When my friends and I were planning our Greece trip, one thing was certain: We wanted to be sure to hit up one of the Greek islands. After talking with one of my good friends who has traveled Greece before and much discussion among the five of us, we picked Santorini.
As I’ve probably mentioned numerous times before, I’m fairly obsessed with ruins. I’m not sure what exactly it is about them, but I think that structures and artifacts that are able to withstand the test of time are fascinating. It might be because these things offer our modern, advanced society a tiny glimpse into our past – about 2,000 years into the past when it comes to ancient Greece.
For my study abroad group’s second “field trip,” we went to Montserrat – a mountain in Catalunya. Its name translates to “serrated mountain” because of the bizarre and unique structure of the cliffs. Although there is a lot to see in Montserrat, we only had time to tour portions of its famous monastery.
Before I studied in Barcelona, I knew very little (ok next to nothing…) about the region of which it is a part – Catalunya. So, here’s some very brief information: Spain is broken up into 17 autonomies communities, which are further broken up into provinces so Barcelona is a province in the larger autonomous community of Catalunya. The city of Tarragona is another province with some very important historical context to Catalunya.
There are certainly a number of known tourist attractions in Barcelona, but La Rambla is one of the highest on that list. The road cuts east to west, dividing El Barrio Gótico and El Raval. It offers souvenirs of every kind, from tiny cacti you can hang on your fridge to elaborate paintings and caricatures. There are also tapas bars galore and plenty of restaurant employees trying to reel in business.
The Gothic District itself also draws tourists because of its renown. I have spoken with several locals who say they avoid the easily-accessed areas of the neighborhood because the tourists are so prevalent and many are disrespectful. One local even said, “It’s difficult to find anything worthwhile along La Rambla anymore.”
I feel conflicted about this issue because, of course, tourists are bringing in millions of dollars in revenue to the city of Barcelona, but no one should feel like their home is being disrespected. I think that it’s a difficult balance for tourist destinations to achieve. I hope that the situation improves within the coming years, but I can only realistically see tourism continuing to increase in Barcelona.
A necessary facet of Barcelona’s layout as an urban area is the presence of public spaces. Because the Gothic Neighborhood has evolved through the ages, its squares and plazas are more limited than they are in the rest of the city; I think this makes them more important.
For example, the Plaza de Catalunya is a common meeting place for locals, but it doubles as a rallying point for protesters in times of unrest. During the 15 M movement in 2011, protesters set up camp in the Plaza and enlisted the assistance of most of the surrounding businesses.
Last week, on International Women’s Day (March 8), thousands of women and supporters marched from the University of Barcelona, past the Plaza and east toward the Mediterranean. I think they chose this path because it is the city center and it holds the most significance, but it also offers the most exposure for their cause. Many locals pass through this area on their way to other parts of the city, but all tourists make a point to stop by.
Barcelona was one of the cities that sustained the most damage during the bombings of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). Instead of targeting military objectives, Mussolini’s air force chose large concentrations of civilians.
One famous example can still be found in the Gothic District, La Església de Sant Felip Neri. During the war, the church was used as a shelter for evacuated children. On Jan. 30, 1938, Franco’s troops dropped a bomb directly in front of the building, killing dozens of children. A second bomb exploded shortly after, increasing the death toll. Scarring from the bombs is still clearly visible on the church’s facade, and a plaque reads, “Here died 42 people – the majority children – due to the actions of Franco’s airforce on the 30th of January 1938.”