Try google Barcelona, the first thing that will most likely come on to your google results will be a football club and not the city. Try this now with Madrid, Rome or Milan and you will most likely see a Wikipedia page at the topmost of your search results.
Welcome to Barcelona in Spain, a city famous throughout the world more for its football club than the city itself.
It is rare to find one city more defined in global conscious by a sports club than Barcelona. Consider this, the most popular and well visited museum in this city is that of the football club, FC Barcelona (arguably the most popular football club in the world). The pull of the football club combined with the sensual warmth of the Mediterranean combined to draw a total of 9 million overnight stays in the city in 2017 spending around 8.6 Billion USD in 2016 and all this in a city 1.6 million people, locked in by geography and therefore one of the most dense cities in Europe.
And yet, this focus on the football club does mask the richness of the city, in terms of its heritage, history, culture, cuisine, nature and nerve that characterises Barcelona.
Located in the north-east of the Iberian peninsula, an situated closer to Toulouse and Marseilles in France than to Madrid this proud city is an old one with a history that goes back millennia and has been described as the most continental of all the Iberian cities. It is surrounded landwise by mountain ranges all around and seaward by the vast Mediterranean sea, hence enabling it to develop a culture and history highly unique to itself.
The name of Barcelona has an origin in antiquity, with the name Barkeno found on ancient Iberian currency, some have attributed the founding of the city to the Carthaginian (a North African Empire) general Hamilcar Barca (the father of Hannibal Barca). The myth persists even though there are have been no archeological findings to suggests a Carthaginian origin of the city.
Even if the Carthaginian founding was true, their opposition to Rome died with the death of Hannibal and the Roman flag soon flew over the Iberian coast. Historical texts from the Roman times mention that Bacino was designated as a military camp overshadowed by other large cities. The presence of blue waters and majestic mountains provided the backdrop to a beautiful city and soon, people and money moved to this city (by then it had been declared a city).
The Roman Empire had begun disintegrating by the 500s and the power vacuum in all Hispania was filled by the Visigoth people, beginning with the sacking of Rome in 410.
Bacino was then such a thriving city that it was made the capital of all the Kingdom of Visigoths. A succession of rulers took the keys to the city with the Moors in the 7th century and than the Franks (predecessors of modern-day France) in the 9th century.
The Franks’ rule Barcelona from a fair giving feudal lords control of the day to day affairs of the province. It was this day to day control that the roots of the Catalan people begin. After a couple of centuries of violent put downs, the king Ramon Berenguer IV married with Petronilla of Aragon creating the Kingdom of Aragon. The Kingdom of Aragon was a maritime power, with its possess stretching to southern Italy at its height, with the fortunes of the kingdom only declining when the Kingdom of Aragon merged with the larger Kingdom of Castille to form a personal union under the Catholic Monarchs of Ferdinand and Isabella.
It was these two monarchs who launched the Spanish Reconquista to take back all of Spain from the muslim Moors and then later on the Spanish inquisition to weed all non-Catholic influences from the kingdom (when Jews fled to places such as Amsterdam and Vilnius).
The rise of Ferdinand and Isabella marked the gradual decline of Barcelona in favour of Madrid, Madrid rose in political power and the Spanish colonial enteprise reduced Barcelona’s importance as a trading port, however that decline seems to have been the start of centuries of conflict between Madrid and Barcelona, or Castille versus Catalonia; a battle that has raged on and off ever since. With numerous conflicts and civil wars in the kingdom led by conflicts between groups in both countries – the Reapers War in the 17th century, War of Spanish Succession in the 18th cenutry, the Peninsula War in the 19th century and the Spanish Civil War in the 20th century. This battle has continued in a less violent and deadly form on the football field between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, El Clasico.
Because of this history, Catalan culture and cuisine has taken on its own unique style and form. Catalonia is blessed with an abundance of raw ingredients from vegetables to meats to seafood and so has culinary delights of diverse protein and fibre sources, it’s cuisine is characterised by foods which mix sweet and savoury flavours such as botifarra (pork sausages) with a picada sauce (nut and herb based) and is represented by dishes as far ranging as cod salad (Esqueixada) and bread with tomato (Pa amb tomàquet) to Crema Catalana and Turron.
Pa amb tomàquet
It also counts a list of global culinary genius such as Ferran Arria (El Bulli) and the late Santi Santamaria (Can Fabes) as local boys who run some of the best restaurants in the world.
It’s not just culinary talents and footballing greats that call this place home, artistic genius such as Antoni Gaudi and Lluís Domènech i Montaner who pioneered Catalan Modernism architecutral movements have their buildings that dot and beautify the city, many of which have been declared UNESCO world heritage sites today.
The city is not just a place for tourists to admire, definitely not. In fact, overtourism is a problem that Barcelona has been coping with for a while, where the way of life for the regular people have been replaced with shops meant to make the tourism dollar – cafes, souvenir shops etc resulting in a huge negative in the way of life for the people of Barcelona.
Not everyone dislikes tourists though, one selectgroup of people have made a thriving career out of tourists – pickpockets. Partly as a result of overtourism, Barcelona also faces another large problem, petty crimes and pickpockets. In 2009 there were some 6000 thefts a day committed on tourists. This problem is made worse by the fact that pickpocketing of up to 400 Euros in Spain is not considered a crime but a misdemeanor, meaning that these pickpockets are out on the street with a small fine after the get caught. Not fun, not fun at all.
Despite the downsides, Barcelona is a great place with much to offer for almost everyone – it is in a way, all things to all people and that is a city worth uncovering especially after peeling away the flashy bits of overtourism.
Come along with me for the next month and a half as we try to uncover as much of what makes this city tick!