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Barcelona: A Modern City Living Its History Everyday

Barcelona! Wow, where to start? It’s a city that lives its history every day yet offers a modern lifestyle. I have been to Barcelona many times and can honestly say that I haven’t even begun to see all that it has to offer!

My writing includes my personal travel experiences, destination, history, and cultural information.

Barcelona, Spain

Logan Armstrong via Unsplash

A Bit About Barcelona

Barcelona! Wow, where to start? It’s a city that lives its history every day yet offers a modern lifestyle. In recent decades, it’s become a hotspot for tourists. I have been to Barcelona many times and can honestly say that I haven’t even begun to see all that it has to offer!

Here’s a bit about the history of the city and how its unique past influences the life of citizens today.

What’s in a Name?

It wouldn’t be like me to not include the historical origin of the name “Barcelona”. Records indicate that the original name of “Baŕkeno” is of Iberian origin and is found on an ancient coin. Another story claims the city was founded in the 3rd century BC by a Carthaginian general named Hamilcar Barca. Though in all honesty, historians have found no evidence of a Carthaginian settlement. But, historians do know that by the middle ages, the city was known by various names. The spellings varied from Barchinona, Barçalona, Barchelonaa, and Barchenona.

I guess what I’m saying is that at this time, or at least for this location, there really is no definitive answer on the origin of the name! Both theories have some basis, but neither is conclusive.

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Barcelona Throughout History

Some say Hamilcar Barca founded Barcelona in the 3rd century BC. Others say there’s evidence of the city as early as 5000 BC, founded by the mythological God, Hercules. There seem to be lots going on with how and why Barcelona came about!

Barcelona’s been influenced by many different cultures. First, the Romans in 15 BC. In Medieval times, by the 8th century, the region was conquered by the Arabs. By 1137, a marriage union once again changed the ruling of the land. Because of its location on the sea, Barcelona became known as a hub for slave trading. This period of slave trade lasted until sometime during the 15th century.

Marriage once again played a role in the ruling of the area when in 1469, Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile wed. At this point, the area came under Spanish rule.

During the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, the city saw a mass exodus of citizens. The area fell under the ruling of anarchists who opposed the Republican government. In 1939, Francisco Franco’s coup d’etat demolished the Catalonian Republican government.

Franco died in 1975. Since his death, many people are calling for the return of the Catalonian government. To this day, there are certain groups who want the reinstatement of Catalonia in Barcelona. I have personally witnessed the riots and demonstrations of these groups. This is one of those situations where the Barcelonians live their history in today’s life.

Spain joined the European Union in 1986. In 1992, it hosted the Summer Olympics. These two events have played a major role in the modernization of Barcelona. As a result, Barcelona has become a huge destination for tourists. The city also appears on many cruise ship itineraries.

Barcelona Today

In 1987, shortly after joining the EU, Barcelona was divided into 10 districts for administrative purposes. These districts were based on historical significance in the neighborhoods. As you wander through the different districts, the style of architecture and the feel of each district maintains that historical significance. This is yet another example of history influencing the everyday life of the people there.

Ciutat Vella
Les Corts
Sarrià-Sant Gervasi
Nou Barris
Sant Andreu
Sant Martí

Since the late 80s, Barcelona has become a leader in tourism, manufacturing, and fashion. Most residents live outside the “city limits” for no reason other than cost.

Antoni Gaudí

Antonio Gaudi has played a huge role in Barcelona’s history and design features. Much of the tourism today is centered around his legacy.

His architecture and design include the elements of ceramics, stained glass, wrought iron forging, and carpentry. Gaudi’s designs include thoughts on religion, nature, and architecture. Personally, I find his work amazing! Around the city, you can view his works:

Sagrada Familia**
Park Guell**
Casa Batllo**
Dragon Gate**
Church of Colònia Güell: Gaudi’s Crypt**
Gaudi House Museum at Park Guell
Casa Mila**
Casa Calvet
Palau Güell**

Gaudi has left such an impression that seven of the above works have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites. I have those designated with the **, above.

My Many Adventures in Barcelona

The first time I visited Barcelona was in 2010. It was a pre-cruise destination, and honestly, I was so jet-lagged when I arrived that I was up all night long! So, I did what any adventurous soul would do—I wandered the city until about 3 a.m. I have to tell you, the city has a whole different personality after-hours! Don’t get me wrong; I mean this in a good way. I found it amazing to see a large number of people out and about at that hour. Everything was calm, people were sitting on benches on Las Ramblas chatting while others were walking hand in hand. It was nice, it was serene, and it was safe!

My next trips were spread out through 2022. Every time I visit Barcelona, I wander over to Sagrada Familia to see the progress (I’ll explain later in the article).

What is the Best Way to Take in the Must-See Attractions?

For first-time visitors, no matter where their destination, I always suggest the Hop-On, and Hop-Off buses. The routes include the best of the best places and include commentary in multiple languages, which is always very interesting. Many destinations offer multiple routes, depending on where your interests lie. And, in many destinations, you can purchase multiple-day tickets. This way, you aren’t forced to try and jam everything into one day.

For Example:

First Line: Estació de Sants- Creu Coberta- Plaça d’Espanya – CaixaForum Barcelona – Poble Espanyol – MNAC – Anella Olímpica – Fundació Joan Miró – Telefèric de Montjuïc – Miramar – World Trade Center – Colom/Museu Marítim – Port Vell – Museu d’Història de Catalunya – Port Olímpic – Platja de Bogatell/Cementiri del Poblenou – Parc de la Ciutadella/Zoo – Pla de Palau – Barri Gòtic – Plaça de Catalunya – Casa Batlló/Fundació Antoni Tàpies – Passeig de Gràcia/La Pedrera – Francesc Macià/Diagonal.
Second Line: Monestir de Pedralbes – Palau Reial/Pavellons Güell- Futbol Club Barcelona – Francesc Macià/Diagonal – Eixample – MACBA/CCCB – Plaça de Catalunya – Casa Batlló/Fundació Tàpies – Passeig de Gràcia/La Pedrera – Sagrada Família – Gràcia – Park Güell – Tramvia Blau/Tibidabo – Sarrià
Third Line: Fòrum – Port Olímpic – Platja de Bogatell/Cementiri del Poblenou – Poblenou – Parc Diagonal Mar.

Pro Travel Tip

I would suggest the Second Line (also called the blue line). In my opinion, if your time in Barcelona is limited, this should be your choice.

Sagrada Familia

Antoni Gaudi was not the original architect of the Sagrada Famalia. Construction began on March 18, 1882, overseen by the architect Francisco de Paula del Villar. Del Villar resigned in 1883. As a result of his resignation, Gaudi took over the project and dramatically changed the original plans.

Gaudi devoted the rest of his life to this project. His remains are in a crypt within the basilica. At the time of his death, the project was only 15 to 25 percent complete. The project’s completion date has been changed several times for many reasons. As a result of the pandemic, the new estimated completion is sometime in 2026, coincidentally, the centennial of Gaudi’s death. The pandemic is actually the only time construction ceased and the building was shuttered.

On November 7, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI consecrated the church, thereby making it a minor basilica. In 1984, the Sagrada Familia and the six other works of Gaudi were designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

What is Going On With the Basilica?

Approaching the Sagrada Familia, it’s impossible to take it all in! There are so many sculptures, details, and spires! Throughout time, prominent people have stated opinions about the structure’s “uniqueness”—some positive, some not so much. Every inch seems to have significance! On my first visit, I learned that every inch does have significance, which tells the story of the life of Jesus.

The following information is paraphrased from Wikipedia.

“Gaudí’s original design calls for a total of eighteen spires, representing in ascending order of height the Twelve Apostles, the Virgin Mary, the four Evangelists, and, tallest of all, Jesus Christ. Nine spires have been built as of 2021 . . .

Themes throughout the decoration include words from the liturgy. The steeples are decorated with words such as “Hosanna”, “Excelsis”, and “Sanctus”; the great doors of the Passion façade reproduce excerpts of the Passion of Jesus from the New Testament in various languages, mainly Catalan; and the Glory façade is to be decorated with the words from the Apostles’ Creed, while its main door reproduces the entire Lord’s Prayer in Catalan, surrounded by multiple variations of “Give us this day our daily bread” in other languages. The three entrances symbolize the three virtues: Faith, Hope, and Love. Each of them is also dedicated to a part of Christ’s life. The Nativity Façade is dedicated to his birth; it also has a cypress tree which symbolizes the tree of life. The Glory façade is dedicated to his glory period. The Passion façade is symbolic of his suffering. The apse steeple bears Latin text of Hail Mary. All in all, the Sagrada Família is symbolic of the lifetime of Christ.”

– Wikipedia, April 2022

Funding of the Sagrada Familia:

Amazing enough, the funding for this project does not come from the government and never has. Initially, the funding was solely from private donations. In today’s times, entry fees and private donations now finance the construction budget.

Sagrada Familia is a big deal in Barcelona! While visiting the city, missing Sagrada should not be an option. To me, it’s the main event! The structure is a prominent entity in the city. Its sheer history, statistics, and ongoing construction make this just another reason why the Barcelonians live their history every day.

Las Rambla, A Destination All To Itself

Yes, it’s cliche, but I love, love, love Las Rambla! Strolling down the wide, pedestrian-only walkway, you will find shops, vendors, restaurants, hotels, and yes, the proverbial red-light district (nighttime only). Several vendors offer up the most interesting seeds for flowers and vegetables. I always have to buy a few packets to take home. My last purchase was for cilantro, which was very hard to come by in Europe, and burning hot red peppers.

This boulevard is a lively place, with always something going on. People sitting drinking massive glasses of Sangria and eating plates full of tapas and paella. Lots of music. Great shopping. Yes, it is a bit touristy, but what are ‘ya gonna do!

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A Bit About Las Rambla

Considered the city center, the boulevard is actually made up of five streets that run in succession. It is about 1.2 kilometers long and runs from the waterfront to Plaça Catalunya, the central square of Barcelona. It is considered to be the dividing line between “Old Town” and a more modern Barcelona.

Interestingly enough, its original use was somewhat of a sewer system giving a path to the water running down from the mountains to the sea. It wasn’t until sometime in the 15th century that the area was turned into roads, making room for markets, transportation, and social gatherings. In fact, the present-day seed vendors and flower shops you find along the boulevard have their roots (pardon the pun) in those early markets. In the early days of the open markets, the stall owners would give a flower to each customer in appreciation of their purchase/s.

Las Rambla is actually Five Roads Running in Succession and Used to be A Sewer System!


A trip to Barcelona is not complete without a half-day or day trip to Montserrat. Having three main peaks—Sant Jeroni, Montgrós, and Miranda de les Agulles—Montserrat is a mountain range and was designated as a national park in 1987. The name Montserrat translated, means “serrated” and is named this because of the jagged peaks making up the mountain range.

The Serrated Mountain Peaks of Montserrat Looming over the Benedictine Abbey

Why Go To Montserrat?

Santa Maria de Montserrat, a Benedictine monastery, is in the sanctuary and houses one of the only Black Madonnas in Europe. It is said that the Black Virgin and the baby Jesus she is holding have healing powers. Many people view the trip as a religious pilgrimage for this reason. The Virgin is carved from wood and is believed to have been carved in Jeruselum. A legend states that the sculpture is so heavy that the Benedictine monks could not move it, so they built the abbey around it! To say the least, the abbey has a very important religious significance to the Catalonians, and most have completed an overnight retreat in Montserrat to meditate and watch the sunrise.

The views from the monastery are absolutely phenomenal! If you are outdoorsy and love to hike, Montserrat has plenty of opportunities to do just that. Mount Jeroni is the highest peak and is a very popular spot for hikers. The unobstructed views allow you to “see forever”!

Getting to Montserrat is relatively easy. Montserrat is a little over an hour out of Barcelona. There are many tours available as well as a train and private drivers. Once you are there, if you want to go to the summit of Mount Jeroni, there is a funicular that will take you up.

Visiting is a fabulous experience. Many people say that Macchu Picchu changes your life; I feel the same about visiting Montserrat! The last time I went was part of a pre-cruise excursion. It was a great way to kick back from everyday life before getting onboard the ship. Kind of gets you into that zone of relaxation!

Other Things to Do in Barcelona

Cable Car over the Harbor
Walk the Drawbridge over the Harbor to the Shopping Mall
Go to the Beach
Spend Time in Plaça de Catalunya, the Central Square I discussed above
Wander the Barri Gòtic neighborhoods
See a performance at Teatre del Liceu
Go to a Flamenco Show

But most of all, enjoy your time in Barcelona!

My Impressions

Teatre del Liceu, Sagrada Familia, Las Rambla, and Montserrat are not only popular with tourists but are also part of everyday life for Catalonians. The history of this beautiful city is in the blood of the people who live there. They truly do live their history every day!

Hopefully, you can tell from my write-up how much I love Barcelona! Somehow, someway, I feel a real connection there. Like it’s my spot! As many times as I have visited, it doesn’t get old for me.

Through the years, I have kept track of the progress of Sagrada Familia. I felt a pinch when the construction was delayed due to the pandemic. In 2017, a van crashed through on Las Rambla, and I felt like MY neighborhood had been violated. I visited shortly after that incident and was just sickened at the thought of people being mowed down. It’s a big town/small town. For those of you who have traveled to Barcelona, I think you know what I mean. For those of you who haven’t been, please go. I promise you will love it.

Until next time friends, remember “To Travel is to Live!”

© 2022 Dee Serkin

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