since the 14th century, when the Catalan capital was the most powerful
city in the Mediterranean, has Barcelona's future looked so promising.
The catalysts for change have been many. The first -- political -- was
in 1975, when General Francisco Franco, who had systematically and often
brutally tried to eradicate the treasured Catalan language and culture,
died. The city in turn started to live and breathe again independently.
Today Barcelona is a proud, bilingual metropolis with street signs,
newspapers, and television programs in both Catalan and Spanish. In
2006, a progressive statute granted an even greater degree of self-rule
to the whole region.
The second -- more cosmetic -- catalyst came just before the 1992
Olympic Games, when feverish renovation work changed the city's image
from that of a drab, gray burg to a new gleaming metropolis. The Barri
G˛tic, many of whose central medieval buildings had for countless
decades been coated with grime, could at last be seen in all its
pristine glory, with newly sandblasted facades quietly glowing in the
light of the quarter's atmospheric narrow alleys. The waterfront, once
lined with large oily containers and sad-looking palm trees, was
transformed into an open, sunlit area of promenades, marinas, and modern
restaurants stretching several kilometers from beachside Barceloneta via
the Vila OlÝmpica and the 2004 Forum site to Sant AdriÓ de Bes˛s
Suddenly Barcelona has become the weekender capital of Europe. Visitors
jet in on low-cost flights for the fun lifestyle, superb Mediterranean
climate, and an unrivalled location that offers easy access to the
delectable coves of the Costa Brava, scenic mountain trails of the
PyrÚnÚes, historic cities of Gerona and Tarragona, and wealth of Gothic
and Romanesque monuments that fill the countryside.
They also come to see Barcelona's many offerings in the world of art,
architecture, and haute cuisine: the Picassos, DalÝs, TÓpies, and Mirˇs;
the moderniste extravaganzas of GaudÝ and modern eccentricities of Gehry
and Nouvel; and Ferran AdriÓ's "New Catalan Cuisine," lauded even by the
French and spearheading a culinary revival that's resulted in half a
dozen Michelin rated restaurants to date.
Yet for all its outward changes the city remains at heart what it's
always been: practical, businesslike, proletarian, nonconformist,
rebellious, artistic, and unabashedly hedonistic. It's a heady, complex
blend that has survived many a dark time and whose freewheeling
Mediterranean spirit is epitomized in the bustling Rambla avenue, which
runs all the way down to the port from Plaza Catalu˝a along the source
of a former riverbed. All this makes for a spirit as communal and
sociable as the city's traditional Sardana dance, in which no one leads
and no one follows and everyone moves together in unison.