Barcelona

Short history

The history of Barcelona begins with its Roman origins when it was known as Barcino. In the medieval period, it served as the capital of the County of Barcelona, and became a maritime power. Later, its role in the slave trade and the movement for Catalan separatism marked its historical narrative. The 18th century saw the construction of the fortress at Montjuïc. Urban planning efforts in the Eixample district in the 19th century laid the groundwork for the modern city. 

During the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939), Barcelona played a central role as a stronghold of Republican resistance, which left the city both politically and physically scarred. The aerial bombings by Francoist forces brought untold destruction, marking a dark period in the city’s history. In the aftermath of the Civil War, during Franco’s dictatorship, Barcelona’s Catalan culture and language were suppressed. 

Following the return to democracy in the late 20th century, Barcelona experienced a renaissance, rejuvenating its cultural and architectural heritage. A pinnacle moment in this revival was Barcelona’s hosting of the Summer Olympics in 1992.

Geography

Barcelona is positioned along the northeastern coast of the Iberian Peninsula, within the autonomous community of Catalonia, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The city’s relief and climate is influenced by the Collserola mountain range to the west, providing a natural boundary. This juxtaposition of sea and mountains gives Barcelona a unique microclimate, where the Mediterranean climate predominates, with mild, wet winters and warm, dry summers.

The urban layout of Barcelona is one of the best examples of innovative urban planning, notably with the expansion project of the Eixample district, masterminded by civil engineer Ildefons Cerdà in the late 19th century. His vision was revolutionary, focusing on grid patterns that prioritized both functionality and aesthetics, integrating green spaces, broad avenues, and a systematic arrangement that has since influenced modern urbanism globally. 

Population

Barcelona is Spain’s second largest city. It has a population of approximately 1.6 million residents within its city limits, and extends to about 4.8 million people in its broader urban area. 

The city is predominantly Catalan—with the majority of the population identifying with this ethnic group—and Spanish, which makes it a blend of local and national identities. Barcelona is a linguistic mosaic where Catalan and Spanish are widely spoken, symbolizing the city’s dual cultural heritage.

In terms of religious affiliation, the population primarily adheres to Christianity, with Roman Catholicism being the predominant faith. However, due to its cosmopolitan nature, Barcelona also hosts communities practicing Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism, among other religions.

Main sights

  • Sagrada Familia: An iconic symbol of Barcelona, this unfinished basilica by Antoni Gaudí mesmerizes with its beautiful facades and towering spires. It’s a masterpiece of Modernist architecture, promising a unique visual experience.
  • Park Güell: Another of Gaudí’s creations, this public park is filled with colorful mosaics, whimsical sculptures, and striking structures. 
  • Gothic Quarter (Barri Gòtic): The heart of old Barcelona, this area is known for its narrow medieval streets filled with historic buildings, hidden plazas, and Gothic churches including the Barcelona Cathedral.
  • La Rambla: A tree-lined boulevard stretching from Plaça de Catalunya to the Christopher Columbus Monument at Port Vell, famous for its street performers, outdoor markets, and vibrant atmosphere.
  • Camp Nou: Home to FC Barcelona, this stadium is a pilgrimage site for football fans. Guided tours are an opportunity to experience the passion of one of the world’s most celebrated football clubs.
  • Montjuïc: A scenic hill overlooking the harbor, known for its beautiful gardens, Olympic facilities, Montjuïc Castle, and the Magic Fountain, which offers spectacular light and music shows.
  • Picasso Museum: Housing one of the most extensive collections of artworks by Pablo Picasso, the museum presents more than 4,000 works by the artist.

Food

  • Pa amb tomàquet (Bread with Tomato): A simple yet profound staple of Catalan cuisine, this dish consists of rustic bread rubbed with ripe tomatoes, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, and sprinkled with salt. It’s often served as a starter or accompanying a meal.
  • Escudella i Carn d’Olla: Known as Catalonia’s ultimate comfort food, this stew combines a variety of meats, including beef, pork, chicken, and sometimes butifarra (a type of Catalan sausage), with vegetables, legumes, and rice or pasta.
  • Calçots with Romesco Sauce: Calçots are a type of green onion or scallion that are grilled over an open flame and eaten with a delectable nut and red pepper-based Romesco sauce. This dish is traditionally enjoyed at calçotadas, or gatherings, from January to April.
  • Fideuà: Similar to paella but made with short noodles instead of rice, fideuà is often cooked with a mix of seafood such as cuttlefish, prawns, and squid, and is flavored with saffron and garlic.
  • Crema Catalana: For dessert, Crema Catalana, the Catalan version of crème brûlée, is a must. This custard dessert is topped with a layer of hard caramel, typically flavored with lemon zest and cinnamon, providing a sweet end to any meal.

Fun facts

  • Home of a World Heritage Site: Barcelona has nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites, most of which are the masterpieces of Antoni Gaudí including the famous Sagrada Familia, Park Güell, and Casa Batlló.
  • Unique Street Layout: The city’s Eixample district is known for its unique grid pattern. This innovative urban planning was implemented in the late 19th century by Ildefons Cerdà and is accredited with promoting better air quality and transportation throughout the city.
  • A Beach Addition: Contrary to popular belief, Barcelona’s beaches are not centuries old but were actually constructed for the 1992 Olympics, transforming the city’s coastline into one of its most beloved features.
  • An Expat Haven: Barcelona ranks as one of the top cities in the world for expatriates. Its culture, climate, and tech scene make it an attractive place for internationals to settle.
  • A Gastronomic Pioneer: El Bulli, once located near Barcelona, was repeatedly named the best restaurant in the world. The city continues to be at the forefront of gastronomic innovation, blending traditional Catalan cuisine with modern culinary techniques.