Barcelona is today the most exciting city in Spain from a cultural and economic point of view – though I have always had a big soft spot for Madrid, the capital.
Not a view shared by many citizens of Barcelona who are fiercely proud of their Catalan culture and language. Barcelona is also a much older city than Madrid. The latter started life as a Moorish village and only became a city in the sixteenth century when the Spanish kings wanted a central point from which to view their realm.
Barcelona, in marked contrast, was a Roman town centred on what is now the Gothic quarter. You can still see where medieval palaces were just plonked on top of Roman walls, used as solid foundations. Here is an example – from half way down, it’s a Roman wall and then the top half is all medieval. Can you make out the divide?
After Roman rule fizzled out in the fifth century AD, the Visigoths emerged as top dogs on the Iberian peninsula until 711 AD when the Moors conquered up to the Pyrenees. The church of Sant Pau del Camp is an interesting remnant of Visigothic architecture – smaller in scale than later Gothic cathedrals but charming and constructed in the Romanesque style.
Every year, the people of Barcelona celebrate Saint George’s Day – like England, they venerate this saint. Sant Jordi – as he is called in Catalan – brings out the best in the locals. There is a huge book fair and below is one chap dressed up as San Jordi. Behind him is a dead dragon on the table. I was there this year – just a month ago – and it was great fun.
Barcelona ended up in the kingdom of Aragon in the twelfth century and one of its kings bequeathed his entire domain to the Knights Templar. His will was modified so that didn’t happen to the letter but the Templars did end up with vast holdings in the region.