Barcelona | Day One: A tale of two cathedrals
Despite all of the travelling I have been lucky enough to do over the years, there is one city which has always topped the bill as far as I am concerned: Barcelona. From the stunning medieval squares and dark narrow streets of its gothic quarter, and the café culture and art vibe of La Ribera surrounding the Picasso museum; to the elegant grid of shopping streets and modernist palaces in the Eixample, and the expansive Port Vell and its white sandy beach, Barcelona is one of these cities which just about has everything a city could offer. If you were asked to sit down at a drawing board and design the perfect city, surely Barcelona would be it: It’s a cultural hot spot, a city bursting with sites of historical importance, a shopping mecca, a business centre, a bustling port and a beach resort rolled into one. Coupled with that is a predominant party spirit, a sense of cultural and political freedom and an exuberance of chic and style which is unrivalled, in my opinion, elsewhere in Spain.
So while a trip to this most incredible of cities last weekend may have been my 7th trip to the city, Barcelona’s multifaceted nature meant that there was still a huge amount to discover, and a pleasant opportunity to re-embrace sites and experiences otherwise more familiar to me. And most importantly of all it was an opportunity to properly inject my partner with the same enthusiasm I have always had for the city – after all, how else can I ever persuade him to move there? 😉
The atmospheric Barri Gotic
Day One in Barcelona provided such a chance to discover the city afresh. After years of staying in the Eixample region, I switched allegiances, choosing instead the super-chic boutique haven: the Hotel Neri as my base – a hotel which sits at the beating heart of Barcelona’s gothic quarter, and which is but metres from the imposing gothic cathedral. This super central location meant that I could explore this most characterful of Barcelona neighbourhoods with the ease of breathing; a discovery which began on this first sunny morning with the old cathedral which is at its heart.
For all its incredibly imposing gothic structure, its lavish golden choir stalls and its equally elaborate gold-fringed side chapels, the thing I love about Barcelona’s cathedral is the little cloister bolted onto its side which, either by way of tradition or for some other more logical reason of which I remain ignorant, is the home of a lovely gabble of squawking, inquisitive and cheeky white geese. This lively bunch of orange-beaked beauties are just one feature of what has to be one of the most tranquil corners of this otherwise lively city; a space where everything seems perfectly in tune with each other, from the lush green plants which are grown in the cloister’s centre and through which sunlight dapples over the gothic stonework, to the orange trees which are seemingly reflected in the beaks of the geese, whether by design or coincidence. It’s a beautiful space, and easily one of my favourites in the city. But we could not linger – for we had the rest of the old town and the city to explore.
The Cathedral’s geese-filled cloisters…
…and its imposing gothic interior
For this was, after all, a day of two cathedrals, or if I am more accurate, a day of one cathedral and a “minor basilica” as it was so consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010. He may have thought it “minor”, but there is very little that is small about this jaw-dropping masterpiece of architecture for which Barcelona is famed around the globe. I am of course talking about Antoni Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, or the Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família to be exact – ultimate icon of the city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site despite its being only 65% complete, and one of the world’s most stunningly incomprehensibly brilliant buildings.
Not only does Barcelona continue to offer something new and exciting to explore on each of my visits to the city, with its Sagrada Familia, it presents an ever changing super-structure which continues to grow as each year goes by. Despite construction commencing in 1883, construction has been slow, not least because it relies upon private donations and because of the Spanish Civil War which brought progress to a halt in the 1930s. But happily, owing largely to the huge tourist interest in this masterpiece of modernisme, and the 25 million or so euros they bring to the project each year, progress on the basilica is now moving apace, with architects proclaiming that the entire basilica will be complete in 2026.
The Sagrada Familia’s ever changing exterior…
and its mind-blowing completed interior
Longing as I do for this day, I am nonetheless constantly surprised, in the meantime, by the brilliance of this ever changing building every time I visit. Nothing, but nothing can prepare you for the sheer mind-blowing views which greet visitors as they enter the recently completed interior of the basilica, flooded as it is with multi-coloured light from its many stained glass windows which reflect a panoply of colour onto the soaring tree-like columns which branch out at the summit to form a forest canopy reaching towards the stars. Looking up to this vision of utterly fantastical paradise is like something out of another world, and I defy anyone to visit the basilica and not feel emotion cracking at their eyes.
And so with this second “cathedral” of the day, we pretty much wrapped up what has to be the perfect reconnaissance with this multifaceted city: from one end of its architectural history to the other; a demonstration of the wealth of cultural influences, and the dynamic character which makes Barcelona one of the most interesting places to visit in all the world. And there is so much more from this city on The Daily Norm. So stay tuned!
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Wow! I so want to go back to this great city!