|Just decades ago, few
tourists would have considered a trip to the northern Spanish city
of Barcelona. However, this once rather rundown
industrial centre, which seemed to have little to offer, has undergone
a seismic change that culminated in the hosting of the Olympic
Games in 1992, an event which completely transformed Barcelona.
As well as a string of purpose built sporting developments springing
up all over the city, with the epicentre on the slopes of Montjuïc,
Barcelona also benefited from major investments.
Barcelona has since become something of a Mecca for the world’s
top architects, who have flocked here to conjure up an array of
avant-garde designs and modern structures. Many have drawn their
inspiration from the seminal work of Barcelona’s most famous
son, the modernist architect, Antoni Gaudi, whose
unique style can still be savoured in a number of key buildings
throughout the city. His masterpiece is the unfinished Sagrada
Familia cathedral but his work can be seen even in the
lampposts and fountains of Plaça Reial.
Fortunately, the rush of new construction has not completely dwarfed
the older buildings, as the old and new architectural styles harmoniously
combine. Barcelona is the kind of city where a contemporary glass
and steel office block can rest happily within striking distance
of a gothic cathedral and where the old port has been rejuvenated
without losing any of its charm.
As the capital of Catalunya, Barcelona is also solidifying its position
as a major regional economic power, tucked, as it is, strategically
close to the French border and with a wide Mediterranean coastline.
The key industries include manufacture, textiles, electronics and
tourism and in 2001, Catalunya received 10,115,516 visitors from
a total of 49,519,408 throughout Spain.
The economy of Barcelona has been steadily expanding during the
past decade and although it contains just 4 per cent of the Spanish
population, the city contributes 8 per cent to the country’s
The locals are very aware of Barcelona's potential and a strong
desire still remains among some to create an independent Catalan
state with Barcelona at its helm, instead of the current Spanish
set up, where Barcelona plays second fiddle in political terms to
Madrid. Some observers believe that the desire for outright independence
has waned since the death of General Franco and
the granting of a greater deal of autonomy to the region. Nevertheless,
in the bars and cafés of the city, the patriotic feelings
still remain very strong. Nowhere is this proud drive for greater
self-determination more evocative than at Camp Nou,
the home of Barcelona FC and one of Europe’s
greatest football teams, when a capacity 120,000 crowd pulsates
to a rousing victory over arch rivals Real Madrid.
With a balmy year round climate, not too steamily hot in summer
and with few genuinely cold days in winter, it is not surprising
that Barcelona is attracting an increasing number of visitors. With
cheap air travel becoming more popular, Barcelona has entered the
millennium as one of Europe’s most popular short break destinations.