Saturday, May 17, 2008

Barcelona - City Information

Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain in both size and population with a privileged position on the northeastern coast of the Iberian Peninsula and the shores of the Mediterranean. Barcelona is also the capital of Catalonia, 1 of the 17 Autonomous Communities that make up Spain. The city is indisputably a Mediterranean city, not only because of its geographic location but also and above all because of its history, tradition and cultural influences. Barcelona gained international recognition in 1992 by hosting the Olympic Games which brought a massive boost to the tourism industry in the city. This impacted the city in ways that are still felt today with neighborhoods renovated and the deep focus of modern design permeating all aspects of life in Barcelona from community buildings to something as simple as a bus stop or a park bench.

There are various theories for the origin of name Barcelona; it was thought to come from the ancient Phoeneican Barkeno, attested in ancient Greek sources in a coin inscription in Iberian script. The city was variously known as Barchinona, Barçalona, Barchelona, and Barchenona in the middle ages.According to some sources, the city has been named after the Carthaginian general Hamilcar Barca, who was supposed to have founded the city in the 3rd century BC.

History

The beginning of Barcelona is the subject to debate and there are 2 different legends. The mythological Hercules was said to be the founder of Barcelona 400 years before the building of Rome, according to first theory. The second legend attributes the beginning of the city directly to the historical Carthginia Hamilcar Barca, who named the city Barcino after his family, in the 3rd century BC. The Romans arrived on the 1st century B.C. and chose Tarraco (current Tarragona) as their first capital and changed their capital since the 3rd century A.D. Barcino (Barcelona). Left overs from this period can still be found in Barcelona particularly in the Gothic quarter and Plaza del Rei.

The Visigoths occupied the city After the Romans and changed its name to Barcinona in the 5th century A.D. Barcinona was occupied by the Moors during the 8th century remaining under their control for another 100 years until the Franks conquered the city again. The Spanish Re-conquest began in this zone, which became known as La Marca Hispánica (the Spanish Marches). The region was divided into Counties in this period and the most important of which was the County of Barcelona. Wilfred the Hairy, The Count of Barcelona gave origin to the Catalan nation establishing a hereditary system of succession. Count Borrell II achieved freedom from the Carolingian empire in the year 988 for the Barcelona County; later on, the County expanded forming the region which would be later known as Catalonia.

Barcelona was banned from trading with the American colonies, after the union of the kingdoms of Aragon and Castile. During the following years, conflicts raised between Barcelona and Madrid. During the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, The city began to gain importance again and it was the seat to the World's Fair in 1888. Demanding more political freedom and boosting its cultural identity, Catalonia returned to its nationalist pretensions in the 20th century. However, political repressions during the dictatorship of Franco hampered the independence of Catalonia. Catalonia recovered its political authority after the government of Franco and the city of Barcelona became one of the most important and attractive in Spain.

When to visit

August is perhaps the busiest time in Barcelona; however most of shops and restaurants can be found closed from mid-August to early September, as a vast majority of Spaniards go on vacations. Visitors can find cheap accommodation and a much quieter city as locals go on vacation in August. Business is low and hotels that remain open will not have their business customers so they tend to lower prices and make offers. Barcelona has fairly enough beaches and there will still be plenty of tourists. Barcelona is a lovely city in off-season and in winter months of January and February as long as the possibility of rain is low. Though the humidity in summer can be debilitating, 19-23°C is considered comfortable weather, which is normally the temperature in June and in late September-November. This is the best time to visit the city.

How to go to Barcelona?

Barcelona International Airport is also known as El Prat, is a major transport hub and hosts flights from all over Europe and beyond. The airport is only about 10 km away from the city center with two terminals, T1 and T2, the latter with A, B, and C subdivisions. T1, the newest terminal hosts Spanair and various major international airlines. Sectors A, B and C of T2 are all within fairly easy walking distance of each other. T2 C is smallest and used for all domestic flights. Several trains per day (including overnight hotel trains) reach Barcelona from other parts of Europe are regular & reliable. Main railway stations in Barcelona are Barcelona-Sants (to the south west of the center) and Barcelona-Estació de França, Avinguda Marquès de l´Argentera (on the edge of the old town). There are several connections per day to France connecting there on trains towards Nice and Marseille. Barcelona port is one of the busiest on the Mediterranean and hosts both ferries and cruise ships. Large cruise ships come in 1-2 kilometers to the southwest. Visitors can arrive to Barcelona by boat from the Balearic Islands, from Rome and Genoa in Italy.

Festivals and events
Barcelona hosts a number of annual festivals and events, many of which are unique to Catalonia which offers an insight into its characteristic culture.
  • Festival de Sonar (mid-June): An annual three-day music festival which consists of technology fairs during the day and music events by night. Hugely popular so book. The festival runs for three days and nights, usually starting on a Thursday in the third week of June.
  • Dia de Sant Jordi (23rd April): This is a wonderful day to be in Barcelona celebrated in remembrance of St George who is the patron saint of Barcelona and the Ramblas becomes a huge flower market. Men give women a rose reminiscent of St Valentines Day and women give men a book in tribute to Cervantes and Shakespeare.
  • Festes de la Mercè. This is Barcelona's main annual festival with several events taking place from 22nd September including competitions to see which group of 'castellers' can form the highest human towers. There are also processions of wooden giants, live music events and firework displays as well as lots of live music events, unbelievable firework displays and heavy consumption of Cava, the national drink of Catalonia.
  • Festes de Gràcia. The Festes de Gracia is a Catalonian week long festival in the streets of the Gracia neighbourhood where a full scale party takes place with lots of live music, fireworks and heavy drinking. The festival is held around the 15th of August each year to commemorate the Assumption. The city of Gracia explodes with fun, excitement, fireworks, live music, food in the street, and the parties continue all night.
  • Festes de Sants: this festival is Similar to Gracia's event, but smaller and held in in August. If you can't go to the Gracia's, try going to this festival instead.
  • Corpus. (Corpus Christi day): carpets of flowers, processions and a 'dancing egg' (An egg is put over the fountains and "magically dances" over the water). Cathedral's cloister, Santa Anna, Casa de l'Ardiaca, Museu Frederic Marés are the main places where the festival can be enjoyed.
  • Fira de Santa Llúcia: to commemorate Sta Llúcia (December 13th), the festival is celebrated from December 2nd to December 23rd. December 13th is the feast day of Santa Llucia, patron saint of fashion designers and blind people. the Christmas objects are sold in front of the Cathedral and Some places sell Christmas trees, but most of them sell elements for making the pessebres, the representations of the birth of Jesus that people uses to put at home.
  • Revetlla de Sant Joan. This midsummer solstice celebration is signified by the fireworks (note that there are frequent and loud amateur fireworks all night long) It is celebrated on 23rd June every year.

Public Holidays in Barcelona (2009)

There are also local and national holidays which might take place during your visit apart from the festivals listed above. During such holidays, the effect on opening times of tourist attractions will vary so it's best to check the official websites. The main shops and banks will close on public holidays however many tourist businesses, bars and restaurants are unaffected.
  • 1st January - Año Nuevo / New Year's Day
  • 5th January - Epifanía / Epiphany
  • 19th March - Dia de San José / St. Joseph's Day
  • Late March or early April - Jueves Santo / Maundy Thursday
  • Late March or early April - Viernes Santo / Good Friday
  • 1st May - Fiesta del Trabajo / Labour Day
  • 15th August - La Asunción / Feast of the Assumption
  • 12th October - Nacional de España / National Day
  • 1st November - Todos los Santos / All Saints' Day
  • 6th December - Dia de la Constitución / Constitution Day
  • 8th December - La Inmaculada Concepción / Feast of the Immaculate Conception
  • 25th December - Navidad / Christmas Day

Things to do in Barcelona

  • Wander along the famous streets:
  • La Rambla, a gorgeous tree-lined pedestrian walkway, the busiest and most lively street of the city. Often called Las Ramblas, because it is in fact a series of several different streets each called 'Rambla de ____', the sections also have distinct feels.
  • El Portal de l'Àngel. Large pedestrian pathway with many new and trendy shops to browse in.
  • La Plaça Catalunya. This connects all the major streets in the city and is also known for its fountains and statues. This is the central and a favourite meeting spot for locals.
  • Cruise miles of beachfront boardwalk or Sit on a wooden bridge to Maremagnum and cool your toes at the waters edge. Stroll across the sand on the beach every Sunday night throughout the summer for live music, drinks and swimming.
  • Stroll along the Barri Gotic, mostly intact medieval center of the city.
  • Enjoy the Sangria at La Plaça Reial, near the La Rambla Street. Check out a Flamenco show at Los Torantos bar for just 7 euro. Admission is €7 (2009 prices) for a 30 minute show of flameno song and dance. Visit a Flamenco Show in Tablao de Carmen which is situated in Poble Espanyol and offers a spectacular flamenco evening. The entrance fee (€31)
  • If your accommodation is on Rambla, Walk in Born, a very popular area with great restaurants and places to have a few drinks.
  • Ride the Cable Way to get from the sea front to Montjuïc Mountain. One-way ticket is €7.50 Explore Montjuïc and its green surroundings.
  • Join a Bike tour or Rent a bike and get to see the highlights of the city in a different way. Sail 3 hours to see Barcelona from the sea. Together with professional skippers with proven experience, visitors can practice costal sailing in all its aspects.
  • Parc del Laberint d'Horta. The park is quiet place to relax for several hours away from the busy city. The park also has a nice waterfall, a dreamy canal and gardens. Enjoy the labyrinth in the center of this park.

Shopping in Barcelona

Barcelona is without doubt one of the world's most fashionable cities in all aspects and there are a large number of antique shops, fashion boutiques and shopping malls in the city. Barcelona shopping tends to offer excellent value for money due to the general low cost of living in Spain. When you want to go shopping in Barcelona you have to keep in mind that most shops are not open during lunchtime/siesta. Most shops in Barcelona open Monday to Saturday and close between 13:30 to 16:30, staying open until 20:00, or even later. On Sundays, most shops don't open their doors.

The best Barcelona shopping areas are in and around the old streets off the upper part of the Ramblas and the area around the Placa fr Catalunya, Passeig de Gracia, the Rambla de Catalunya, Avingunda Diagonal and around Turó Park. Santa Eulalia, Jofré, Comella and Bua are well-known luxury boutiques. The best boutiques can be found on the Paseo del Borne and calle Rec.

Nightlife in Barcelona

Considering it's only Spain's second biggest city, Barcelona may lack the diversity of the London or the experimental Berlin nightlife, however it certainly packs a helluva party punch and visitors can find more than enough going on after the sun goes down. There isn't one area to sample Barcelona's nightlife but rather a whole host of happening neighborhoods to check out. Las Ramblas is a natural starting point for newcomers with the street performers are still playing their trade in evening and the pavements throng with locals and tourists heading out for drinks and dinner. It has plenty of bars and restaurants like the Boadas cocktail bar, the Kiosk La Cazalla, and Boulevard Club to name a few.

For the more genuine local venues visitors have to negotiate the labyrinthine alleys of the Gothic quarter. Plaza real is a great place to familiarize in this neck of the woods, with famous clubs like Jamboree, Tarantos and Sidecar perennial faves. For a slightly more stylish slice of Barcelona's nightlife, try the equally appealing, but slightly less touristy, El Born. There are stylishly-attired nightowls crowding into cafes and bars. A similarly alternative vibe prevails in Gracia and there are many fine bars, or else just visitos can hang out on the many squares with a tinnie. For a more upmarket experience, hail a cab for the Port Olimpic with your best glad rags.

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