Barcelona, from the moment we landed to the trip to our apartment, reminded me so much of my hometown in Jakarta, Indonesia. Maybe the clothes hanging by the window, the hot climate, the bike carriages, the housing towers, the market, the tiles, and the scent … something about it seemed so familiar. Now that I reflect back on it, Jakarta has monuments along its boulevards, similar to how Barcelona, as a city is laid out.
Beginning with the Gothic Quarter, we visited the contemporary art museum by Richard Meier, a new insert within the historic core of the city. Similar to Mies’ Barcelona Pavilion, the museum makes a statement about modern thinking – infinite and shifting planes that define space. The streets, although those in Amsterdam were quite narrow, the Gothic Quarter is essentially a network of alleys with some at only four feet wide. And in its warm climate, the narrow streets served as shading for those passing on ground. The hidden plazas also offer pleasant surprises and provide relief from the tighter part of the area. This idea of the plazas is also later noticed within the newer Cerda plan, where the corners of grid-based blocks are chamfered to allow each intersection to become plaza-esque spaces.
Following the historic zone came the series of the masterpieces done by Gaudi –Palace Guëll, Casa Batlo, Casa Mila, and the Sagrada Familia. The brick structure and the plaster work done over the brick give each piece a fantasy effect. From the torqued ceilings to the ornamented pillars and rooftop chimneys, the level of detail portrays the architects’ fetish for craft (as part of the Art Nouveau). The Sagrada Familia, its image complete with the ever lingering cranes, displayed an outstanding level of care in its construction. After over 100 years, it’s yet to be finished, though isn’t its identity also gained through the fact that it’s never done? Plans have been made and are currently executed to have the towers completed, and therefore the whole project, finished by 2026. A part of me screams for it to never be done … it’s truly a living architecture that will continue to grow as other parts deteriorate. And I think that’s what makes European cities so fascinating –the layers of time that are inherited in each building offer a new depth beyond that of historical plaque.
And of course, being a water city, Barcelona is also blessed with miles of beautiful beaches. After taking a quick splash in the water, we head over to the Forum 2004. Like the Montjuic area, Forum 2004 had leftover infrastructure from its last event –Montjuic from the 1992 Olympics, and the Forum from the city-initiated exposition event. And unlike Copenhagen or Amsterdam, Barcelona has a varied topography, from the southern hills of Montjuic to the seashores to the hills by Park Guëll. To finish off our stay in the beautiful city of Barcelona, we took in some of its vibrant nightlife with 11pm dinner and a walk through the inner Cerda grid and la Rambla.