Barcelona is the vivacious chief city of Catalonia founded in the Middle Ages by the Carthaginian warrior Hamilcar Barca. Originally a prominent and busy centre for trading and banking, after the discovery of America, it became one of the leading industrial cities in Europe. Different districts reflect the particular and distinct spirits of the city.
The Old City (Ciutat Vella in Catalan) is one of the best preserved historical centres in the world, still bearing intact its charming mediaeval appearance. The Gothic District is the oldest part and contains some of the city's most important historical buildings:
- The Royal Palace (Palau Reial Major) - seat of powerful Counts of Barcelona from the 13th century onwards. The 14th century Salo del Tinell is a vast Gothic Hall where the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, welcomed Christopher Columbus on return from his first successful voyage to the West Indies, and where the Inquisition held court at a later date.
- The Palau de la Generalitat, where the Catalonia parliament meets. Austere Gothic interiors and a Renaissance facade.
- The Casa de la Ciutat - a 14th century municipal building where the Council (the government assembly) held its sessions.
- The Cathedral - with elaborate Gothic spires, built over a Roman temple and 4th century Christian basilica destroyed by the Moors in 985. The cathedral was rebuilt in Romanesque style in the 11th century and again in 1298. Whilst of Gothic appearance, it still preserves certain Romanesque elements.
- The Casa de l'Ardiaca opposite the Cathedral - the Archdeacon's residence erected in the 12th century next to the ancient Roman walls and the Bishop's Gate.
- The Museu d'Historia de la Ciutat - housed in a 14th century Gothic style building that was dismantled, removed and rebuilt on its present site in 1931. A special institution that documents the historical-architectural development of Barcelona from Roman times.
Just south-west of the Gothic District, but still within the Old City, the atmosphere changes at the 2 kilometre long pedestrian street, the Ramblas - an elegant tree-lined avenue milling with people at all hours of the day and night. This area is full of kiosks, stalls, flower-vendors, picturesque cafes, street artists, musicians and jugglers. Sightseeing around the Ramblas:
- The Reial Academia de Ciencias i Arts now transformed into a theatre.
- The 18th century Palau Moja.
- The Palau de la Virreina that owes its name to, in 1777, accommodating the wife of the Spanish Viceroy in Peru who had it built and embellished with fine statues.
- The Boqueria - an enourmous iron structure that houses a lively food market.
- The Placa de la Boqueria with its brightly coloured mosaic paving made by Miro in 1976.
- The Gran Teatre del Liceu - the 19th century Barcelona Opera House.
- The Museu de Cera - a curious 19th century institution where hundreds of valuable pieces are displayed.
- The Placa Reial, erected in mid 19th century, has a fine arcade, palm trees and lamps designed by Gaudi.
- The Placa del Portal de la Pau, close to the old port where the Ramblas end. A monument to Christopher Columbus stands here, designed by Gaieta Buigas in 1888 for the Universal Exhibition.
The port area, once the site of famous and busy shipyards, has wharves, piers and wet docks continuing the centuries-old maritime tradition of the city. Many of the ancient buildings were renovated for different usage, and new buildings constructed. In this area is the Maremagnum shopping mall and cultural centre containing a large aquarium, a library specialising in general and marine science, a video library, numerous conference halls, bars, restaurants and shops. The old fishermen's village, Barceloneta has a charming atmosphere. Sightseeing around the port area:
- The Picasso Museum, was opened in 1963, and occupies three buildings of mediaeval construction. Approximately 3,000 works are on view. The first pieces were donated by Jaime Sabartes, a friend and admirer, then by Picasso himself and later by the museum.
- The Museu Maritim on the site of the, now dry, old covered docks (Drassanes). The museum house an invaluable collection of documents, maps, and navigation laws.
- The Palau de Mar - houses the Museu d'Historia de Catalunya, a museum illustrating the history of the region from its origins to the present day by means of interactive techniques.
Another part of Barcelona's Old City is for those who might be looking for a peaceful place to rest awhile. Reached through the Placa de l'Arc de Triomf - a monumental gate that was used as the entrance to the Universal Exhibition in 1888 - is the Parc de la Ciutadela, site of the exhibition. Here there are sculptures, fountains, waterfalls and woods and monuments:
- The Citadel - built between 1715 and 1720, this is a series of buildings which have been used as a prison, an arsenal and to house the Catalan parliament.
- Museu d'Art Modern de Catalunya - one of the principal museums in the city which houses works by 18th-20th century Catalan artists and those connected to the region.
- The Museu de Geologia -opened in 1882 it is the oldest museum in the city.
- The Museu de Zoologia housed in the picturesque Castell dels Tres Dragons, next to a zoo.
Barcelona is distinct in the unusually high concentration of buildings and monuments in the Art Noveau style. The Modernism dates back to a decision in 1854 to dismantle the city's mediaeval walls to make space for urban expansion. This produced the Eixample district of Barcelona, originally designed by Ildefons Cerda i Sunyer, a civil engineer, who is responsible for the geometrical layout of the streets. This was further embellished between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century by enthusiastic architects:
- The Hospital de la Santa Creu i de Sant Pau - designed by Lluis Domenech i Montaner and started in 1902. According to he architect's convictions that bright colours and great quanitities of plants would have a beneficial influence on patients, the walls and roofs were painted in vivid hues, with murals, ceramic decorations and surrounded by gardens.
- The Palau de la Musica Catalana, in the Ciutat Vella not far from the Eixample, by the same architect as above.
- The Quadrat d'Or is a district full of spectacular, delightful buildings including:
- The Fundacio Tapies (1879), containing works by the surrealist artist.
- The Casa Lleo Morera (1902-1906)
- The Casa Terrades (1905), also known as the Casa de les Punxes because of the many spires that crown it.
- The Palau Baro (1904) which houses the Museu de la Musica.
The entire Exiample is full of elaborate decoration, with every corner transmitting the ardour of the artists, who were morally and financially sponsored by wealthy citizens.