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