Wednesday, 08-04-2015 — Friday, 15-04-2015.
Days 231 — 238.
After our whirlwind driving tour of Spain, we were happy to settle down in Barcelona for a week, where my mom came to join up on our travels for a few days. We didn't do a lot each day, but over the course of the week, we managed to pack in some good sights, sounds, and smells and used the Barcelona Metro to great effect.
Sephardic Jewish Walking Tour
Continuing on a theme we'd started in Granada, we learned about the Sephardic Jews of Barcelona. Back in the medieval days, the Jewish population of Barcelona made up about 15% of its citizens, and most of the lived in two sections of the city—the Call Major (which was inside the walled Roman city) and, when that got too crowded, the Call Minor (which was outside the walls of the city). We toured these old neighborhoods and learned about the tumultuous history of Barcelona Jews. During the middle ages, the Jewish citizens of Barcelona went from welcomed to tolerated to hated to massacred.
Throughout the tour, we saw stone blocks inscribed with Hebrew on the walls of various buildings, including some in the Plaça del Rei (Plaza of the King). Most of these stones are thought to have come from an old Jewish cemetery that were taken and used for construction after the Jews were expelled from Barcelona in 1391.
One of our stops on the tour was the oldest Synagogue in Barcelona (and one of the oldest in Europe). This building, long forgotten and used for storage of electronics, was rediscovered when one gent followed the route of a 13th century tax collector. The building's orientation was a giveaway. It faced east, toward Jerusalem, on a street that runs in a northeast-southwest direction. So there's a sudden sharp angle in the building that's quite unusual as compared to rest of the Call's straight streets.
As we made our way through the city to the end of our tour (with a stop off at Caelum for nun cookies), we walked through Plaza of Saint Filip Neri, notable for its battle-scarred stone walls. During the Spanish Civil War, this church served as a refuge for evacuated children, but it turned out to be anything but a safe haven.
On January 30, 1938, Franco's forces dropped a bomb into the plaza that killed 30 children. Then, as people rushed in trying to help the survivors , another bomb dropped that killed 12. The bomb-scarred walls of this church now serve as a memorial to those 42 victims.
La BoquerIa Food Market
One of the oldest and largest food market in Europe, officially called the Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria. it dates back to the early 1200s, although the market was not officially recognized as a full-time market until the 1800s.
It's adjacent to La Rambla, a somewhat trendy pedestrian-oriented shopping street in Barcelona, so it's easily accessible. We visited it a few times because it was pretty central to one of our frequently used subway stops (Liceu) and it was packed with all sorts of delectable goodies. There are numerous stalls in which you can find fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, fish, baked goods, candies, wine and beer, and plenty of fresh juice.
There are also a few different restaurants and bars scattered throughout the Boqueria. These were always packed, especially around lunch. We waited in line to try some paella at a stand near the back of the market, which was very delicious.
Sandeman's Barcelona Walking Tour
Like our previous Sandeman's tour in Madrid, the Sandeman's Barcelona was fantastic and quite informative. Our tour guide, Reuben, took us on a three-hour tour of Barcelona and gave us a great overview of the city's history and some ideas of places we wanted to check out later.
We visited the Palace of the King, (just the outside), which is where Christopher Columbus returned to Spain to tell Ferdinand and Isabella about the New World ad its untold riches that would bolster Spain's economy. No coincidentally, it's where the first cigarette was smoked in Spain.
Here we also learned about King Martin, who, after eating a whole goose (a regular thing for him), died from a bout of uncontrollable laughter (that lasted upwards of three hours) after his favorite jester told him a joke. I do know what this joke is, but it's a dangerous bit of knowledge and I don't want to put anyone at risk here, so I'll keep it under my hat.
Martin's death opened up the throne for one Ferdinand of Aragon, he that is the Ferdinand of Ferdinand & Isabella.
Another important person in Spanish history we learned of here was Wilfred the Hairy, the Count of Barcelona back around 880. I'm not entirely sure of his significance other than his role in the creation of the Senyera, the flag of Catelonia, one of the oldest flags still being used in the modern day.
Here's the legend of how that happened. Our hero Wilfred was mortally wounded fighting a Moorish invasion, and on his deathbed asked Frankish emperor Charles the Bald (such descriptive names, these guys) for a standard. Charles stuck four fingers into Wilfred's open wound, dragged his bloodied fingers across a golden shield, and the Senyera was born.
Reuben also pointed out the two variants of the Catelan flag that can be seen hanging from balconies all throughout Barcelona and tipped us in to the the movement for Catelan independence, which is very similar to the push for Scottish independence that was big news last year.
Cathedral of Barcelona (Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia)
During our tour, we stopped briefly in front of the Barcelona Cathedral. We didn't go inside during the tour, but we did go back to check it our a few days later. It's big, Gothic, and has many sacristies—but the most austere section of the cathedral was the Tomb of Saint Eulalia.
Eulalia was a 13-year-old Christian girl living in Roman-occupied Barcelona in the late third century. The Romans didn't like the fact that she was Christian and subjected her to all sorts of tortures. She was placed her inside a barrel filled with knives and glass and rolled her down a hill (a street now called Saint Eulalia's Descent). When she wouldn't renounce her faith after that, she was mutilated, then crucified. Still, she kept her faith. The Romans finally gave up and beheaded her. And when they did, a white dove flew out from her neck. And now, her body is interred here inside the cathedral that bears her name. And we didn't see them, but there are allegedly 13 geese kept in the cathedral to commemorate Saint Eulalia (doves would be too hard to keep, I suppose)—13 because of her age when she died.
And speaking of the Romans, very near the Barcelona Cathedral, you can find the remains of the Roman aqueduct that brought water into Barcelona.
We walked past the Basilica de Santa Maria del Pi (Saint Mary of the Pine Tree), which is famous for its very large rose window. There were some facts about this window (it is a reproduction of the original that was destroyed in 1940), but I can't remember them all. I want to say it was the fourth largest in Europe or something, but I can't verify that. And yes, there is a pine tree in the courtyard (the Plaça del Pi) in front of the church.
We stopped in the Plaça Saint Jaume (also known as Constitution Square), which features the Palace of the Catelonia Government and the Barcelona City Hall, right across the square from each other. (Not awkward at all.)
It's also where the Castellers of Barcelona come to build their human towers. These towers, called castells, are one of the items on UNESCO's list of Intangible Culture Heritage of Humanity. One of the tallest is marked by a wire sculpture just off the plaza, pictured above. I'm not sure how tall the sculpture is, but it remains quite controversial with the local community.
These towers can get really tall, up to ten layers high, with the lightest people, usually children on the very top. They can be quite dangerous when they collapse, and a few years back one of the children at the top died when a tower collapsed. Now the kids wear bicycle helmets. We didn't get to see any castells while we were there, but this video illustrates how they're built.
Placa de George Orwell
Then we wandered through George Orwell Plaza, which was once overrun with crime and drugs. Now it has a children's playground and, fittingly, a lot of CCTV cameras. And, according to Reuben, some pretty decent Greek food, if you're looking for that sort of thing in Spain.
Went by another church, Santa Maria del Mar, another impressive Gothic church, but this one was adjacent to a plaza named Fossar de les Moreres, which includes a monument with an eternal flame memorializing all the Catalonians who died defending Catalonia during the War of Spanish Succession, which ended in a unified Spain on September 11, 1714. Supporters of Catalan independence gather here every September 11 to celebrate the National Day of Catalonia.
The tour ended in Ciutadella Park, right near the Arco de Triunfo (a lot of cities have one of these things it seems), where the gals got to chase giant bubbles.
MuseU de XocolAta
Come on now. It's a museum dedicated to chocolate. Inside, after paying a €5 entrance fee (and your ticket is an edible chocolate bar), where you'll find a good bit of information about the history of chocolate and see some key Spanish history and no fewer than three Lionel Messis (the modern local hero) as well as a few world monuments and some Gaudí architecture—all done up in chocolate. I could say more about the place, but it's a Museum to Chocolate. That sort of says everything you need to know.
At the Picasso museum, we were lucky enough to see the Picasso_Dalí / Dalí_Picasso exhibit comparing and contrasting the works of the two Catelan artists, along with tracing their careers and how they influenced each other. It was one of the best installations I've ever seen at a museum, but, alas, no pictures were allowed.
Arenas de Barcelona, the Bullfight Mall
Although there's still bullfighting to be seen in Seville, bullfighting was banned in Catalonia on July 28, 2010. So the folks in Barcelona turned Arenas de Barcelona, the former bullfighting ring, into a shopping mall. My mom really wanted to see the place, so we hopped on the metro and checked it out. It's pretty much like any other shopping mall, except it's round.
And in there we took in some Gaudi, but more on that later.