After the ‘grey years’, the interminable period between the end of the civil war and Franco’s dying breath, there was a huge zest for change, to move on to a new era. It stoked the desire to transform the city itself, while the bid for the 1992 Olympics and then the Games themselves provided extra incentive, not to mention cash. The finest architects and urban planners were persuaded to take part in this vision.
The axis upon which the project spun was the idea to ‘turn Barcelona around’ to face the sea, creating whole swathes of beach from what was virtual wasteland. Ugly high-rises flung up during the Franco regime were pulled down, derelict blocks razed to provide open spaces and parkland, and world-class artists and sculptors – Roy Lichtenstein, James Turrell, Claes Oldenburg and Rebecca Horn among them – commissioned to brighten up street corners.
Barcelona’s love of eccentricity had already brought about a wealth of quirky museums (such as those devoted to shoes, perfume, sewers, funeral carriages and mechanical toys), to which more were added. Its handsome but grimy façades were buffed up, its streets renamed and its churches restored. The glittering, buoyant result make the drab decades seem nothing but a collective bad dream.
Emirates flies to Barcelona via London from about Dhs8,275 return (including taxes).
Where to stay
The Market Hotel (+34 933 251 205; www.markethotel.com.es)
City talk‘I love Barcelona for the sea and the mountains; for its sunny squares and markets; for its people – so warm and welcoming, yet hardworking and responsible; for its nightlife. Above all, I love it for all the rest, for all those indefinable qualities that make a city the perfect place to live.’ Ferran Adrià, head chef at El Bulli.
3,900,000 (core city 1,454,000)
Where is it?
North-east Spain, between the Mediterranean and the Collserola hills.
Temperate, but hot and humid in summer.
European, Latin American, Pakistani, North African.
Sagrada Família, Museu Picasso, Casa Batlló, Catedral, Palau de la Música, MACBA, Fundació Joan Miró, MNAC, La Pedrera, Park Güell, Camp Nou.
Museu Frederic Marès, CaixaFòrum exhibition space, old-fashioned tapas bars of Carrer Mercè, Hospital de Sant Pau, Els Encants flea market.
Where’s the buzz?
Late-night bars of the multicultural Raval, designer boutiques in the medieval streets of El Born.
Percentage of Catalan speakers
74.6 per cent
Number of parks and gardens
Number of registered architects
Number of members of FC Barcelona
Number of bar terraces
Number of fountains
Number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Nine (seven by Antoni Gaudí, two by Lluís Domènech i Montaner).
Year the building of the Sagrada Família began
Projected year of completion
2026, the 100th anniversary of its architect Gaudí’s death.
Private Life, The City of Marvels, The Time of the Doves, Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind, The Best of Worlds, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Whit Stillman’s Barcelona.
Arts & culture
Food & drink
Quality of life