Guest post by Linda Martinez
Barcelona has been on my radar for a long time so when a good friend from Bali asked me to meet up with her there for a few days in December, I couldn’t resist. As I do in all new cities we visit, I checked Context Travel’s site to see if they had any tours going on while I was in town.
It’s amazing how many savvy travelers I know still have an outdated concept about walking tours. Sure, there are still the huge groups with the person in front leading the crowd around with an umbrella. Context’s tours are the complete opposite of this experience. Think instead of a small group of no more than 6 people and visiting the city with a friend who is an art historian, archaeologist, etc. who is passionate about their field and who has all kinds of inside and interesting information about the place you’re visiting, its residents and the culture. This is what you’ll experience on a Context tour.
I was staying in the Gràcia neighborhood and my friend was moving to Barcelona and was interested in that neighborhood as a possible place to live. She was leaving the planning of our couple of days together up to me, so I decided on Context’s tour: “Gràcia and the Spirit of the Catalan Independence”. Our docent was local Biel Heredero, a young native of Barcelona who is an art historian very active in the local arts scene and extremely knowledgeable about Catalan history and culture.
Our tour started at on the steps of the Virgen de Gràcia Sant Josep church. This church built in 1626 gave the Gràcia area its name.
The majority of the works of architect Antoni Gaudí are in Barcelona and the association between the two is very strongly linked together. However, we learned that he was not the only Modernista architect around. The beautiful Casa Ramos was designed by Jaume Torres I Grau in 1906. The Estelada – the flag of the Catalan separatist movement – hangs everywhere in the Gràcia neighborhood which many would consider the revolutionary heart of Barcelona.
My friend and I both wanted to see some Gaudí buildings though, but we were more interested in some of his lesser known buildings. Biel did not disappoint and took us to see Casa Vicens – Gaudí’s first important work built between 1833-1888 and a residence for the owner of a tile & ceramic factory so the reason for all the tiles covering the building. Since tile was an expensive material to use as decoration, not only was the tile easily accessible to him as a tile manufacturer, but it also showed off his wealth to the outside world. Apparently the inside is just as beautiful, even more so according to our docent Biel, and Casa Vicens will be open to the public in 2016.
Plaça del Diamant is where there are entrances to underground bunkers that were in use during the Spanish Civil War and can be viewed by appointment. There is also the bronze statue of Colometa, the protoganist in the 1962 novel by Mercè Rodoreda, “La Plaça del Diamant” translated into English as “The Time of the Doves” – the most famous Catalan book ever published and a must read/rite of passage for all school kids in Barcelona.
Continuing our walk in the Gràcia we encountered another Modernista building in Plaça de la Virreina which shows a style unique to Modernista architecture – sgraffito. Sgraffito was a form of wall decoration in the 18th century that involved scratching through a top layer of plaster to reveal a different layer of color below. There is lots of attention to detail including tile mosaics on the underside of the balconies.
On we went to Plaça dela Revolucio. In this square we found beautiful painted tiles formed into a hopscotch pattern – known as xarranca in Catalan. This figure shows the various characters and elements that make up the annual La Mercè or Festa Major de Gràcia street festival – a huge festival celebrated every August in the Gràcia neighborhood that features competitions between various streets in the neighborhood, workshops, activities, and parades with the biggest parade of the festival featuring the Gegants (giants), the Castellers (the human towers), the Caps Grossos (big heads) and the Dracs (dragons).
In a building facing the clock tower at Plaça de la Vila de Gràcia, you can view some of the huge papier mache heads and figures that make up the Gegants and Cap Grossos (Giants & Big-Heads).
In the center of Plaça de la Vila de Gràcia is the symbol of the Gràcia neighborhood – this clock tower built in 1862 survived bombings from federal troops when the Gràcia neighborhood attempted secession in the late 1800′s. The neighborhood has always been and continues to be a hotbed for Catalanism and dissension.
Despite its serious revolutionary history and vibe, the Gràcia really impressed me as a peaceful oasis in a sprawling city. Kids played in the streets and the squares, couples and groups of friends hung out in cafes and families strolled or sat and chatted. There were lots of great restaurants and there is a definite “green” ethos to the neighborhood with lots of organic markets, shops and restaurants. As a vegetarian, eating was easy for me here despite the meat and fish heavy tendency of cuisine in Barcelona. In fact, two of the best meals I had were in this neighborhood: a vegetarian paella at L’Arrosseria Xàtiva and at La Pubilla, a restaurant where absolutely every dish had meat in it, the chefs whipped together a special dish not on the menu that was made with egg, mushroom and vegetables and was mind-blowingly delicious. For that dish alone I’d come back to this neighborhood, but despite that the Gràcia is definitely an area of Barcelona worth spending a lot more time in.
Places to Stay:
Cross-Pollinate properties in the Gràcia neighborhood:
The following properties are in the southern part of the Gràcia neighborhood bordering the L’Eixample neighborhood:
Linda, along with her husband Steve, is the owner of The Beehive Ho(s)tel in Rome.