History and Overview
Barcelona began more than 2,500 years when Phoenicians and Carthagians settled here and began a commercial port. Its name refers to the Carthagian ruler Amilcar Barca. The original name of the city was Barcino, which was adopted by the Romans in the 1st century BC and later became Barcelona. It's now the capital of the autonomous region of Catalonia.
There are several surviving monuments from the earliest Roman outposts, such as the Placa Sant Juame. Roman walls built to repel Frankish and German invasions later were used as foundations for buildings in the Gothic Quarter and in some cases can still be seen.
Barcelona sits on the Mediterranean Sea along a route that brought them lots of visitors in the ancient times -- for better or worse. Circa 415AD Visigoth invaders arrived after the disintegration of the Roman Empire and called it "Barcinona". Three centuries later the Moors swept through on their way from Northern Africa to southern France. Another century later Louis the Pious came with the Franks and set up the front lines of the Christian battle against the Arabs. By the year 988AD, the County of Barcelona was independent of the Carolingian kings and free to become the dominant political and military force in the Catalonian region.
Barcelona's Golden Age gleamed across the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The city became as influential as Venice or Genoa through marine trade using gold as the standard of exchange. Buildings such as the Romanesque St. Paul del Camp and the Chapel of Santa Lucia remain as testament to this prosperous period.
The Cathedral of Barcelona was begun in the thirteenth century and its construction continued even while the Plague decimated the population. A building boom ensued while Barcelona was expanding its reach and conquering foreign ports, a boom which saw the construction and embellishment of various churches, chapels, shipyards and civil buildings.
By the end of the fourteenth century however, social tensions mounted and erupted into war with Genoa and a local massacre of the Jewish community in Barcelona. The next four hundred years were a roller coaster of politics and intrigue. Barcelona revolted against Spain and eventually lost after nine years of war, losing its Catalonian status as an independent city. The Napoleonic Wars, yellow fever epidemic, and the Spanish Revolution all challenged the economy and stability of Barcelona.
The early twentieth century was marked by strikes and riots along with strong cultural movements such as Modernism. The Spanish Civil War totally repressed Catalan national identity and it was not until 1977 that Catalonia was restored to a self-governing nation recognized within Spain.
Meanwhile, massive migrations after WWII brought major strain on the city. Lack of urban planning during general construction ended up with crowded and poorly serviced neighborhoods surrounding the city. However, Barcelona's infinite ability to regenerate itself shows in the artistic, cultural and economic growth which has taken place in the past decades.
The Barcelona Airport is located 13km from the city and connects to it by taxi, shuttle bus and trains. The metro does NOT go to the airport regardless of what you may have heard. The trip should cost about 20 Euro by taxi, 5 Euro on the shuttle bus.
Good news for your shoes, 74% of people in Barcelona regard themselves as pedestrians rather than drivers. The city even has this crazy website where you can calculate the time it will take to walk a certain distance in the city!
Barcelona has a good metro system including metro, buses, trams and even cable cars. The Metro system has nine lines which connect also to commuter rail stations for out of town service.
People and Culture
The two main languages are Spanish and Catalan; English is not very wide spread.
Euros are the currency and siesta is the word of the day, specifically, the part of daytime between two and four PM. Don't expect to get much done at the post office at that time. Public offices and most shops will be closed.
Barcelona is a smoking city. Restaurants, cafes and shops all have ashtrays and zero non-smoking sections. Go to the public transportation system if you want a cigarette-free area, or maybe one of the largest supermarkets.
People in Barcelona are friendly and warm and they love to eat and drink. The kitchen is the central room of the house, dinner can take until midnight, and they still go out after that. Every night of the week you will be able to find something interesting going on, from house music to avant-garde theater.
Cuisine in Barcelona is more about fish than red meat, with an arsonist's hand on the olive oil. Bruscetta is very common as is alioli, a garlic mayonnaise type of thing. If you leave Barcelona without tasting escudella, the traditional fish stew, you have missed something very very important.
Things to do, Recommendations
Here's your liftoff point, the Tower of Telecommunications at Collserola, where you can get a good look around the city. As always, a bird's eye view best puts life into perspective.
Heavy hitters: Pablo Picasso heralds from Catalan and the Picasso Museum is located in the heart of Barcelona. Make it a point to visit.
Follow it with a trip to the Museum of Modern Art of Barcelona, hosting a collection of Catalan Modernists. It's near Ciutadella Park, Metro station Arc do Triomf Barceloneta.
The beaches are fantastic and they may be all you need on your visit here. You can check out the Castle of Montjuic Fortress along the coast if you're interested in history.
As we've said, people in Barcelona eat late, drink late and go out very late. We leave it our dear readers to figure out when they get up in the morning...
The house music scene in Barcelona is LIVE!! Check out clubs like Moog, Elephant and Pacha for just a taste. People flock here in the summers for it. You may have heard of a little island called "Ibiza..."
As they say, "we don't call it house. We call it home."
Text by Steve Smith.