Monday, November 25, 2013

Wandering in the Barri Gòtic

Just outside the cloister of the Barcelona cathedral is the Monument to the Martyrs of Independence. The five depicted men, waiting for their execution, were garroted (i.e., strangled) because of their resistance against Napoleon's conquering of Spain. The monument's placement here, adjacent to the Catalonian government offices, was deliberate.

Sculpture placed here in 1941, shortly after the communist forces centered in Barcelona fell to Franco's forces in 1939. Franco abolished the Catalan government, suppressed the language and culture, and tried to assimilate -- or Castilianize -- the region into Spain.
A majority of Catalonians favor independence from Spain (and ideally would carve out a part of southern France for their Catalan nation). Referendums for partial or total independence have reached a high of 74% of the population in support. While the rest of Spain somewhat shrugs at these separatist hopes, Catalonia seems genuinely eager to split off and form its own nation within the European Union. Wandering in the Barri Gòtic, you see a lot of Catalan independence flags.

The traditional senyera (i.e., "flag") of four red stripes on a field of gold, derived from the former King of Aragon, is transformed into a separatist flag by imposing L'Estelada Blava (i.e., "blue star"), a lone star signifying independence.
By comparison, Scotland will vote on independence next year in a referendum but polls show less than 50% support. Although a majority of Scots favor some further autonomy -- usually called "devolution" -- they do not (yet?) want full independence from the United Kingdom. It's a political question that I'll be following closely over the next year.

Just down the street from the monument and cloister is a neo-Gothic bridge connecting the Catalan president's official residence with the Catalan government building. Though it looks old, it was built in the 1920s.

Neo-Gothic bridge in the Gothic quarter of the city.
Though very few vehicles drive in these narrow lanes, some of them are designated one-way. They don't display the usual "no entry" signs, but instead have ornate "Entrada" and "Salida" signs.

Entry to a one-way street.
This is the exit for the one-way lane, so don't turn down this street from here.
Down the street in the other direction is the Catalan College of Architects, an ironically ugly building in a city of gorgeous architecture. It gets a bit of attention, though, because of the Picasso frieze that wraps around three sides. This is late Picasso, well outside of his Blue or Rose or Cubist periods. Charitably, it's called "childlike."

If it wasn't Picasso, it would be crap.
The confluence of the government buildings, cathedral, Picasso, and monument brings a steady flow of tourists. So, of course, it's a great place to set up as a street musician. The acoustics are quite good, too. When traveling, we try to stop at a fair number of buskers for a breather and to give Jackson some entertainment during our touristing.

These guys were good.
Though the Barri Gòtic is the medieval heart of the city, there's a sprinkling of sights from other eras, as well. For example, the Viceroy's Palace displays a Renaissance courtyard and a wooden coffered ceiling, and holds King Ferdinand's and Queen Isabella's 1491 contract with Christopher Columbus.

Renaissance courtyard within the Viceroy's Palace.
Coffered ceiling above a staircase.
You can see a church pockmarked from shrapnel during the Spanish civil war:

Church of St. Felip Neri.
You can visit Els Quatre Gats ("The Four Cats"), a hangout of Picasso and the first place where he publicly displayed his art. Established in 1897, the building is a rare piece of Modernista architecture in the Barri Gòtic. The restaurant got its name when the owner told friends he would stay open 24 hours a day, and they said that no one would come and it would be just him and four cats (apparently, Catalan slang for crazy people).

Els Quatre Gats.
The prices for a meal weren't bad, considering its draw as a tourist attraction.
Stonework over the front door.
Or if Roman ruins are your thing -- they're definitely my kinda thing -- you can visit the Barcelona History Museum to see an underground sprawl of ruins. Instead of the usual Roman temple or theater or government building, these ruins are of everyday life in Barcino. You see the remains of a winemaking facility, fish processing plant, sewers, clothes-dyeing plant, and other artisan workshops. It's by no means Pompeii or Ossia Antica, but you do get a glimpse of the average person or artisan from these ruins.

The Roman ruins lie beneath the Royal Palace (left) and 14th century Chapel of St. Agatha (right).
The ruins are from the 1st through 6th centuries AD.
A walkway guides you through the ruins.
Wine was processed and aged in large pottery casks. Honey and sea salt were sometimes added for flavor.
You're not allowed to go down this hallway, which meant, of course, that I really wanted to go down that hallway.
A little bit of the tile floor in this building remains.
Not a lot of art or decoration has survived, but bits and pieces of things have persisted, like part of this fresco.
This bust is from the 2nd century AD.
We were able to see all of the major Barri Gòtic sights within a four or five hour period, including a stop for lunch. Then we pressed on into the other major neighborhood of the old city, called El Born. It was the kind of day that left us tuckered out but satisfied with our touristing prowess.

Lunch with a view of the back side of the cathedral.
Tuckered out for a (too late) nap around 4:00 pm.

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