Some cities show their style and their history as soon as you set foot in them, but Barcelona is not so open. We need to make it talk, and walk it with our eyes wide open to be able to discover why Eduardo Mendoza called it The city of Marvels.
But, let’s start from the beginning: if someone tells you that Barcelona is a young city, don’t take it too seriously; it is actually a very old city. At least 2,500 years BC someone set their foot in this place and stayed, and it is not surprising: the views to the Mediterranean Sea would make you want to stay.
Some of the wannabe founders of this city arrived after sailing in this sea. As can happen with old cities, its origin is a mix of legends and half true stories that not all can understand, but indeed, it is very entertaining.
From the first settlers, we barely know anything, to find any information we have to look back to the Layetanos, a tribe of Iberian origins that arrived in the area. They decided to stay and we need to try and see how they settled. It is possible they called the place ¨Barcinon¨ but it’s also possible they didn’t. Just in case, Barcelona has dedicated one of the main streets to them: The Via Laietana.
Later, a couple of centuries BC, it seems that the Carthaginians dropped down too: Hamilcar, Hannibal and the Barca clan, who gave so many Punic Wars to the Romans, were also around here. It is not clear if they brought their team of elephants with them. But who knows if there could be some relation between the Barca clan and the Barça football team…
Rome didn’t take long to come to plant their banner: the ¨Barcino¨ seems to be another variant of the name, although both Carthaginians and Romans fight for the Barcelona name with Hercules, who was shipwrecked on these coasts aboard the Barca Nona, or ninth boat. ¨Barcanona¨ would be the name that remained in the memory of the demi-god, this is the most popular version of all the stories and, almost certainly, the real one.
The Muslims were also very interested in the place. In the year 718 they took over the city and stayed for a century, more or less. It was the Middle Ages, and Barna was beginning to flourish; growing bigger, livelier and more beautiful. The Barrio Gótico (Gothic Quarter) hides buildings that, like the CathedralSanta Maria del Pi, retain a strong medieval flavour. Looking back to this era, nothing good lasted for long in those days: in 1333, the famine arrived together with the Plague, and half of Barcelona’s population ended up underground.
As we know history loves to talk about catastrophes, wars and dramas. Barcelona also had its own turbulent times in the Modern Ages: at the beginning of the 18thcentury, the Bourbon troops finalized the War of Succession taking the Castle of Montjuic and initiating a harsh repression to remind the city who commanded.
The fortress guarded the area of the Eixample or Ensanche, where the city grew and developed again. With a buoyant middle class, and already in the 19thcentury, a modernist fever caught hold and would last forty years, spattering the area with architectural jewels that gave it its identity. La Pedrera from Gaudi, also the author of the Sagrada Familia, are great examples of the desire the social class wanted for a cosmopolitan city atmosphere.
And they got it, although the fame and the wonders of the Art nouveauended up outshining other things of Barcelona’s 19thcentury.
The first strike in Spain took place here in 1855. Between the worker’s movements and sophisticated bourgeoisies. Time passed by, and Barna (a republic area)found itself in the Civil War. It suffered bombing and once more had to stand up with great effort.
Finally, the magic year of 1992. The city took a shot and showed the world how to host the Olympic games. Barcelona was loved and it loved itself. It shot out into the new century on the Mediterranean and European forefront. And there, precisely, is where it continues today.