The Many Faces of Barcelona

1/31/2011 11:23:00 AM ·

Guest article by Lima

You can almost hear Barcelona groan under the weight of its own brilliance - the Catalan capital is embarrassingly well-endowed with architectural and cultural icons. And in some ways, the shadow of one man's uncompleted work – Gaudi's Sagrada Familia cathedral – is cast exceptionally long over the rest of the city. Many may wonder, what else lies hidden in this city, just out of the light?

Of course, any visit to Barcelona would be pretty hollow, if it were not to include a respectful pilgrimage to Gaudi's extravagant master-piece – not to mention the many other modernisme beacons shining in Barcelona's firmament. But Barcelona has other facets beyond these brilliant icons – and if you want to get a little closer to the Catalan soul, it's worth digger a little deeper.

The wide avenues of the Eixample district, which has the Temple of Sagrada Familia at its heart, are a good place to start. Here the street-facades are grand, with many buildings beautifully embellished in the modernisme style - that effusive blend of art nouveau and Catalan exuberance that is so emblematic. But what is less well known is that, behind these impressive 19th Century blocks, are green oases – sunlit parks and cool patios lying in the courtyards at the heart of each apartment block.

 ( Casa Mila Atrium)

There is the hidden garden of the Palau Robert mansion; the peaceful courtyard at the back of the Casa Mila, and the children's playground, overlooked by the Gothic splendor of the Church of Immaculate Conception. All it takes is a few steps down the alley, away from Eixample's bustling roads, to be able to take in an unfiltered slice of Catalan day-to-day life.

 © Source

Just to the north of the grandeur of Eixample is another face again - the edgy alternative heart of Barcelona that is the Gracia district. Catalans are rightly proud of their radical political history - one that saw Anarchism embraced in the Spanish Civil War. Here, in Gracia, anarchy is not a corrosive anti-social nihilism – it is seen, instead, as a vibrant and positive form social reform. The legacy of independent political thought lives on in the bars and narrow streets of this old district, which has become the center of Barcelona's counter-culture.

Strolling down the Passieg de Gracia, and onto the Catalunya Plaza, you'll be treading the well-worn tourist path down to La Rambla. There is a lot to see and do along this busy street, including the sensory overload that is Barcelona's most famous market – la Boqueria. But if you take a dive down one of the passages on your left, you'll find yourself in a different city altogether - the dark cloisters and alleys of the Gothic Quarter.

Here it feels as if history has been slowly accumulating, layer by gentle layer, so that the modern world can often seem entirely blanked out. There is much exploring- or getting lost – to be had in this myriad of streets. On your way, look out for Roman walls, Gothic fragments and the rearing form of the medieval Cathedral - beneath which is a labyrinthine subterranean world, a gateway into the darker passages of Barcelona's soul.

(Carrer del Bisbe Irurita)

And after the claustrophobia of the Barrio Gotica, there's a welcome herald from the south - heading seawards the vista opens up, welcoming you onto the Mediterranean sea-front of Barceloneta. This is where some of most real of the Catalan eateries can be found - with the seafood paella enriched by the freshly plucked fruits of the sea. And as Barcelona runs into the sea, here you really get a perspective back over the city - where a stroll can only glance the surface of its diverse and storied vibrancy.

This article is contributed by Lima, an avid traveler who owns a website offering high quality adjustable dumbbells for sale.

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