Updated: Dec 14, 2021
Barcelona is one of Europe's cultural capitals
I spent close to three years in Barcelona immediately prior to the Summer Olympics of 1992. It was a decidedly different city then relative to what it is today, particularly in how the city previously ignored its seaside orientation and over-emphasized its heritage. In the 1980s, Barcelona was an uber-introspective city. It was Catalan (not Spanish), it was rich and privileged, and it did not face the sea. Industrial production and arterial roadways made the city seem gritty, noisy and cramped.
A bid for the 1992 Summer Olympics changed that, initially for the worse! I, along with 1.5 million Barcelona residents, witnessed an upheaval in infrastructure for which it is difficult to find a comparison. The project to add venues for the Games was incidental to the transformation of the city - whole streets were dug up for months at a time to accommodate changes (e.g. sewers) that in many cases dragged the city “kicking and screaming” into the 20th century.
Barcelona's transformation as a tourism destination
The Olympic Games facilitated only the beginning of the transformation. After a brief respite of a downturn, the city leveraged the notoriety and initial investment to transform itself into a world-class tourism destination. Already there were monumental attractions and a fabulous Mediterranean culture, but the city finally grasped how this should manifest itself into an orientation to the sea and a vibrancy that would attract attention.
Now the city faces a threat of over-tourism, a by-product of its place-making success. So it has become a difficult city to visit at times. That should not mean that Barcelona be ignored on your bucket list of places to visit. There are few places in Europe with more personality and integrity than this city – it is deserving of finding the right moment to visit and explore the unique culture the city harbors.
Barcelona is home to the masterpieces of Antoni Gaudi, Picasso and Miro
Start with Antoni Gaudi, the architect. His masterpieces populate most sectors of the city – from Parque Guell in the north, to Sagrada Familia in the Gracia District and the emblematic buildings looming over Paseo de Gracia. Gaudi’s influence owns the city for the most part. But there are also artistic luminaries to which the city pays homage – Picasso, Miro and Tapies. Their talents are not restricted to the eponymous museums that exhibit their works – there are masterpieces of each found in unexpected venues around the city.
In the end, expect sun, sea, shopping and culture (and lots of food) from Barcelona.