Barcelona, Spain

A Brief History of Barcelona



the capital of Catalonia in northeastern Spain, has a rich and varied history that spans over two millennia. Here’s a brief overview:

Ancient and Roman Periods

  • Foundation: According to legend, Barcelona was founded by Hercules, although its historical foundation is attributed to the Carthaginian Hamilcar Barca, father of Hannibal, in the 3rd century BC.
  • Roman Period: The Romans established a colony called Barcino around 15 BC. It became an important military and commercial center, with remnants of Roman architecture like the Barcino wall still visible today.

Medieval Period

  • Visigothic and Moorish Rule: After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Barcelona was occupied by the Visigoths and later by the Moors in the early 8th century.
  • Frankish Rule: In 801, Charlemagne’s son Louis the Pious captured Barcelona, incorporating it into the Carolingian Empire as a part of the Spanish March, a buffer zone against Islamic territories.
  • County of Barcelona: By the 10th century, the County of Barcelona became independent and began to expand its influence.

Crown of Aragon

  • Union with Aragon: In 1137, Barcelona joined with the Kingdom of Aragon through the marriage of Count Ramon Berenguer IV and Queen Petronilla of Aragon, creating a powerful maritime empire.
  • Golden Age: During the 13th to 15th centuries, Barcelona became a major Mediterranean trading center, with significant economic and cultural growth.

Early Modern Period

  • Habsburg and Bourbon Rule: Following the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714), Barcelona was besieged and fell to the Bourbon forces of Philip V. The city’s institutions were suppressed, and Catalonia lost its autonomy.
  • Industrial Revolution: In the 19th century, Barcelona became one of the first cities in Spain to industrialize, spurring economic growth and leading to significant urban development.

20th Century to Present

  • Cultural Renaissance: The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw a cultural renaissance, with the Modernisme movement and figures like Antoni Gaudí, who left a lasting architectural legacy.
  • Spanish Civil War: During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), Barcelona was a stronghold of the Republican side. It suffered significant damage and was captured by Franco’s forces in 1939.
  • Post-Franco Era: After the death of Franco in 1975, Spain transitioned to democracy. Catalonia regained a degree of autonomy, and Barcelona emerged as a vibrant cultural and economic center.
  • 1992 Olympics: Hosting the 1992 Summer Olympics spurred major urban renewal and infrastructure improvements, boosting Barcelona’s global profile.

Recent Developments

  • Modern Growth: Today, Barcelona is known for its architecture, cultural heritage, and as a major tourist destination. It continues to be a center for innovation, trade, and culture in Spain and Europe.

These are the key moments in Barcelona’s extensive history, highlighting its transformation from an ancient Roman colony to a modern global city.

Top Things to Do in Barcelona

1. The Beach

Photo by Enes on Unsplash

Barcelona’s beach, stretching along the Mediterranean coast, is a vibrant and inviting retreat within the city. Barceloneta Beach, the most famous, offers golden sands, clear waters, and a lively promenade dotted with restaurants and bars. It’s a favorite spot for sunbathing, swimming, and enjoying various water sports. The beach’s proximity to the city center makes it easily accessible, providing a perfect blend of urban and seaside experiences. With its dynamic atmosphere and stunning views, Barcelona’s beach is a must-visit destination for both relaxation and recreation.

2. Port Vell

Port Vell, located at the waterfront of Barcelona, is a vibrant and historical harbor that has been transformed into a modern leisure area. Once a bustling industrial port, it now features a scenic promenade, luxury yachts, and a variety of attractions. Visitors can explore the popular Maremagnum shopping mall, enjoy a visit to the L’Aquàrium de Barcelona, or take a relaxing stroll along the marina. With its mix of dining options, cultural sites, and entertainment venues, Port Vell serves as a lively gateway between the city and the sea, offering a picturesque spot for both locals and tourists to unwind and enjoy the Mediterranean atmosphere.

2. The Ramblas

Las Ramblas is a famous street in the heart of Barcelona, stretching 1.2 kilometers from Plaça de Catalunya to the Christopher Columbus Monument at Port Vell. This bustling boulevard is lined with trees and features a wide pedestrian walkway, making it a popular spot for both locals and tourists. Las Ramblas is known for its vibrant atmosphere, street performers, flower stalls, and open-air markets, as well as notable landmarks like the historic Liceu Theatre and the colorful Boqueria Market. Its lively ambiance and central location make it a must-visit destination in Barcelona.

3. Boqueria Market

Boqueria Market, also known as Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, is a bustling and vibrant market located on Las Ramblas. Established in the 13th century, it is one of the city’s oldest and most iconic markets. Boqueria offers a sensory feast with its colorful displays of fresh produce, seafood, meats, cheeses, and artisanal products. It’s a popular destination for both locals and tourists looking to experience authentic Catalan cuisine, enjoy tapas, or simply soak in the lively atmosphere. The market’s rich history and dynamic energy make it a must-visit spot in Barcelona.

3. Sagrada Familia

I took this photo from a hotel rooftop lounge. It is the only rooftop viewing spot to capture the top half of the Sagrada Familia Basillica .
Time your visit to the basilica as the sun is setting to best feel the space flood with coloured light.
The interior is simple in design as a place of reflection.
The entire inner space of Sagrad Famlia is designed to draw your eyes to the heavens.

As you meander through the bustling streets of Barcelona, the majestic spires of the Sagrada Familia rise before you like a surreal dreamscape. This basilica, Antoni Gaudí’s magnum opus, beckons travelers with its promise of architectural splendor and deep-seated symbolism.

The story of the Sagrada Familia begins in 1882 when construction commenced under the architect Francisco de Paula del Villar. However, it was Gaudí who took over the project a year later, transforming it into a breathtaking blend of Gothic and Art Nouveau styles. Gaudí devoted the last 15 years of his life exclusively to this project, envisioning it as a “cathedral for the poor,” a place where the divine and the natural world would coalesce.

Approaching the basilica, you are immediately struck by the intricacy of the Nativity Façade. Each element of the façade tells a story from the Bible, with an almost overwhelming array of sculptures depicting the birth of Christ. Gaudí believed that nature was the ultimate testament to God’s work, and this belief is evident in the organic shapes and motifs that adorn the stonework. The columns, for instance, resemble towering tree trunks, supporting the vaults like a forest canopy, connecting the heavens and the earth.

Stepping inside,  you are bathed in a kaleidoscope of colors filtering through the stained glass windows. These windows, a symphony of hues, were designed to capture the light at different times of the day, creating an ever-changing atmosphere of tranquility and reverence. Gaudí’s intention was clear: he wanted visitors to feel the presence of the divine in the interplay of light and color, evoking a sense of spiritual awakening.

The basilica’s Passion Façade presents a stark contrast, with its angular, almost skeletal figures conveying the suffering and sacrifice of Christ. This façade, completed by subsequent architects following Gaudí’s detailed plans, underscores the narrative of redemption and resurrection. It’s a reminder of the human condition and the hope for transcendence.

As I wandered through the nave, I marveled at the  ongoing construction, funded entirely by donations, speaks to a continuous act of faith and dedication. Each stone laid is a testament to Gaudí’s vision and the collective effort of countless artisans over the decades. It’s projected to be completed by 2026, marking the centenary of Gaudí’s death, but in a way, its unfinished nature adds to its mystique.

The Sagrada Familia is more than just a basilica; it’s a living testament to the fusion of art, faith, and nature. Gaudí’s masterpiece stands as a beacon of creativity and devotion, a sacred space where the mundane and the miraculous converge. Visiting this architectural wonder, I felt a profound connection to the past and an inspiring glimpse into the boundless possibilities of human imagination.

4. Gothic Area

Narrow streets with balconies adorned with green plants.
The Gothic Quarter is a warren of streets.
Every Sunday locals gather in the square and dance to the music.
The orchestra plays every Sunday on the steps of the Barcelona Cathedral.

The Gothic Quarter, or Barri Gòtic, is the historic heart of Barcelona, characterized by its narrow, winding streets and medieval architecture. This charming neighborhood is home to significant landmarks such as the Barcelona Cathedral, Plaça Reial, and remnants of ancient Roman walls. Visitors can explore its labyrinthine alleys, discovering hidden squares, artisan shops, and atmospheric bars and cafes. The Gothic Quarter’s blend of historical significance and vibrant modern life makes it a captivating area that embodies the essence of Barcelona’s rich cultural heritage.

5. The Works of Gaudi UNESCO Area

Seven properties built around Barcelona by the architect Antoni Gaudí form the UNESCO Works of Antoni Gaudi. They are: Parque Güell; Palacio Güell; Casa Mila; Casa Vicens; Gaudí’s work on the Nativity façade and Crypt of La Sagrada Familia; Casa Batlló; Crypt in Colonia Güell.

Parque Güell
Story telling and the use of colourful mosiacs are integral to Gaudi's style

Find more detailed information here.

Casa Batlló considered one of Gaudi's masterpieces located in central Barcelona.
The Batlló family lived here until 1950.
Detailed and colourful mosiacs cover the house.
The intricate Nativity Façade on the exterior tells the stories of the Bible. 

The Sagrada Familia is an iconic basilica in Barcelona, renowned for its unique and breathtaking architecture designed by the famous Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. Construction began in 1882 and continues to this day, making it one of the longest-running architectural projects in the world. The basilica’s intricate facades and towering spires blend Gothic and Art Nouveau styles, creating a visual masterpiece that attracts millions of visitors annually. The Sagrada Familia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, symbolizes Barcelona’s artistic and cultural heritage, standing as a testament to Gaudí’s visionary genius.

6. Main Shopping Streets

Barcelona is a shopper’s paradise, offering a diverse range of streets dedicated to retail therapy. Here are some of the main shopping streets in the city:

1. Passeig de Gràcia: This elegant boulevard is renowned for its luxury boutiques, designer stores, and architectural landmarks like Casa Batlló and La Pedrera. It’s the go-to destination for high-end shopping in Barcelona.

2. Portal de l’Àngel: Located near Plaça de Catalunya, this bustling pedestrian street is lined with popular international and Spanish retail chains, making it one of the busiest shopping areas in the city.

3. La Rambla: While famous for its lively atmosphere and street performers, La Rambla also features numerous shops, souvenir stalls, and the famous Boqueria Market, where you can find local delicacies.

4. Avinguda Diagonal: Stretching across the city, this wide avenue offers a mix of shopping malls, department stores, and designer shops, catering to a variety of tastes and budgets.

5. El Born: This trendy neighborhood is known for its boutique shops, artisan stores, and unique fashion outlets, perfect for those looking for something different from the mainstream.

6. Carrer de Pelai: Connecting Plaça de Catalunya with Plaça de la Universitat, this street is home to a variety of mid-range fashion stores and well-known brands.

7. Rambla de Catalunya: Parallel to Passeig de Gràcia, this charming street combines shopping with a leisurely atmosphere, featuring numerous boutiques, cafes, and art galleries.

These shopping streets offer a mix of luxury, mainstream, and unique retail experiences, ensuring that there’s something for every shopper in Barcelona.

7. Picasso Museum

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Our Apartment This Time

Our studio apartment was located in Central Barcelona, a 20 minute walk South to Las Ramblas and 20 minutes Northeast to Sagrad Familia. The building is a historic art neveau with a lift.

The apartment was on the 3rd floor overlooking the intersection. The windows were triple paned and sound proof. When the windows were closed is was absolutely quiet. 

Around the apartment was an assortment of restaurants and a number of small supermarkets and a large permanent market that had everything that you could want to purchase in the way of food.