I catch up on the exultation surrounding the cricket news back home as I enjoy my breakfast. A New Zealand born Stokes taking on the NZ team and batting the team to victory. His ‘Lagaan’ style sixer, a two runs which turn into a six and the final runout along with the West Indies born Archer’s bowling and the high drama surrounding the superover. I quite enjoy sporting success stories especially quirky interesting facts and this one certainly has all the elements and will be retold for a very long time.
At nine thirty we meet up with our tour guide for a walk around the old part of the city. The tour starts at the City hall and moves on to the surviving section of the Roman walls which formed part of the fortress or ‘oppidum’ which surrounded and kept the old city of Barcelona safe. He talks us through the political and religious upheavals the city has been through, the saints and patron saints that guard the city, the Royal families who ruled the kingdom, how the city expanded and became the city it is now, the different regions of Spain and about Catalonia. As he goes through the history we pass from the Roman period through the centuries to the Gothic period, 12 to 14th century, which seems to be one of Barcelona’s best eras.
The tour guide explains the legends and mythical stories that surround the city along with historical truths. He points out the Gargoyles that stick out from the buildings and explains that although they are considered to guard against the evil, the actual purpose is to spout out the rain water and prevent it from damaging the walls. He points out the building dedicated to Picasso, where a sketch of his is brought to life across the outside. One section of it is a tribute to his friend and enemy Henri Matisse and is Picasso’s version of ‘the joy of life’. I wanted to correct him and say that the actual word he is looking for is ‘frenemy’, but didn’t. Picasso, who was born in Malaga, moved to Barcelona before settling in France, once said that Barcelona was his school and Paris his university.
After the tour we take a stroll around the market with its colourful fruit and vegetable stalls, souvenir shops, cheese and olive oil stands intermingled with tapas bars. From here a short walk takes us to the ‘Arc de Triomf’ of Barcelona built in 1888 as a gateway to the Universal Exhibition which was held that year. Our afternoon finishes with a walk around the Cathedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulalia and an elevator ride to its towers. In the Cloisters of the cathedral 13 white geese are kept to note the age at which St Eulàlia was martyred.
The evening is spent visiting the most visited place in Barcelona ‘The Sagrada Família’, a Roman Catholic Church, where construction began over a hundred years ago and is still ongoing. A Gaudí masterpiece which is planned to finish by 2026 to coincide with the hundredth anniversary of the architect’s death. When Gaudí died only about a quarter of the structure had been completed.
We are allowed in only at our allocated time and we wait our turn. Once inside we pass through security and collect our audio guide and walk inside. It is a breathtaking scene and then we realise that we need to take a step back and see the Church from the outside first. The audio guide explains the scene as depicted on the outside entrance wall. With the shepherds on one side and three kings on the other the nativity scene comes alive as we look up. Jesus Christ is cradled by his mother as his father looks on.
A magical place awaits us as we walk in. Inside gigantic pillars made of pale coloured stones of varying strengths hold up the ceiling. It is designed to resemble a forest with the branches of the trees spreading out into the heavens. Light from the sky filters through the ceiling as if it is peaking through the branches. Light also floods in through the stained glass windows that adorns the walls. On one side the windows are a milder blue and green shade to depict the early morning colours and the other side a fiery yellow and orange hue to depict the sunset.
There are hardly any sculptures inside. A lone Jesus is a reminder to tell us that we’ve already seen the sculptures outside before entering the temple. There are more artwork on the exit side of the church. It is a more sombre experience here with the architecture resembling that of taut muscles and ribs. There are two towers from which we can choose to reach the top. We had chosen the ‘Passion facade’ tower and get to the lift at our allocated time. At the top, we can see the mosaic fruit baskets on the towers close up. The lift only takes us up, we need to climb the narrow steps down.
As I leave the building and look back, I now understand the structure and what it stands for. A mixture of Gothic and Art Nouveau architecture brought together to create one of the most unique Churches ever built and done so beautifully. It has been an enchanting unforgettable experience. One man’s dream brought to life in such a splendid manner, words cannot do justice to this masterpiece.