About Me

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Alcalá de Henares, Madrid, Spain
I recently earned my Masters in History at NWMSU and am now working as a language assistant in a Spanish elementary school.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Is This Spain? (Barcelona: Part Un)

The Easter holiday in Spain is known as Semana Santa, or Saint's Week. Our first day of the break was Friday, March 26th. This was also the day I left for my first trip. I went to Barcelona, Spain's second-largest city and one of its most popular vacation spots. However, things are quite different here. Barcelona is the capital of the autonomous Spanish community of Catalonia, which is like an entirely different country. What do I mean by this? First of all, there's the language. Spanish is not the primary language of Barcelona and the rest of Catalonia. Instead, Catalan is used in everyday speech. Most of the time, this language is unrecognizable to Spanish-speakers. Catalan is a Romance language which sounds like a combination of French and Italian. The language even has its own letter, not found in any other language, l·l, which is pronounced as a stressed "l" sound. While all Catalans speak Spanish, they would rather speak their own language, especially since it is the strongest symbol of Catalonia and something which was outlawed during the Franco dictatorship.

Secondly, there's the history. Catalonia had a short period of Moorish control so the Arabic influences, seen in the architecture and heard in the language elsewhere in Spain, are less evident. In the early Middle Ages, Catalonia was controlled by France, then later gained its independence as its own country which had a brief period in which it controlled trade in the western Mediterranean. Catalonia was one of the last of the Iberian kingdoms to join the Spanish crown and throughout much of its subsequent history the region witnessed rebellions with the goal of gaining independence. Since the creation of the Spanish Constitution in the late 1970s, Catalonia has had more freedom with its own local laws and governing institutions.

All of this is key to understanding the people and the character of Catalonia. Most Catalans do not consider themselves to be Spanish and do not really have fond feelings toward those they do consider to be "Spanish." Signs of their independent character could be seen all through Barcelona. In many places the Catalan flag flew alone or alongside the flag of the European Union, without the accompaniment of the Spanish flag. I also saw the phrase "Catalonia is not Spain" spray-painted in a few places.

My flight arrived at El Prat Airport around four in the afternoon and took a thirty-minute bus ride into the city. I got off the bus at Plaça de Catalunya and walked to my hostel which was nearby and just off Las Ramblas, a long series of streets with a pedestrian walkway in the center. It was in a good location as it rested also in Barri Gòtic, or the Gothic Quarter, where the ruins of the old Roman city of Barcino merged with Medieval architecture and modernist-styled art galleries. I began my wanderings in this area, coming across this section of a Roman wall and the Catedral (La Seu), as well as the remains of a Roman aqueduct:

I walked down the narrow street you see to the right of the wall in the first picture. A man played a guitar on a little side street and was quite good. I walked a little further until I came to the entrance of La Seu's cloisters. I saw lush greenery through the gothic doorway of this old Roman street:
The cloisters, dedicated to Barcelona's co-patron saint, Santa Eulàlia, was probably the most impressive and atmospheric cloister I have ever walked through. With its tropical plants and animal life, it seemed to symbolize the region of Catalonia. Santa Eulàlia was a young Christian girl from Barcelona who became a martyr during the Roman persecution of Christians in the fourth century. Symbols of her martyrdom are placed throughout. Here are some pictures of this amazing place:

In the cloisters at all times live thirteen geese. These are meant to symbolize both the age and the different forms of torture used on Santa Eulàlia:

I left the cloisters, then wandered down this side street some more, intending to circle around and go through the main entrance to see the Catedral proper. I came across this Gothic overpass:

I also happened upon this Catalan flag flying solo:

The four red stripes on a yellow field symbolize an event in Catalan history. Count Guifré els Pelós (Wilfred the Hairy) was the person who unified the Catalan counties into one land. In the late 800s, he fought in battle against the Moors alongside the French army. When Guifré died, the French king dipped his fingers in the count's blood and ran them down the fallen nobleman's yellow shield, creating a symbol for the Catalan soldiers. I finally circled around, back to the plaça I started at, and faced the front of La Seu:

La Seu was constructed between the 1200s and the 1400s. The interior was quite ornate and overpowering:

I then left the Catedral and noticed this sculpture which spells out the original name of the city:
I then walked to a shop I had heard about which caters to writers living in Barcelona called Papirum:

I bought a leatherbound notebook and a pen here. I use the book to write my impressions and observations of the places I visit and the people who inhabit them. I returned to my hostel to drop off the book, then walked back to Plaça Catalunya.

From here, I walked back toward my apartment (and then past it), taking a stroll the length of Las Ramblas:

Las Ramblas has a plural name because it is actually a series of individually-named streets such as Rambla dels Estudis and Rambla dels Caputxins. Each individual section has its own character and the street vendors sell different items, such as animals:

and flowers:
One of the well-known stops along Las Ramblas is Mercat de la Boqueria, a covered market that has been at this location since at least 1217:

This odd fruit in the center is called dragon fruit (or strawberry pear, which is appropriate as it tastes like a combination of the two):

Here's some more of the market:

Here are a couple more buildings found along Las Ramblas. The second one is the opera house Gran Teatre del Liceu:

Down a side street off Las Ramblas lies this nice plaça, Plaça Reial:

At the end of Las Ramblas stands a column dedicated to Christopher Colombus:

Once you pass this column, you have reached the Mediterranean Sea and Barcelona's Port Vell ("Old Harbour").

This port was updated in 1992, one of the many urban renewal projects surrounding the Barcelona Summer Olympics which revitalized the city. However, the site has been used as a port since the Roman occupation in the first century AD. The Iberian tribe known as the Laietani, who traded with the ancient Greeks centered their settlement at this exact location. Now it is a harbour for recreational boating and cruise ships.
After visiting the port I had a falafel at a place called Pita House on Las Ramblas. I then returned to my hostel and planned for the next day.


  1. Great photos again......... Looked like a fun city to visit.

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