Page 8, 24th September 1971

24th September 1971
Page 8
Page 8, 24th September 1971 — The heart of old Catalonia
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The heart of old Catalonia

GOING AWAY

by John J.

Dunne

T WAS Cervantes who, I

over 300 years ago, described Barcelona as the flower of beautiful cities. He called it "a great, famous, rich and well-established city," a tribute that it still deserves today.

The cities of Spain are very individualistic. yet all are likeable. Madrid is noisy and gay. San Sebastian is modern and exciting. Toledo old and artistic, but to me the Catalan capital is the most lovable of all.

I arrived in the secondlargest Spanish-speaking city in the world — only Buenos Aires exceeds Barcelona's one-and-ahalf million population — on a beautiful summer day. the warmth and colour and charm of which still lingers crystalclear in my memory.

It was three in the afternoon and Spain's greatest port and industrial city showed about as much animation as a small midland market town on early closing day. But before long I, too. was glad to adopt the Barcelonese custom of a daily siesta. lasting from noon till four in the afternoon, for although it stands on a blue and gold story-book coast. Barcelona has a very humid atmosphere.

Even when the sun is not shining, one can still feel the heat pressing down on the top of one's head. And yet this very humidity forms part of the city's charm : it seems to suit these quiet, friendly. smiling people and their lazy tree-lined boulevards.

A stranger's first impression might well be that the Bercelonese are lazy, but this, of course, is not so. Their ancient history belies such an accusation. The city owes its original name of Barcino to the African or Carthaginian Hamilear Berea, the father of Hannibal, who is said to have founded it about 300 B.C.

It became a colony under the Romans and as early as the second century it rivalled Marseilles as the leading port in the western Mediterranean. Later still. it vied with Genoa and Venice as one of the foremost trading cities of the then known world. It could afford to turn its back on the Iberian Peninsula, for while the rest of Spain fought the Moors for 800 years, Barcelona was occupied by them for less than a century.

Today it is the centre of the industrial area of Catalonia and :is a great commercial city is characterised both by the variety of its manufactures and the surprising amount of home crafts carried on in small workshops. The textile, especially cotton. industry is the most important, but it also has heavy engineering works, including those for the construction of rolling stock for the Spanish railways, and large chemical factories where dyes, soap, fertilizers and drugs are produced.

With gardens of luxuriant vegetation, lapped by the tideless waters of the Mediterranean, on its doorstep, the city and suburbs of Barcelona stretch in the shape of a halfmoon between the rivers Besos in the north and Llobregat in the south and are .backed by part of the Catalonian coastal range, which 'culminates in the pyramid peak of Tibidabo, 1,745 feet high.

The area nearest the docks is. of course, the oldest. Here is the perfectly preserved medieval town. complete with cathedral. palaces and winding streets, that visitors are surprised to find tucked away in the centre of the great city. Around this dark and rather sinister area has grown the new Barcelona, a modern skyseraping metropolis, whose broad boulevards form a symmetrical and tidy pattern.

Each part of the city has a main thoroughfare of its own: in the new city Mere is the wide and noble Avenida Generalissimo Franco. while the old medieval town has its enchanting Rambles do las Flores, beloved of all who have lost their hearts to Barcelona.

Lined by sheltering plane trees. the Rambles is undoubtedly the most picturesque street in Europe. It stretches for about a mile from the harbour square down the entire length of the old town in an ever-changing parade of movement and colour. Once the siesta is over. the deserted city that I first encountered begins to stir, and from six in the evening till two in the morning all Barcelona seems to ramble on the Rambles.

On a hill in the centre of a maze of narrow old streets stands the most mysterious cathedral in Spain. As you enter you are blinded at first by its intense darkness. till you notice the candles burning in a side chapel, and then, very high up. sonic small rose windows, through which blue and purple light shines. There arc always people kneeling here before the Christ of Lepanto. a large crucifix said to have been fixed to the mainmast of Don John of Austria's flagship at the famous battle.

The main architectural

curiosity of Barcelona, however. is, of course, the unfinished Church of the Holy Family (pictured below.) It was. intended to be the masterpiece of Antonio Gaudi, was killed in a road accident in 1925.




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