheating the devil of his dues.
This fine shop selling knives, cutlery and razors of all kinds is celebrating its 100th anniversary. Ramón Roca learned his trade in Germany and France, came back to Barcelona to open his shop in the plaça de Sant Josep Oriol. Ramón was one of the few craftsmen of his day capable of making fine blades and scalpels to the standards demanded by surgeons and he brought a special anvil from Paris to make them on. You can still see it in the shop in la Plaça del Pi, which dates from 1916.
Nowadays Ganiveteria Roca has a range of over 9,000 cutting tools of all kinds.
One of the things I like to buy for my friends who enjoy cooking is one of Roca’s own branded knives. Made of fine, non-stainless steel the knives hold a keen edge and their rounded wooden handles give them a pleasant feel. They look good too. I bought mine in 1978 and providing I continue to keep it clean and sharp it should last for ever.
Personal preferences apart, Roca has fist class knives from the world’s most prestigious manufacturers of Japan, Finland, France, Germany, Switzerland… collectors will always find something of interest and so will yachtsmen and outdoor enthusiasts. The new range of ceramic knives is attracting a lot of attention.
Catalunya’s finest and most well-known chefs are regular customers at Roca.
There are scissors for every conceivable application, even ones with double eye rings for people who work with the disabled, spring-loaded scissors for people suffering from arthritis and an astonishingly wide range of nail cutters.
The traditional cut-throat razor and its accessories are still one of the best sellers.
Roca is in the building that housed the shopkeepers guild and was probably the first to be decorated in the sgraffito style. The façade bears the date 1613.
On the eastern side of the Rambla you’ll see one of Barcelona’s most photographed buildings, the Casa Bruno Quadros or, to give it its popular name, the House of Umbrellas. The ground floor of the building –now a savings bank– housed until 1980 a shop selling… umbrellas. The building was redesigned and decorated in its present form in 1883, just before the Universal Exhibition, by Josep Vilaseca, the architect who designed the Arc de Triomf at Passeig Sant Joan. Don’t let the spectacular dragon or charming umbrellas make you overlook the fine sgraffito work or the Egyptian inspiration of the upper floors.
La Rambla, 82
Google map: bit.ly/meWJZX
Spanish Civil War tour in English around Barcelona visiting some of the key sites in the city between 1936-1939. The tour covers themes such as Anarchism, George Orwell, the realities of daily life and bombing. A different way at looking at the city.
A map showing sites in Barcelona with some reference to the history of the city. Many of the sites refer to industrial unrest, the civil war and the repression and resistance during the dictatorship. I recommend you have a walk along this route.
I put it together because I wanted to see how they played out on a map. More sites will be added soon.
Going for a walk on this gorgeous mountain/hill is a great, relaxing experience. Here you'll find beautiful gardens, great restaurants, a castle, a theatre and above all a gorgeous view of Barcelona. There's an open air area with tables where you can have affordable and simple barbecued food and a bottle of wine whilst you enjoy a marvelous view of the mediterranean and the city by night. The place is called 'el mirador del migdia'.
Bus 55 or bus Parc de Montjuïc/funicular de Montjuïc, then 10min walk. Follow signs to Mirador de Montjuïc
An established (since 1827) chocolatiers in the Barri Gotic. My god, talk about mouthwatering....not too sweet. Pierre Marcolini has some serious competition!
A truly original and stylish gift to take back for the descerning chocolate-lover (actually, I can take or leave chocolate, but these are special).
The ladies behind the counter even gift-wrap their cheapest bars of chocolate for you without the sort of attitude one might expaect from such an institution. Shopping the old-fashioned way. Not cheap, but what do you expect?
Carrer del Pi, 16 in the heart of the Barri Gotic
Amazing food, cooked in front of you. All ingredients sourced a few feet away as it is in the heart of the Mercat Bocceria. Quite intimidating having to wait behind someone sitting and eating - you have to 'bags' your seat in this very un-English way! But the food was gorgeous.
The prices are high - we had two beers (on tap, San Miguel) a basket of lovely bread, one plate of gambas in burnt garlic and chilli and four tiny but exquisite croquettas and it came to 25 euros...considering our dismal experience at Les Quinze Nits, worth every penny and the five euro tip! Real Catalan through-and-through.
Mercat Bocceria, just off La Rambla
I'd recommend it because it's a beautiful church designed by Gaudi, an artist. It wasn't finished when I went but it was still beautifully carved, a masterpiece I'd say. It reminded me of an amazing, whacky jungle; there were towers painted incredibly and when you climbed up to the very top you could see all the wonderful sights of Barcelona. It's not like any other church I've ever been in and well worth the effort to climb to the top.
Ella Lazenby (age 9).
Barcelona, metro Sagrada Familia.
Designed by Gaudi, begun in 1883 and still being constructed, the Sagrada Familia radiates a compelling presence in the city, even before you visit it. Maybe it is the fact that it is unfinished, maybe it's the unusual architecture and decoration - which includes broken bottles and ceramics - but there is something so creative about the building that it'll work on your imagination.
From a distance the facade looks like someone has taken a lump of clay, kneaded and moulded it into a mass of spikes, icicles, holes and ridges. Closer up and you begin to pick out elements, even closer and you become overwhelmed by the intricate details. Inside the lines of the stone are clean, elegant, tactile.
The structure and composition of the building is very organic - photographs show how some of the columns were inspired by trees - and it is almost as if the building has developed on its own burgeoning from the earth, expending and blossoming as it grows. I particularly sensed this inside the structure and when climbing around inside the thin towers, the building has such a strong sense of identity, its own identity, separate from the person who designed it and the people building it. Maybe that is in part what makes this a remarkable structure, the way that is both representative of Gaudi's vision but is also somehow independent. This is not just a building it's an ongoing work of art.
Carrer de Mallorca 401
Metro: Line 2 or 5 Station: SagradaFamilia
The Plaça de Sant Josep Oriol in the Gothic Quarter is a beautiful part of Barcelona to stay in. There's a nice fourteenth century Gothic Church (Eglésia de Santa Maria del Pi) in the square and an interesting Artist's market where they sell paintings (just about every morning, as I recall). There are lots of very good cafés around there serving excellent food and wine too. It's also within easy walking distance of La Rambla, and the port.
Plaça de Sant Josep Oriol, Barcelona
This is a city of museums and the Picasso Museum has to be on the list, whether an art lover or not. The setting, in an ancient palace, where much of the original stonework has been preserved, sits well with the multi-language commentaries explaining his life and work, and the formidable number of sketches, etchings and paintings.
The list of museums is endless. Contemporary Art, Modern Art, Erotic Art, Medicine, Geology, Zoology, Biology, Perfume, even a Museum of Chocolate. But really worth a visit is the Museum of the Old City. A lift transports you downwards as an illuminated display counts back the years from the present day to 13 B.C. This is 30 feet under the surface where walkways of plate glass are built over the excavated ruins of the city of Barcino, 2000 years ago. Very atmospheric.
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