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Barcelona is the capital city of Catalonia and the richest and prosperous city of Spain. It is located along the Mediterranean coast between the mouths of the rivers Llobregat and Besòs. It is 160 km (100 mi) south of the Pyrenees mountain range and of France. The population of the city proper is 1,593,075 (est. 2005), while the population of the metropolitan area is 4,686,701 (est. 2005). Population of the province of Barcelona is 5,226,354 (est. 2005), although this only covers 7,733 km2 (3,000 mi2) around the city.
Barcelona is definitely a surprising city. Elegant, refined, full of life, and with its own special charm and fascinating areas: the Barrio Gótico with its majestic cathedral, the Ramblas where you can buy flower, birds, books and see tourists from all five continents, the unforgettable architecture of Gaudi (Güell Park, Sagrada Familia, La Pedrera…), and amusement parks for children and adults (Montjuic, Tibidabo...), etc. The weather is typically Mediterranean, with hot summers and mild winters and an average annual temperature of 16º C. From the narrow streets of the Old Town ("Ciudad Vieja"), the wide avenues of the newer areas and the Villa Olímpica (with its new harbour), to the shops and the hospitality of the people, Barcelona always makes a lasting impression on its visitors. It has been said that Barcelona combines "the best of the north with the best of the south". The city is acting as the capital of a new natural area of Europe. Modernised for the OLYMPIC GAMES in 1992, Barcelona is one of the most interesting and welcoming cities in Europe, a popular tourist destination and the capital of south Europe.
Barcelona is a city with charming streets, busy with people and full of life. There is nowhere better to make Barcelona's acquaintance than La Rambla, the bustling avenue, famous for the vivid colours of its flower stalls. Barcelona is the city of marvels. The old town, comprising the Gothic Quarter, the Ribera and Raval districts, and famed for its historical monuments, narrow streets and bohemian atmosphere, is a perfect place for a stroll. A wander through the maze of streets is essential in order to understand the different periods in the history of Barcelona and to admire its finest monuments: traces of the Roman wall glimpsed between well-preserved Gothic buildings, the remains of the Jewish Quarter, witnesses to the industrial expansion of the 19th century and the design of the 20th. Musicians in the medieval streets provide the ideal accompaniment.
The city also has the biggest selection of modernist architecture: a genuine open-air museum. Most of the buildings, built in this unique style, are in the Eixample, a district planned in 1860 by the engineer Ildefons Cerdà which constitutes a unique model of European urban planning. The Sagrada Família, the Casa Batlló, the Casa Amatller and the Casa Milà are some examples of this.
Barcelona is the only European capital with over four kilometres of beaches where you can enjoy the most modern amenities, the beaches are not far form Barcelona's historical and cultural landmarks, and they have opened up our modern and cosmopolitan city to the sea.
Today, the Olympic Harbour and the old port, the Port Vell, are some of the main meeting places, with many bars, restaurants, shops and recreational areas. Barcelona is, without a doubt, a city of marvels: on foot, by bicycle or bus, it is a magnificent spectacle which you should not miss.
Legend attributes the Carthaginian foundation of Barcino to Hamilcar Barca, father of Hannibal. About 15 BC, Romans redrew the town as a castrum (a Roman military camp) centred on the "Mons Taber", a little hill nearby the contemporary city hall (Plaça de Sant Jaume). The Roman Colonia Julia Augusta Faventia Paterna Barcino was outshone by the province's capital Tarragona but some important Roman remains are exposed under the Plaça del Rei, entrance by the city museum, Museu d'Història de la Ciutat and the typically Roman grid-planning is still visible today on the map of the historical centre, the Barri Gótic ("Gothic Quarter"). Some remaining fragments of the Roman walls have been incorporated in the cathedral butted up against them; the basilica La Seu is credited to have been founded in 343. The city was conquered by the Visigoths in the early 5th century, by the Moors in the early 8th century, reconquered from the emir in 801 by Charlemagne's son Louis who made Barcelona the seat of Carolingian "Spanish Marches" (Marca Hispanica), a buffer zone ruled by the Count of Barcelona. Barcelona was still a Christian frontier territory when it was sacked by Al-Mansur in 985.
The counts of Barcelona became increasingly independent and expanded their territory to include all of Catalonia, later formed the Crown of Aragon who conquered many overseas possessions, ruling the western Mediterranean Sea with outlying territories as far as Athens in the 13th century. The forging of a dynastic link between the Crown of Aragon and Castile marked the beginning of Barcelona's decline.
The city is home to the University of Barcelona, founded in 1450.
The city was devastated after the Catalonian Republic of 1640 - 1652, and again during the War of the Spanish Succession in 1714. King Philip V of Spain demolished half of the merchants' quarter (La Ribera) to build a military citadel, as a way of both punishing and controlling the rebel city. Official use of Catalan language was forbidden, and the University withdrew.
Barcelona and the province of Catalonia were annexed by the French Empire of Napoleon after he invaded Spain and put his brother Joseph on the Spanish throne. It was returned to Spain after Napoleon's downfall.
During the 19th century, Barcelona grew with the industrial revolution and the introduction of many new industries. During a period of weaker control by the Madrid authorities, the medieval walls were torn down and the citadel of La Ribera was converted into an urban park: the modern Parc de la Ciutadella, site of the 1888 "Universal Exposition" (World's Fair). The exposition also left behind the Arc de Triomf and the Museu de Zoologia (a building originally used during the fair as a cafe-restaurant). The fields that had surrounded the artificially constricted city became the Eixample ("extension"), a bustling modern city surrounding the old.
The beginning of the 20th century marked Barcelona's resurgence, while Catalan nationalists clamoured for political autonomy and greater freedom of cultural expression.
Barcelona was a stronghold for the anarchist cause -anarchist opposition to the call-up of reservists led to the city's Tragic Week in 1909- siding with the Republic's democratically elected government during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). It was overrun by Francisco Franco's forces in 1939, which ushered in a reign of cultural and political repression that lasted decades.
The protest movement of the 1970s and the demise of the dictatorship turned Barcelona into a centre of cultural vitality, enabling it to become the thriving city it is today. While it may still be the second city of Spain, it has a charm and air that is unique and prized. A decline in the inner city population and displacement towards the outskirts and beyond raises the threat of urban sprawl.
The city has been the focus of the revival of the Catalan language. Despite massive immigration of Castilian speakers from other parts of Spain in the second half of the 20th century, there has been notable success in the increased use of Catalan in everyday life.
Barcelona was the site of the 1992 Summer Olympics. The largest event held in the city since the '92 Summer Olympics was the 2004 Universal Forum of Cultures that was held between May and September, lasting a marathon 141 days.