Barcelona: A Metropolis Under An Ocean Breeze
Updated: Jul 2, 2020
Today's Barcelona is dynamic and artsy, a beachfront locale that rivals any of its Mediterranean counterparts. Yet, fun and breezy Barna, as locals named it, didn't exist until 1992. That year, the Olympic games brought both international recognition and created the infrastructure that supports the tourist Mecca.
Barcelona is one of the only successes exempt from the Olympic financial curse. Timing also aided the city, as it benefited from generous EU funds flowing to Spain at the time. Funds that made it a poster child of the new and improved European block.
However, the city has a long history when it comes to urban development. Its gothic quarter -a favorite with tourists- was once a reminder of the port's stagnant nature for several centuries, one on which the city was suffocating within its walls. During the Nouveau period, French immigration created a new iteration of Barcelona built upon the demolition of those walls and made the city an example of urban design. During this period, it would see the city's most famous son Antoni Gaudi rise to worldwide recognition. The movement provided the city with a new aesthetic and cultural direction.
Barcelona is no stranger to being the center of the world's most influential activities or artists. Events such as Christopher Columbus' expedition to discover a new route to India or the Olympics are just two examples of a city drenched in history-changing events and Mediterranean sun. With settlements that date well into Roman times, its cultural, political, and economic influence dates back centuries and is alive today.
Barcelona is in Catalonia's center; it is this distinct national identity that influences the cultural landscape and has made for some challenging events in its history. It recently culminated with the political oppression from the Spanish government to prevent a referendum that would ultimately liberate Catalonia and Barcelona from a Spain forged over five centuries ago by the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon.
Walking through any of its streets, the political tension between a unified Spain and the distinct national identity of Catalonia is palpable. Flags clamoring independence and yellow ribbons demanding the liberation of political prisoners make for both a powerful and visual display of Catalonia's dissonance between being a province and an independent state. Although Spanish is an official language, Barcelona presents signage in both Spanish and Catalan words. A majority of its residents feel more Catalan and European than Spaniards.
Social evolution is not foreign to the city. In the late 1800s, between the old center of Barcelona and the now elegant Gràcia district; A bourgeois revolution was brewing inside the mansions that still line the boulevards of the prestigious Passeig de Gràcia. Residents of the south Mediterranean (France, in particular) were searching shelter from the Phylloxera epidemic that was ravishing the wine industry in Europe. New industrial tycoons were beginning to redefine the power dynamics of the society in the world and Barcelona. Colliding and developing a unique mix of wealthy and working-class urban expansion.
From the beach, the port, flanked by Montjuic -complete with castle and fortress atop- welcomes the gothic quarter, which connects with a series of urban corridors shaped like hexagons. It is a grid design similar to that of other urban centers like Manhattan. With its urban design, Barcelona better identifieS with the industrial metropolis in the modern world, than with the classical capitals to the north and east.
Confined this time by natural walls, Barcelona reached its city limits on the hills that surround it. Industrial corridors expanded to the side of the Gothic quarter and along the coast, bringing both pollution and population to the city. The financial boom of the industrial revolution would see its end with the collapse of both economic and political systems in the first half of the XX century. Barcelona suffered from both ravishes of war as well as a more devastating financial draught during the first half of the period. It all culminated with an iron fist political oppression after the rise of Franco's dictatorship at the end of the Spanish civil war.
Today, Barcelona is experiencing a resurgence, both culturally and financially. Learning from the binge of expansion that the tourism boom brought in the 90s and 00s, and attracting new industry sectors like technology and finance. The city has chosen to move forward once again, redefining its urban landscape and bringing fresh ideas to the entire world. Nowhere is this more notable than on the now expansive cycling grid and the creation of new development 'Isles' within the city.
These planned urban developments intend to renovate and gentrify some of the city's long-abandoned industrial corridors, something that has created a unique experience in Barcelona.
While Spain still reels from the damage caused by the last recession, Barcelona's future looks bright like the sun that glistens over the coast. It's unique positioning, and forward-
thinking makes the city stand out again politically, culturally, and now financially from its counterparts, making Barcelona one of a kind. From Roman columns to hipster locales selling avocado toast. A diverse and vibrant community that has something for everyone is looking for travelers to call Barcelona her/his destination, home, or adventure.