Barcelona, a Gothic and Modernist marvel on the Mediterranean Sea, is a city well known for its quirky, cosmopolitan, cool character. Whether it’s by unearthing Barcelona’s past in the hidden courtyards of the Barri Gòtic, or by enjoying the charms of the modernist city, you will discover many interesting things that make Barcelona one of Spain’s most livable and energetic cities and one of the most interesting cities in Europe. So, here are 10 facts you might not know that will get you craving to visit the city.
1. Its founding origins are still in dispute
There are two Spanish legends concerning the establishment of Barcelona. One legend says that it was founded by Hercules, 400 years before the building of Rome. But, according to the other legend, the city was founded in the 3rd century BC by the Carthaginian Hamilcar Barca, father of Hannibal. He named the city Barcino after his family, the Barca family of Carthage. Which one do you believe?
2. Barcelona is considered the “best beach city” in the world by National Geographic, but their beaches weren’t used for leisure until 1992
Today there are seven beaches with a total of 4.5 km of coastline, but before 1992, Barcelona’s seaside was completely run over by industries, and there existed no beach for the use of the city’s populace and tourism.
It wasn’t until the city’s redevelopment for the 1992 Olympic Games that the city moved their industries and converted the seaside area into an exemplary leisure area for locals and tourist alike; including the improvement of two beaches and the creation of five new beaches.
According to Discovery Channel, Barceloneta beach is the best urban beach in the world and the third best beach in the world. (I would dispute Discovery Channel and National Geographic‘s statements, though.)
3. Barcelona is to thank for World Book Day
La Diada de San Jordi (St. Georges Day) is one of the biggest, most widely celebrated festival days in Barcelona which takes place on April 23rd and is a celebration of love and literacy.
On this day, it is a tradition to present your near and dear ones with roses and books. Inspired by this custom, UNESCO declared the day as the International Day of Books.
4. La Rambla is not just one street… it’s five streets
La Rambla is probably the most famous street in Barcelona, but in reality it consists of 5 boulevards –or ramblas– joined to make one long promenade. It starts from Placa Catalunya and end at the Colombus statue by the waterfront. For this reason, this 2-kilometer long boulevard is also commonly known in plural as Las Ramblas.
Thousands of people stroll on Las Ramblas every day and night, where they watch the performing street artists, shop, or sit for a nice meal or coffee.
Las Ramblas is the major center of activities in the city and is undoubtedly the most famous promenade of Barcelona, and probably in all Spain.
5. It is Europe’s largest metropolis on the Mediterranean coast
Also, Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain, after Madrid, and the 11th most populous urban area in the European Union.
6. It is the first city to win a RIBA Royal Gold Medal for its architecture
The Royal Gold Medal for architecture is awarded annually since 1848, by the Royal Institute of British Architects on behalf of the British monarch, in recognition of an individual’s or group’s substantial contribution to international architecture. In 1999, Barcelona became the first and only city, to this date, to receive this honor – instead of an individual architect. And it goes without saying that it is well deserved.
7. Fiestas de la Mercè is the most important festival in Barcelona
The main event of La Mercè is held on the 24th of September each year, and the Festival is held in honor of the Cities Patron Saint and Protector, The Virgin de La Merce. It is an official city holiday since the year 1871.
8. Flamenco is not well known in Barcelona
Even though Spain is well-known for its flamenco dancing, this popular dance is not traditional or well known/practiced in Barcelona or Cataluña. Catalans prefer the more contemporary rock-n-roll scene.
9. The hallmark grid pattern of the city came from a revolutionary utopian master plan
Most of the city of Barcelona was designed by Ildefons Cerdà i Sunyer for the 19th-century extension of the city. The plan, called Eixample, intended to create the perfect environment for Barcelona’s fast expanding population. He considered traffic and transport along with sunlight and ventilation for the design of his characteristic octagonal blocks, where the streets broaden at every intersection making for greater visibility, better ventilation, and more significant open spaces. In the end, the plan wasn’t built following all the utopian characteristics he envisioned in his plan.
10. Gaudí was not the original architect of Sagrada Familia
Even though La Sagrada Família is one of the major works of Antoní Gaudí, he was not the first architect to be appointed to work on it. Architect Francisco de Paula del Villar was the first one commissioned to design the church. Construction of the crypt of the church was begun March 19, 1882, following Villar’s design. It wasn’t until 1883 when Antoní Gaudí started working on the project. On March 18, 1883, Villar retired from the project, and Gaudí assumed responsibility for its design, which he changed radically.
So that is a quick glimpse at Barcelona’s interesting facts. If you want to discover more of the city, I recommend checking out Viator’s tours to get an in depth look of what makes this city so wonderful!