The people of Barcelona have a strong Catalan identity. To them, the region they hail from is more important than the nation of Spain, and their allegiance lies to the Catalonian flag. Barcelonans are known to be economically self sufficient, culturally dynamic and famously proud.
As a visitor, I could understand their pride. The city of Barcelona boasts a pleasant climate, beautiful beaches, vaunted architecture, sophisticated cuisine, a roaring nightlife and cutting edge design.
Innumerable great minds have been associated with Barcelona including Antonio Gaudi the architect, Salvador Dali the artist, Pedro Almodovar the filmmaker, Ferran Adria the chef and Joan Miro the sculptor. It is a city shaped by heritage, pride and innovation.
Chuppa-chup lollipops, for instance, that are sold all over the world, were invented by a Barcelonan entrepreneur who came up with a solution to children getting their hands messy whilst eating sweets. Few people are aware of the fact that the floral pattern on the wrapper was designed by Dali.
Exploring Barcelona’s striking structures can be truly rewarding. The styles vary from Gothic to Modernista to ultra-contemporary. The charming Gothic Quarter is made up of closely-knit streets with wonderfully detailed nooks and crannies. The Cathedral forms the centrepiece, its plaza a fertile ground for cultural performances. The Museo Picasso is situated in five adjacent houses, and is not to be missed.
Gaudis famed Modernista architecture can be experienced in Eixample, a neighbourhood which was a late 19th century extension of the old city. Interspersed in the elegant shopping street, Passeig Gracia are two curvilinear houses that can be explored from the inside — Casa Mila and Casa Batllo. "There are no straight lines in nature" said Gaudi, and he set about developing organic forms, and giving vent to flights of fancy. His Sagrada Familia (Sacred Family) Cathedral was started in 1882 and is still to be completed. Its “dripping wax” exterior has been referred to as “A glorious piece of madness after which, Picasso seems positively normal.”
Modernista architecture rubs shoulders with contemporary Catalan style at the Fundacio Antoni Tapies and many of Barcelona's vibrant apartment buildings and restaurants.
There are lots of venerable traditions that the locals adhere to. On Dia de Sant Jordi, men offer women roses and the women, in turn, present the men folk with books.
Once, in front of the Sagrada Familia, I was coaxed into joining a circle of Sardana dancers who formed a circle and linking their arms together, danced to the gentle rhythms of a nearby band. When I pleaded that I was toting a heavy bag, it was taken off my shoulder and put in the centre of the circle. It was fun joining in.
Around the 24th of September Barcelona comes alive with celebrations of their main festival, the Festa de la Merce. At Placa de Merce I watched the Catalunian tradition of castelling, where people form castells, (Catalan for castles), human towers where men stand on each other's shoulders forming tiers that often reach eight, nine, even ten levels. Crowds go mad cheering as the towers grow taller and taller. A man standing next to me proudly explained that the towers are symbolic of teamwork, endurance, suffering and ultimate success. As usual, volunteers were being recruited from the crowds to buttress the base. They turned to the proud Catalan next to me, but he had melted away into the throng.