In the four days we spent in Barcelona, we visited various neighborhoods, including but not limited to Barrio Gotico, Gracia, Born, Alta Alella, Barceloneta, and Montjuic. Throughout our exploration, we ran into various signs and remains of history, as well as the current, "on-going" history.
Our "Trail" of Exploration in Barcelona
"A nation that forgets its past has no future." Winston Churchill
In Barrio Gotico, some of the places we visited were Placa del Rey, Church of Sant Felip Neri, Placa Reial, Temple of Augustus, and Portal de l'Angel. What was most interesting to me was the Church of Sant Felip Neri (the top middle picture), as the wall was purposely maintained damaged to remind the observers of its painful past. That is, the church was used as a home for evacuated children, until Franco's air force dropped a bomb on January 30th, 1938 directly infront of the church, killing thirty of the children. Immediately, people tried to rescue survivors. Followed by their heroic initiatives, the second bomb exploded in the square, taking at least twelve more people.
Barrio Gotico, also known as The Gothic Quarter, is one of the richest history harboring neighborhood in Barcelona. In my opinion, its remains show the inhabitants' strengths, as they remind their observers about the pain it had to endure in order for it to remain a beautiful city as it is now. It has gone through various invasions, such as those by the Visigoths, Emirate of Andalusia, and Christian Carolingian Empire. It also stood through the union of Barcelona into the Spanish Crown and the Spanish Civil War, leading up to the present day.
La Ribera, Born District
La Ribera, a neighborhood in the Born District, is also one of the oldest neighborhood in Barcelona. Prior to the 13th century, it was occupied by people who worked with their hands, such as mirror makers, hatters, and different smiths. In the 13th century, however, it became an up and coming, bourgeoisie neighborhood, mainly attracting merchants and the wealthy. Then, in 1702, there was a War of Spanish Succession. Philip V built a military citadel on the Eastern side of Ribera, and constantly threatened the denizens in order to retain his power. Then came 1715, the end of the war. As soon as the war ended, the villagers tore down the citadel. Ever since, there has been the eternal flame standing in La Ribera, to memorialize the fallen Catalans of the War.
Alta Alella is not only a beautiful vineyard, but a living site of family history. It began more than twenty years ago, when Pujol-Busquets acquired the Can Genis. It mapped its area identity of wine, offering not only organic wines that are distributed globally, but also enotourism.
Christine H. Park
Gracia is an extremely distinct neighborhood from the rest of Barcelona, which is likely due to its history. Gracia was an independent, autonomous town outside of the city that was connected to the city by a small trail called Passeig de Gracia. Thus, it had developed its urban architecture, planning, and culture separately from Barcelona.
Due to its autonomy, it had developed a strong sense of political independence and activism. Thus, it is a bastion for political expression and activity in Barcelona. At the end of any road, there are plazas for discussion, and graffiti expressing political leaning. In fact, there are many Red Star Catalan flags handing from balconies or sprayed on the walls. Also, the name of the plazas have clear political meaning as well. For example, The Plaza of the 1868 Revolution, which was a revolution that led to the formation of the First Spanish Republic, who recognized the autonomy of the Catalan Republic.
The streets are notably narrow and barely allow cars through, and even when they are in the streets, they crawl at a slow 10km/h. This design was very intentional as Barcelona is well known for its superilles, super blocks. Areas where car access is restricted so that the neighborhood is particularly designed for the locals and pedestrians. Thus, this neighborhood is truly for the pedestrians who can freely walk around the neighborhood.
La Sagrada Familia & La Pedrera
La Sagrada Familia is an ambitious project of Antoni Gaudi, who passed far before its completion. It began in 1883, and was a project funded by the local government. However, it had experienced setbacks from Gaudi’s death, the loss of his models and plans, arsons, and damage from the Spanish Civil War. It is planned to become the tallest church in the world and is currently funded by tourists who visit the church who must pay a “donation” to enter the church. Currently it is only 70% done and is projected to be completed in the mid 2030’s.
However, there is much controversy of this church as many claim that it is not Gaudi’s vision, and that it would have been better to leave it unfinished as no one really knows what Gaudi wanted it to look like as his models and plans were burned or destroyed during the Spanish Civil War. Still, it is a marvel of modernist architecture and a unique church.
La Pedrera, aka Casa Mila
Casa Mila was originally built to be a large family home and apartment for a wealthy Barcelonan in Passeig de Gracia as it became a very wealthy area of the city. Gaudi was commissioned to be the architect of the home, but faced many conflicts with the owner who was often delinquent in paying Gaudi for his services or made unreasonable demands in the construction of the apartment. These conditions made Gaudi unhappy and this house was the last private commission that Gaudi ever worked on and the last residential building that Gaudi had ever built. Still, it is a World Heritage Site as it clearly has Gaudi’s flair in its construction despite Gaudi cutting corners and making certain jabs at his patron in the design of the apartment.
By James Kim
Politics of Sustainability by Regina Pranata
Recently, Barcelona has adopted the Smart City concept model by improving its mobility, environment and lifestyle. The efforts towards sustainability have been very significant that Barcelona has become the first city in the world to receive the Biosphere certification. This award was given to Barcelona for their strong commitment in providing a sustainable tourism experience.
First, Barcelona has developed a smart mobility by having eco-friendly taxis and low-emission buses operating around the city. Throughout our trip, we can see that most taxis around the city center, in particular, Plaza de Gracia, are eco-friendly taxis. In addition, Barcelona also implemented a smart avenue in which they utilize traffic data to provide a better traffic system. One of the major example is the duration of the traffic light that is regulated according to the traffic density. This will create a more effective mobility for commuters. Additionally, they also improve the trash collection system by having sensors in trash bins. Therefore, it prevents excess trash and littering on streets. Furthermore, Barcelona has been trying to improve the parking system. They are doing this by providing online information on available parking spots. Through this strategic decision, it improves tourist transportation experience.
The smart environment strategies also improve sustainability in Barcelona. Unlike other urban cities, Barelona has a lot more green spaces. Not only that they have several parks, but they also planted many trees around the main avenues. Based on our research, Barcelona has planted more than 235,000 trees in the city and its becoming greener each day. Another effort of the city to improve its environment is by placing around 25,000 litter bins throughout the entire city. We can see three bins system—trash, compose, and recycling throughout the city.
In addition to improving the city mobility and environment, Barcelona sustainable strategies also improve the lifestyle of its residents. By providing more than 39 local markets, it influences its local people shopping preferences and experiences—encourages people to buy locally produced vegetable and meat. Additionally, the design of the street has also improved the lifestyle of its citizens. Unlike other cities across the world that have wide avenues, the streets in Barcelona are very narrow in which there are many streets that are not accessible by cars. As a result, many people are using moped and bicycle to travel from one place to another. Thus, it improves the lifestyle of its people and lowers the city carbon emission.
The City for the Wandering Thinker by James Kim
For the Spanish, the street is not just a means to get from one location to another. Rather, it is also, and arguably more importantly, a place for conversation and civil discourse. There is always a nearby plaza or a cafe to go to within a few minutes walk no matter where you are in Spain. However, this seems to be very telling. Do the Spanish build the streets like this because they like to talk or do they like to talk because they are able to easily do so as the streets provide a convenient way to do so? Regardless, there is some sort of synergy in this chicken or the egg situation that enables one to feed off the other. When I first arrived at Spain and was told that Spanish people love to talk about politics, I was confused and wondered why. In the US, they say that if you want to keep your friends, then avoid talking about money, religion, and politics.
However, when I got to Barcelona, I finally understood why. The streets themselves are designed so that people can easily express themselves and associate with others. This was most notable in Gracia where the roads were for the pedestrians and vehicles were limited to a mere 10 km/h. This strict speed limit seemed to serve as a deterrence for cars and for them to go around neighborhoods instead of through them.
Gracia is said to be a very pro-independence and politically active neighborhood of Barcelona as they were formerly an autonomous town who managed to develop their own unique culture beyond the city. I found this description to be extremely accurate as to me it seemed to be a political activist's dream neighborhood. No matter what road you walked down, you would soon stumble across one of the numerous plazas where people are just relaxing and talking. Such an open environment would encourage anyone to be open about their own opinions. In fact, the french have a term for academics and thinkers who walk around the city in order to think and express themselves with others,
The Catalonian Flag by Christine H. Park
Catalan Flag Hanging on a Balcony: A Common Sight
Exploring Barcelona throughout a span of four days, I noticed a recurring theme throughout the balconies of numerous households and businesses: the Catalan flag. As an outsider with a lack of understanding as to why there were more Catalan flags represented in Barcelona than the Spanish flag, I decided to take a look into Catalonia, and why the majority of the people in Barcelona dominantly spoke Catalan instead of Spanish.
Catalonia is one of Spain’s seventeen districts, located in the northeastern region, and with its regional capital being Barcelona. It used to be an independent region with its own language, laws and customs, until Franco set out to destroy the Catalan separatism in 1938. He regulated the region, killing more than 3,500 people. Our group saw the remains of the attack in The Church of Sant Felip Neri, as mentioned previously.
However, Catalonia was given back their statute of autonomy in 1979, and this was when Catalan became the joint official language with Spanish. Naturally, one of the biggest issues rising within the Catalan community became the issue of independence. That is, in November 2014, more than 80% of the 2 million surveyors voted on separation from Spain informally.
Although the Spanish Constitution prevents Catalonia from leaving, this made me question: what would have happened if this informal votes were real? What would have happened to present day Catalonia, and how different would it have become?
The Transformation of La Barceloneta by Regina Pranata
La Barceloneta, the smallest part of the city, was formerly the home of the working class, particularly fishermen. In 1987, the redevelopment of the Bosch i Alsina wharf was the first step of the transformation of the neighborhood. However, the city sea port was neglected until the 1992 Olympics when they began the Olympics Operation project and began improving the decaying area of Poblenou and Barceloneta. One of the Olympics Operation goals was to turn Barceloneta old port into a recreational and sporting area. The goal of the transformation is to “open the city to sea” through leisure port and cultural activities around the neighborhood. This transformation has attracted many tourists around the globe to visit the area of Barceloneta.
Through the transformation, Barceloneta has a strange dichotomy as there are two very different demographics in two regions: beach front and inner Barceloneta. The beachfront is home to the young, the hip, foreigners, tourists and corporations who have recently moved in especially after the 1992 Olympics that took place nearby. On the other hand, the inner areas of this district is all residential buildings, but are largely resided by the elderly and immigrants as the cost of housing in this area is cheap as it historically has been. Although, gentrification happens in this area as a consequence of turning the neighborhood into businesses, the transformation of Barceloneta has successfully benefited the country by increasing tourism revenue from the area.
Montujic by Regina Pranata
Montjuïc is known for its various parks and the towering fort that watches over the city. The fort has historical significance as it was constructed by the Spanish monarchy to watch the city and has been used to crush revolts and force obedience.
This region, lately, has become the product of numerous international events, this region was used to showcase culture within Barcelona, from the 1929 International Exhibition to the 1992 Olympic Games. Thus, many museums, galleries, and monuments reside here.
In Montjuic, our group had the opportunity to enter the castle. We walked up to the top of the castle to see the panoramic view of the entire city and the harbor. The view is really beautiful and apparently it has become a very popular wedding photoshoot area. From above, we could see that the castle was surrounded with couple of parks and cable cars.
Although the castle is located at the top of the hill, the location is very accessible. People can choose different kinds of transportation to reach the castle. There are buses, taxis, funiculars and cable cars that also allow people to have another panoramic view of the neighborhood.
Miro Museum by Regina Pranata
Miro Museum is a museum founded by Catalan artist, Joan Miro. This museum is created by Joan Miro with the idea of making art accessible to all. It seeks to inspire young artists and feature contemporary art. Thus, it also now serves as a laboratory for current artists to have the freedom to explore art and for the Catalan people to interact and promote their cultural heritage.
The art collections in this museum are extraordinary. The main collection of the museum consists of Miro's private collections. Therefore, it takes visitors on a journey through all the stages of his life and artistic output. One of my favorite art collections is the gigantic tapestry in the center of the building and the unique sculptures on the terrace of the museum.