FC Barcelona

No, this is not about the football club, but about the home city of FC Barcelona, one of my favorite cities in Europe! I just can’t get enough Barcelona! We were there on a particularly busy day because that evening, in the 100,000 seat soccer stadium, Barcelona’s own football team FC Barcelona was meeting up with their arch rival Madrid.  And incidentally FC Barcelona is the most popular soccer team in Panama as well!

Barcelona has this wonderful collection of whimsical and sometimes downright strange architecture, a mix of new and ancient, wonderful food and people, great streets and markets and although it is one of the top tourist destinations in Europe, still friendly people.

Las Ramblas is my favorite street area in Europe. Beautiful trees line the boulevard and the center park and pathway is filled with kiosks selling flowers, books, and birds, and dozens of street performers and costumed and painted folks impersonating every kind of statue and occupation imaginable. Turn one direction an you are in the beautiful La Boqueria Market a tradition in Barcelona since the 13th century. The present market opened in 1853 and is a wonderful mix of fresh food of all kinds, flowers, and places to eat.

Turn the other direction and you are in the Gothic Quarter where the city started in Roman days. Mixed into the old Gothic buildings are remnants of the city’s Roman origins. There is a Gothic cathedral here that rivals any cathedral in Europe for sheer beauty.

But the big attraction in Barcelona is Antoni Gaudí a local architect who lived 1852–1926 and who has forever put his stamp on the whimsical and unusual architectural style of the city. In his later life Gaudí became a very devout Roman Catholic and declined commissions so that he could build his own great cathedral to the Holy Family known as Sagrada Familia. The cathedral was to, and is, being built totally by individual contributions without any help from the state or Catholic church. As a young man Gaudi was very influenced by nature and his design credo was “Originality consists of returning to the origin” so much of his inspiration comes from the forms of nature, as interpreted by Gaudi’s whimsical and different vision of form and life.

Since I first visited Barcelona in 1967 Gaudí’s cathedral has attracted attention. Gaudi died in 1926, but the effort he began continues and the cathedral, still under construction, is Spain’s top tourist attraction. Millions visit the unfinished building until last year only to gape in awe and wonder at the exterior. Last year the Pope visited and the church was officially consecrated as a basilica and is now open to tourists and for special services.

Because the original plans were lost during the Spanish Civil War it has been up to committees and succeeding architects to attempt to complete the church while holding to the original concept of Gaudi, which makes for some interesting concepts . . . and conflicts.

Many people find the outside mouth-dropping with some loving it and some shaking their heads. Until now I had never had the opportunity to actually go inside . . . and I was amazed by the stark simplicity, particularly when compared to Gaudí’s own, sand-castle like Nativity facade. The inside of the church is soaring, light, clean, modern and overwhelmingly inspiring. Despite the mobs of tourists and sea of cameras, it is a very reverent place.

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