THE CITY THAT JOINS PAST AND PRESENT, Özlem Şakiroğlu | 29.06.2014

There’s a difference between traveling to a city by land and traveling by sea

Barcelona is a beautiful city. A statue of Columbus stands on a column over fifty meters tall and welcomes those who approach the port by ship. Pointing at the sea with his right hand, it’s like he’s pointing towards India. The monument was built in 1886. Ultimately, Seville may have been a more appropriate location than Barcelona for the monument, as Columbus used a port in Seville to come back and forth from “America”.

Las Ramblas

Behind this enormous monument lies Las Ramblas Street which Lorca described as “the only street in this world that I wish would go on forever”. Las Ramblas Street is open to pedestrians and lined with trees on both sides. You can see kiosks, illusionists, musicians, mimes, artists, athletes, fortune tellers, florists, bird raisers, book stores, coffee shops and street performers along this street. It might be said that this street is the heart of Barcelona. The street that never sleeps is comprised of five parts.

In the first part, “Rambla de Canaletes”, there is a fountain. It is believed that whoever drinks from this fountain will come back to the city again one day. The second part is called “Rambla dels Estudis”. It is named after a university founded in the 16th century. In other areas, named after old monasteries, you can visit the opera house “Gran Teatre del Liceu”, the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art, Plaça Reial a few steps ahead of the museum and “Mercat de la Boqueria”, a public market situated underneath an iron structure. In this public market, you can purchase countless delicious items of food and drink, including delicatessen such as fresh and salted fish, seafood, meat, salami and sausages, vegetables, fruits, sweets, pastry, fresh cut pasta and various seasoning. Ceramics designed by Juan Miro are used as wall and floor ornamentation in the public market and local residents of the city often visit to do their shopping.

“Embrace your past, live for today!”

Most of the time tourists visit historical regions of a city and find these places interesting. When the new part of the city with its new buildings and wide streets was being constructed a consistency of atmosphere with Barcelona’s historical regions was taken into account. The streets of the old city located near the shore are very narrow. At the end of Las Ramblas, Plaza de Catalunya connects the old to the new part of the city. There are some extraordinary buildings on this wide street, designed by architects such as Gaudi, Carlos Buigas and Jujol. For instance, you can visit Casa Milà and Casa Batlló, both designed by Gaudi, as well as Casa Amatlle in the same part of the city.

Better known as La Pedrera, meaning the “The Quarry”, the construction of Casa Milà was completed in 1912. The facade is composed of lime stone, has an undulating design and does not have any flat walls. The balconies are made of wrought iron. Today, the roof and chimneys of Casa Milà have become some of the symbols of Barcelona. Casa Milà was in poor condition in the early 1980s, ceramics covering the facade had become dirty, most of them were lost and the lime stone was covered in soot as a result of air pollution. In the mid-1990s, the building was restored: all the ceramics and soot-covered lime stone of the facade were cleaned and missing ceramics were replaced with similar ones. This building also has an amazing attic, which was divided into rooms in the 1950s. But during restoration these rooms were pulled down and the attic reassumed its original design. Today, works of Gaudi are displayed in the building. It is remarkable to think that the rooms are decorated with furniture, doors, door handles and ornaments all designed by Gaudi. If it’s not raining, it is possible to step up onto the terrace via the attic. The ventilation towers, chimneys and stairs to the terrace are also examples of extraordinary architecture. Although they cannot be seen from the street, these features are covered in mosaics. The terrace also has an undulating design, similar to the facade. There are 12 chimneys in the terrace. The chimneys represent the 12 apostles. The terrace lays before you the wonderful scenery of Barcelona. Jazz performances are also given here in the summer. 

Casa Batlló is one of the remarkable buildings of Passeig de Gràcia. The facade and interiors of this building were designed by Gaudi. In 2005, Casa Batlló became a Unesco World Heritage Site. Acknowledged as one of the masterpieces of modernism, this building hosts many symbols on the front side of the facade. Gaudi used ceramics on the roof and mosaics on the front side of the facade. One of the buildings that best reflects Gaudi’s style, Casa Batlló attracts the attention of passers-by with its undulating exterior lines, different textures, use of different materials and bright colors. The sea is symbolized in the facade. When you look at the facade, it’s as though sunshine reflects off water. With an incredible appearance thanks to its parabolic roof and chimneys, this building should be seen at night. The ground floor and the rooms on the first floor are open to the public and they gain the admiration of visitors. On this street, it is possible to see the full extent to which the Catalans were interested in the intellectual and artistic world. They invested in modern artistic values during the 1890s and did not act conservatively and cease investing during industrialization and enrichment periods. Houses designed for the wealthy by original and creative artists transformed the city into a plastic arts paradise.

Like many other cities, the old city in Barcelona encircles the cathedral. The neighborhood in which Gothic buildings are located is called “Barri Gotic”. Touring the cathedral that took 100 years to complete with a guide will help you catch the details. The effects of Renaissance and Middle Age architecture can be seen in the design of the cathedral. This effect can easily be seen in the pointed Gothic bell towers, arches on high points, Gothic chapel benches, chapels and altars. The altarpieces behind the altars in the chapels should not be missed. The alabaster grave of Santa Eulia located behind the altar is also very impressive. The most admired place in the cathedral is the arched path. The path is almost like a shelter for birds, full of orange, magnolia and palm trees. It is possible to visit the cathedral terrace by taking an elevator from the chapel. From here, you can view the scenery of Barri Gotic. Furthermore, every Sunday afternoon sardana (a dance typical of Catalonia) performances take place in front of the cathedral.

Cardinal Palace and Cappella Sansevero are located near the cathedral. Some books document that there used to be a Roman temple and later an Arabian mosque in the area around the cathedral. Throughout the history, this place has been a religious center.

Once you work your way through the surrounding courts and arched walls of the Gothic neighborhood, you arrive at the Museu Picasso. Museu Picasso is one of the most visited and must-see museums in Barcelona.

Picasso, Miro, Gaudi, Salvador Dalí

The Picasso Museum is comprised of five medieval palaces in Carrer Montcada and three of these palaces reserve more than 3000 works by Picasso, displaying the paintings throughout the year. The other two palaces organize temporary exhibitions. This museum is the second biggest Picasso museum, following the one in Paris. Picasso lived in Barcelona between the years of 1895-1904 and he was affected by impressionism and symbolism movements in this period. He created his “Blue Period” works in Barcelona. You can see these paintings in the museum. This museum was founded in 1962, after the early works of the painter had been collected. The content of the museum expanded when Picasso’s wife donated his ceramic works in 1981.

Joan Miro is also among the painters who give this city its color. Born in Barcelona, Joan Miro worked very hard to be able to paint so that he could go to Paris in 1920. Critics claim that he wasn’t everly talented, but very ambitious. Miro and Picasso never met in Barcelona but they did meet in Paris. Picasso bought one of Miro’s paintings. The painting by Miro called “The Farm” bought by Hemingway in 1921 shows that his style had changed by that time. In the 1950s, Joan Miro also developed an interest in mural painting and sculpture. As with Picasso, there is also a museum filled with Miro’s works in Barcelona. This museum is a masterpiece on its own. The building was designed by the famous painter Josep Lluis Sert. The purpose of his design was to display the works to visitors in natural daylight, and this was achieved. This way, it looks as though the works are displayed outside, although they are inside. The museum has Miro’s pencil drawings, sculptures and mural paintings on display. You can see Miro’s sculptures in various parks and his wall mosaic designs in are part of the public market (Mercat de la Boqueria).

 Another personality affecting the city’s architecture is Gaudi. It is said that Gaudi’s style is inspired by nature. Along with other buildings in the city, “La Sagrada Familia” cathedral is a must-see masterpiece by Gaudi. Not every magnificent building is beautiful. However, “La Sagrada Familia” cathedral is magnificent, aesthetic and beautiful. Gaudi worked until the end of his life to complete this work; however he had only finished one of the towers by the time he died. In spite of the technological advancements of the century, the construction is still not complete.

Constructed as an indication of aristocracy for the Güell family between the years of 1900-1914, Park Güell was not open to the public until 1923. Offering an extraordinary opportunity to make sense of Gaudi’s art, Park Güell welcomes its visitors with two houses that look like buildings made of candy in fairy tales. The Güell family’s fondness for English gardens and the fact that Gaudi was inspired by nature affected the design of this park. Stalactites under bridges, engravings on garden gates and structures in this park are unique. It is almost like an outdoor Gaudi museum. The mosaic salamander at the main entrance to the garden is the park’s symbol; the entrance designed in the shape of a spine with houses on both sides is a must-see. Park Güell is located on a hill which offers a full view across Barcelona. Gaudi, who put serpentine seating around the edges of what we may call a terrace, provided us with the opportunity to gaze at the port and the city from afar. Surrounding the whole terrace, this long serpentine seating covered with ceramics is one of the most interesting places in the park.

Located in the north of Barcelona, the Dalí Theater and Museum in Figueres, a town near the French border, is a world famous, must-see museum. In this museum, pencil drawings, oil on canvas paintings, short films and three dimensional works of art are displayed. Dali is the most famous 20th century painter of the surrealist movement. When the mayor of Figueres wanted to restore the City Hall Theater — which hosted the first Dalí exhibition and was damaged during civil war — and turn it into the “Dalí Theater and Museum” in 1960, the construction began. Dalí was personally involved with the construction and decoration of the museum until 1974 and put a lot of time and effort into the project. Even after the museum opened in 1974, Dalí continued to make small additions and modifications until 1980. Dalí died of heart failure on September 23, 1989 and he was buried in the crypt of the Dalí Theater and Museum in Figueres.

Although he frequently depicts Catalonia countryside in his paintings, he mostly lived in Madrid and Paris. You can read Dalí’s autobiography, published in 1942, to help you get to grips with his works and symbolism. 

Spot 1: Three words you need to know before you visit Barcelona: “siesta”, “paella” (rice with saffron and seafood), “mañana” (tomorrow)

Spot 2: Three things you need to do if you visit Barcelona:

  • Go to a Tapas Bar, eat Patatas Bravas and Pan Catalan (tomato bread)
  • Even if just once, go to a match at the Camp Nou stadium. It has 98,000 seats so you can see the stadium of one of the world’s biggest football clubs and soak up the atmosphere.
  • Walk around and discover the alleys. The famous writer Herman Hesse says that he always prefers walking when he visits a city: “Life in a public market or on streets, the dance of the sun, shadows falling on earth and streets, a tree reaching to sky, sound and the movement of an animal, walking and behaviors of people... crowded streets... A person traveling without looking for these things inside him and who doesn’t question the escape routes of life returns home with nothing worthwhile.”

Note: This article has been published in the 8th edition of Turkish Aviation Academy magazine.

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