Barcelona: The Time Machine City

Barcelona: The Time Machine City


“I wrote every day between the ages of 12 and 20 when I stopped because I went to Barcelona, where life was too exciting to write.”

-Colm Toibin

I love traveling back to places I haven’t seen in years. The last time I visited Barcelona was nine years ago and a whole lot has changed in those years. As an individual and as a city we have both grown, matured, and yet retained our essential character. It is always eye opening to go back to a city you thought you knew or understood only to find a deeper appreciation for all the nuances you missed the first time. What I remembered of Barcelona was the stunning modern architecture on public display. The parks, streets and even building boldly display bright colors, intricate and complex architecture, and pieces that really make you stop and wonder what the designer’s frame of mind was at the time. On this trip I wanted to spend more time exploring the older parts of the city that have helped to highlight these newer pieces of work.

With over two thousand years of history Barcelona has a lot to offer in the way of architecture. What I admired was that even the oldest of buildings, dating back to the Roman times, were not forgotten in the design of the city. Each element is showcased appropriately. Barri Gotic, or the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona does well to make any traveler feel like they are stepping back in time. I spent two days wandering around the narrow streets and alleyways and still didn’t feel like I had seen it all, or knew my way around. I kept having to remind myself to look up so as not to miss the beautiful facades of the buildings. With very little sun penetrating down to the street level and cobblestones beneath your feet you feel almost like you have stepped back in time. Adding to this time travel appeal is the breath taking Catedral de la Santa Creu which many tourists will find themselves in front of. I happened to find myself on the backside of it after accidentally wandering into its’ rear quart yard. This was one of the most tranquil and inspiring places I visited while in Barcelona and it gives you a great view of the front facade without your view being blocked by a other tourists.

While there is some debate over the authenticity of Barri Gotic (several of the buildings were refaced or repurposed for the 1929 International Exhibition) it is the stand alone churches, houses, and fountains that really showcase an authentic Catalonian history. It is one of mixed heritage that continually proves growth does not have to cover over the past.

With the modernization of any city comes visionaries who truly want to transform it, not just for practical reasons but also to allow the mind a sense of curiosity and freedom that is all too frequently only afforded to children. There is no question that the names Barcelona and Gaudi are synonymous. His creative genius can be seen throughout the city and although, I was only able to see a few of his works, it is obvious that his imagination has helped to create the city today that we call Barcelona. Classified as a Catalan Modernist architect and it is hard to find any building around the world that so distinctively emanates such complexity and beauty. La Sagrada Famiglia is one of his better known works. Possibly, because the project is still going on long after his death. You have to wonder if this is what Gaudi has imagined. While it may not be precisely what he had in mind I would have to imagine he would hold an immense amount of pride for its’ current design as it causes the visitor to float between reality and a dream like state when in its’ presence.

I personally spent quite a few hours just admiring the stained glass windows and the way the light bounced off one wall as if to represent heaven and earth while the opposing wall of hell. With the two forces meeting in the middle it was the closest representation I came too as the center aisle being a life choice that was up to each individual.

Barcelona exudes an architectural energy that made me, and I can imagine many travelers, feel as though they are traveling back in time while also floating into the future. Perhaps I can classify it as a “time-machine city” with the ability to offer up sites and sounds that make you question what is the precise date.

While I have been fortunate to visit Barcelona twice now, I can only hope there will come another opportunity to visit again. With so many surprises around each corner I don’t feel like I will have ever explored the city in its’ entirety. But, I can appreciate that as Barcelona continues to grow and be on the cutting edge of architectural development I never will.

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