Twenty years ago, when I rode the first wave of the Venezuelan diaspora to the United States, my friend Rosalía went to Barcelona.
I visited her for the first time in 2010, and aside from being delighted with the “All About My Mother” tour she’d personally designed for me, I was awed by her office: a government building that sat on carefully preserved and proudly displayed ancient Roman ruins!
Five years later, I went back, this time with my partner. We attended Rosalía’s wedding: a romantic affair where Venezuelan and Catalonian cultures amalgamated under the beautiful summer sky.
Seven years and a global pandemic later, I’d visit for the third time, stoked not only to see my good old friends but also to witness the interior of the Sagrada Familia for the first time.
Antoni Gaudí’s magnificent masterpiece began in the late 1800s and is still unfinished. Despite being partially destructed during the Spanish Civil War, it has become synonymous with Barcelona’s skyline.
The completion of the Gothic jewel, funded solely through private donations, has also been delayed because the technology couldn’t keep up with Gaudí’s ahead-of-time vision.
When the legendary architect died in 1926, less than a quarter of the project was complete. And thanks partly to advances in computer design, about 70% of the church is currently up.
Though the goal was to complete the project by 2026 to commemorate the centennial of Gaudí’s death, the COVID-19 pandemic likely hampered it even further.
Nothing is straight, plain or boring in this unorthodox building: various geometrical forms intertwine to produce abstract shapes that, combined with the bright Mediterranean light that streams through the colorful stained glass, create myriad optical illusions.
There’s something for everyone in the eclectic temple. From a facade featuring Asian cherubs, Masons and a faceless Veronica (who appears to be wearing a headscarf) to a rich interior resembling Mother Nature, the church reflects the artists from all walks of life included in the project.
Gaudí lives on in Barcelona’s fantastical architecture. Park Güell is another fine example. Located in the mountain range of Collserola, the park’s spectacular views match the ginger house-like pavilions, colonnaded pathways and serpentine seating. It all resembles the Grimm Brothers’ universe.
Casa Batlló is another of Gaudí’s masterpieces. Initially built in 1877 as a classical building, industrialist Josep Batlló bought it in 1903 and commissioned its redesign.
The locals call it Casa dels Ossos (House of Bones) because of its skeletal structure. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2005, it’s also a museum and cultural center.
Gaudí even designed Paseo de Gracia’s unmistakable street lights. Is there anything this man couldn’t do?
Barcelona’s juxtaposition of artistic and cultural expressions reaches its zenith in the Old City, home of the Picasso, Moco and World Cultures museums.
Picasso Museum, housed in five adjoining medieval palaces, opened to the public in 1963 with initial donations from the artist’s lifelong friend Jaume Sabartés and Pablo himself.
It contains over 4 thousand of his works, including “The Dwarf Dancer,” “Blanquita Suárez,” “Las Meninas” and “Science and Charity,” which he painted at age 15!
The Moco Museum, located in the historic Palau Cervelló-Giudice, shows works by Banksy, Jean-Michel Basquiat, KAWS, Keith Haring, Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst. As its mission states, it attracts “broader and younger audiences.”
The Museum of World Cultures focuses on ethnographic art from Asia, Africa, the Americas and Oceania, including Yoruba, Indian and Mayan sculptures, ceremonial artifacts and bodily ornaments.
El Born Centre explains and helps understand the history behind the separatist sentiment among Catalonians, as does the Eternal Flame Memorial behind the Basilica of Santa Maria Del Mar.
Alfons Viaplana created it in 2001 to pay tribute to the 10 thousand Catalonians killed or wounded during the Siege of Barcelona in 1713–14. It stands above a cemetery where many of them were buried.
And speaking of Santa Maria Del Mar, the construction of the historic 14th-century basilica—which sits on the site once occupied by a Roman amphitheater—was funded by local sailors, harbor workers, artisans, fishers and merchants.
The 2006 historical novel “Cathedral of the Sea” by Ildefonso Falcones immortalizes the church.
It tells the story of Arnau Estanyol, a fugitive serf who becomes one of the cathedral’s stone workers. The book was adapted in 2018 as a TV series by Antena 3. Soon after, Netflix distributed it worldwide.
Centuries later, the church still overlooks one of Barcelona’s busiest squares frequented by locals and tourists on their way to and from La Barceloneta beach.
You will also find pedicab drivers and international street performers, like the acrobatics DUO AXN. One afternoon, they commanded attention and entertained the square as we enjoyed one of Barcelona’s best wine lists at La Vinya del Senyor.
The following day, I was one of those beachgoers. I popped into an adorable Barceloneta store where a cute Indian-Spanish lady sold me flip-flops, a beach towel, and even a cold beer to quench my thirst in the 100+ °F heat. I was all set!
Barcelona is an artistic city, and its beach couldn’t be the exception. Frank Gehry’s “Peix d’Or” and Rebecca Horn’s “Homenatge a la Barceloneta” (also known as “The Wounded Star” or simply “The Cubes”) are among the public artworks.
As someone who became temporarily paralyzed due to a significant health event last year, I was delighted to find a section of the beach dedicated to the disabled. Tell me your city is progressive without telling me.
Barceloneta (and, for that matter, Barcelona) wasn’t always the urban oasis that now attracts over 27 million visitors per year.
The 1992 Summer Olympics and the popularization of the world’s favorite soccer club—FC Barcelona—helped transform the ancient Roman city into the bonafide global destination that it’s today.
Luckily, for the locals like my friend Rosalía, the government is committed to sustainability. It has established a model that prioritizes relations between visitors and locals through the clever redistribution of spaces and resources. The result? The enjoyment of tourists and the financial reward of the brave and welcoming Catalans.