Barcelona is an architectural wonder. It's should hence be no surprise that it won - in 1999 - the Royal Gold Medal for architecture, given by the Royal Institute of British Architects. At that time, by the way, it was the first time that a city was a winner...and no other city has had the same award until now. Buildings such as the Palau de la Música Catalana, the Sagrada Familia, the Casa Battlò and the Casa Milá, all contributed to the winning of the Medal, along with the remainings of the Roman period, those of the Gothic period - scattered within the Barri Gòtic - and constructions such as the Forum's Convention Center by Herzog & de Meuron, evidences of a city that's growing with the ideal of beauty and triumph in mind. Audacious, the city who suffered under Francisco Franco, never lost its pride and character: no wonder it's among the touristic hits: Barcelona has a real lot to offer, ranging from culture to nightlife, from shopping to sights, from sport to relax opportunities, blended in an cocktail of seducing taste.
The Sagrada Familia is Antoni Gaudi's most famous work, example of his visionary genius. Even though the Sagrada Familia isn't completed yet - the beginning of the works date back to 1883 and the construction on this church will continue at least until 2041 - it's already the landmark of Barcelona par excellence. Gaudi saw, in the project, the chance to build a church following the criterion of the Medieval cathedrals, whose construction went on for centuries with several generations of architects. The building is surreal, since it is a combination of styles and mobility. If you do not suffer from vertigo, get the chance to catch the elevator going to the tower of the Portal of the Nativity. The panorama, over Barcelona, is awe-inspiring. And, once there, do not forget to visit the crypt where Gaudi was buried and the museum, where the complete story about the church is explained. Born by the same genius, Casa Battlò and Casa Milá - both in Passeig de Gràcia - offer examples of his civil architecture. Casa Battlò is one of the most famous monuments of Modernism. Despite the profusion of forms and motifs, it produces a sensation of lightness. Public is divided on what the façade should represent: for some it shows the spirit of carnival, for others a cove, for the majority his patriotic feeling, given that the façade is an allegorical illustration of Sant Jordi. A visit to the interior is recommended, since it gives the opportunity to understand Gaudi's attention to any detail. Casa Milá (a.k.a. La Pedrera) looks more like a sculpture than a house, like a fluid creation with no straight line, in a crowned attempt to create natural forms with artificial elements. Gaudi had several problems with the customer and the initial project, that should have occupied the entire precinct, was limited to what we currently see. Since 1984 it's classified as World Heritage by Unesco (and hosts a variety of exhibitions and cultural events), even though - when completed - it was ridiculed, gaining the nickname of "Stone Quarry". Its structure is extraordinary, with no master wall, with asymmetrical windows and ornamental chimneys. Within, there is the chance to visit a Modernista flat and a museum dedicated to his architect. But in Passeig de Gràcia masterworks aren't over, since Puig i Cadafalch and Domènech i Montaner also designed important civil buildings. And, if you're looking for other buildings by Gaudí, try the Collegi de les Teresianes and Casa Calvet, too.
The Palau de la Música Catalana isn't only the right place where you could spend a nice evening listening to a concert (from classic to pop, from jazz to experimental) but it is also one of the few theaters worldwide to have been declared a World Heritage Site. Built by Domènech i Montaner, the Palau is a product of the Catalonia's Renaixenca cultural movement, decorated outside with a profusion of colorful floral mosaics and inside with ceramics, glasses and plushy materials.
Art doesn't reflect only in the buildings. If you're an aficionado of Picasso's art, the Museu Picasso is a stone's throw away, inside the Palau Berenguer de Aguilar, in the heart of the old city. With 3500 artworks from the artist, it mainly covers the juvenile activities of the painter comprised in the years before the Blue Period and some of his lifespan too.
The Barri Gòtic is the oldest quarter of Barcelona. Within, narrow streets and little sunshine, but it's an enchanting place to stroll. Encircled during Middle Age by city walls, the Barri Gòtic offers a gem in the form of the Sant Iu cathedral, whose life began in the VI century, as a small Visigoth chapel. Plaça Reial is the most famous square in Barcelona. Do not forget to stop by, as soon as you feel hungry, since there a quite big number of cafés, restaurants and pubs can be found. Gaudí designed the street lamps that adorn the plaza. But Port Vell too is the right place to hit, if you're looking for the best fish in the city, or Port Olimpic, if you wish to watch people practicing water sports, while having some tapas. But eating isn't the only thing in those places. Barcelona is great for shopping, renown as being one of the best cities for any shop-a-holic. Fashion, with names such as Custo Barcelona, Raquel Cardona, Lydia Delgado; design, with Vinçon and BD Ediciones de Diseño, all blend with lingerie shops, chains, second hand outlets, shopping malls and markets. Do not forget the stalls in the Rambla de Catalunya, explore the Eixample quartier, enter the Maremagnum shopping center, visit the tiny specialty shops within the Barri Gòtic, brows Els Encants flea market...every taste will be contented.
Catch the metro now, and head to Tibidabo, with its Church of the sacred Heart, that isn't far away. Built as a modernist temple of neo gothic inspiration, the church took 60 years to complete. From its height, Tibidabo offer a nice panoramic view over the city. Torre de Collserola telecommunication tower, with its glass lift, is an ideal place from where you can admire Barcelona in all its splendor.
Barcelona has an impressive number of parks, which cover 10% of the city territory. The Parc de Montjuic is the largest one, located on the hill of the same name. Inside the Parc, the Fundació Joan Miró can be visited. Founded by the artist, it was intended either to expose his artworks, or to launch a center for the study of contemporary art. The collection is impressive, since it hosts paintings, sculptures, sketches and draperies by Miró and other works by Calder, Moore and Matisse. The building hosting the museum is another architectonic highlight, by Josep Lluis Sert...But if you're looking for something different - an alternative collection - Barcelona is always ready to shock. You just have to chose among the Museu de la Xocolata, the Museu de Carrosses Fúnebres, and the Museu del Perfum, to name a few.
Do not miss the opportunity to unwind and relax inside the several parks and - if you wish - go for the Anella Olimpica, the nerve center of 1992 Games. The Estadi Olímpic is nearby and it's where the opening and closing ceremonies were held. Another park has to be visited: the Park Güell. Declared universal monument in 1984 by the Unesco, the park is where Gaudí turned his hand to landscaping. Not only the result is impressive, with its lizards, mosaics and ceramic benches, but the views of the city, too. Finally, on a hot day, head to Port Olimpic or, alternatively to the Barceloneta beach.
The city can be visited in several ways, city tours are offered, among which the segways' one. Transport is quick and easy, you can hop on reliable bus or metro, or simply catch a taxi. Just an advice: wherever you are, have your belongings in sight. Pickpocket is a practiced sport...
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