When Franco died in 1975, Barcelona's creative energy, bottled up under the dictator's rule, was unleashed. The following decades saw Barcelona transformed from a Mediterranean backwater into one of the world's most stylish cities, no longer the poor second cousin to the capital, Madrid. The city that rarely sleeps is an economic powerhouse and its people work and play with equal fervour. Hosting the 1992 Olympic Games also gave the city a shot in the arm.
Barcelona has an unmistakable look, thanks to the eccentric modernist architect Antoni Gaudí. His first major commission was for the Casa Vincens in Barcelona using a Gothic Revival style which set a precedent for future works. His sensuous, curving style, bordering on surreal and greatly influenced by nature, established him as the leader of the Spanish Art Nouveau movement. Many of his buildings were adorned with vibrantly coloured tiles. He had little regard for formal order and juxtaposed unrelated systems, creating a warped form of Gothic architecture, much admired by avant-garde artists. He was despised by wealthy traditionalists, so much so that he became a recluse and when he was hit and killed by a tram, people thought he was a beggar.
There are many examples of Gaudí's works in Barcelona, but the most famous is La Sagrada Familia, a giant Gothic-style cathedral which has been under construction since 1882! Completion is expected in 80 years time.
A tour of Le Pedrera should be on the agenda. It is perhaps the only apartment building in the world so architecturally notable that it is now a museum! Gaudi's last civil project for Barcelona was built between 1906 and 1912 and features an undulating façade and a rooftop dominated by an amazing array of chimneys. It was opened to the public in 1996. Visitors can see one of the apartments and stroll around the rooftop between the chimneys.
La Rambla, old Barcelona's main artery, is Spain's most famous street. Once a drainage channel, the broad tree-lined pedestrian boulevard, flanked by narrow traffic lanes, is crowded from dusk till dusk with a constant flow of locals and visitors. It shows the extroverted side of the city, with street performers, flamenco dancers, fire eaters and human statues. There are pavement cafes and restaurants which some think are over-priced but which offer good people-watching positions. Font de les Canaletes at the upper end of La Rambla has wonderfully pure water folklore has it that those who drink from it will continue to return to Barcelona.
To the east of La Rambla is Barri Gòtic, or Gothic Quarter. It is the site of the city's oldest buildings and there are informative walking tours on offer. Once protected by a Roman wall, the hexagonal heart of Barcelona is a tangle of narrow old streets and alleyways. The Plaça Reial is believed to be where King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella greeted Christopher Columbus after his maiden voyage to America. The square is filled with towering palms.
Barcelona has the highest number of shops per person of any European city and quality is the key word. Tiny boutiques and massive malls will help overcome the feeling that your own wardrobe is pretty dowdy in comparison to local style! Shop attendants are generally cheerful and hospitable, making parting with your money fun and sociable.
Designed in 1929 for the Universal Exhibition, the Font Màgica (magic fountain) is a must-see in Barcelona. It was intended to show what could be achieved with filtered electrical light. After many years of disuse, the sadly neglected fountain was restored for the 1992 Olympic Games.
Summer evenings see hundreds of visitors watching the 15-minute spectacular display of water, light and music. The Palau National is illuminated at the same time and provides a beautiful background. Shows start every 30 minutes. The best time to go is sunset.
The Barcelona Card helps visitors to appreciate Barcelona better and save money at the same time. The 24-hour card covers the Metro or bus and unlimited travel on all public transport. They can be purchased at tourist offices at the airport, Sants station and in the Plaça de Catalunya.
The north-east of Spain
CIT World Travel Group offers a range of four-star accommodation in Barcelona starting at $248 a couple a night, including breakfast.
Flight Centre has return economy airfares to Barcelona with Austrian Airlines. Fares from each of these cities are:
Melbourne $1549 + tax: $268
Sydney $1549 + tax: $284
Perth $1669 + tax: $333
Brisbane $1699 + tax: $337
Adelaide $1699 + tax: $345
Valid for sale until March 31, 2006, and valid for travel between February 17-24, 2005, October 4-November 11, 2005 and January 17-March 31, 2006. To book a flight, call Flight Centre on 131 600.
Font Màgica (magic fountain) opens from May to September, Thursday to Sunday from 8pm to midnight. From October to April it operates on Fridays and Saturdays from 7pm to 9pm.
Please note that the prices listed are valid at the time of filming.
CIT World Travel Group
Ph: 1300 36 firstname.lastname@example.org
Font Màgica (Magic Fountain)
Passeig Maria Cristina, Barcelonawww.bcn.es/fonts
La Sagrada Familia
Placa de la Segrada Familia, Barcelona
Ph: 34 93 207 3031www.sagradafamilia.org
Pg de Gracia 92, L'Eixample
Ph: 34 93 484 5995
Spain: Travellers should be up-to-date for the standard Australia and New Zealand immunisation schedules. Depending on the time of year of travel and exact destination, other health precautions and preventions may be recommended and are best discussed with your doctor. For further information, speak to your doctor or visit www.welltogo.com.au