The city of Barcelona, Spain, as all the Iberian Peninsula, has been clearly marked by its long history which dates to the Roman times. But what really left a deep impression and can still be fully appreciated today is what the Arabs left behind. Not only can you awe at the lovely cathedrals, temples and other buildings but you can feel it in the powerful, brave character of the people in Catalunya. The cities of Lleida, Girona, Tarragona and Barcelona make up the region called Catalunya and with it an extensive shore line which starts at the French border and goes mid-way down the Mediterranean until the Community of Valencia.
Having so much coast, Barcelona has not only been able to captivate tourism in the summer with excellent beach resorts, hotels and water sports, but also thanks to its cultural and architectural activities. One of the most outstanding sights that everyone wants to see when traveling to Barcelona is the Sacred Family or as many people know it even though they do not speak Spanish is the famous Sagrada Familia at the Placa de la Sagrada Square. Antonio Gaudi, a renowned architect started to build a church for the needy in 1883. He, together with other architects, worked on this project which was supported by donations from those who cared. In 1898 he decided that he wanted his masterpiece to one of the most original known up until then and changed the typical bell towers which were always square to be rounded off. He also added the Swiss cheese appearance to them. By around 1923, the chapel called Saint Joseph, the east facing and the crypt had been completed. It had been worked on vigorously up until Gaudi died in 1926 and therefore buried in the crypt designed by him. Since then all the bell towers and other parts have been completed but it still has not been finished. But all around the city you can find gaudis works: La Pedrera, Mila House, and the park Guell. But The Sagrada Familia is still one of the most impressive pieces of architecture ever seen.
A city full of Museums and Attractions
But if you are looking for more strong emotions, then head over to the Picasso Museum. This museum is shared between five medieval palaces which contain a nice overall view of his different fazes. Therefore, it lets you travel from Malaga which was his home town to Paris, so well reflected in his paintings, to Russia and his captivating detailed ballet paintings and finally to Barcelona where he settled. This is an absolute must and even more interesting is that it costs so little, has long visiting hours to let you roam about, great public transport combinations and is found in the Cuitat Vella Parc. The Ciutat Vella ( the beautiful city ), was once the entire city of Barcelona until the end of the 14th century and was the principal and only surviving zones made up of four areas: The Gothic Neighbourhood, La Ribera, Las Ramblas ( flowered promenade ) and the Raval. It is so easy to find and get there because there are four distinctive landmarks that lead us by the hand as if it were a famous framed picture. Using the Catalunya Square as its left frontier, you go straight down Las Ramblas Street until you see the impressive Christopher Columbus Monument towering over you as soon as you reach the edge of the port. Leisurely strolling towards the north in the direction of the Olympic Port you come across the Cuitadella Park. At this point turn left to feast your eyes on the emotive Arch of Triumph some blocks away. Within this enclosed circle of narrow cobblestone streets and typically set up shops, you are wrapped up in living history.
It does not matter if you are an avid Barcelona Football ( Soccer ) fan and know that this team is usually called Barca, or just a visitor who wants to enjoy a good match, do not forget to pass by the Nou Camp football stadium to reserve or buy your tickets. Football season is usually between September and May. This year Fran Rikard has led the Barca to win the Spanish Football League so there will be a lot of celebrations and neat souvenirs to buy.
The Costa Brava and Costa Dorada, as this area is referred to, has clean cared for beaches and caters to the tourist both inside the city as well as on the outskirts with a wide selection of accomodations. There chalets, semi-detached homes and apartments for rent or all kinds of hotels starting from a simple youth hostel, passing through a bed and breakfast type lodging to three, four and five star hotels. Whether you are going to be in Barcelona for a romantic honeymoon, just a quick weekend get away, family holidays or a business trip, you can enjoy yourself in one way or another.
You will never be bored because the information available on Barcelona can be easily found on the net, through travel agencies, or going directly to a tourist information booth when you arrive at the airport. This information is offered to you in many different languages and is usually free. It provides the traveler with precise information about museums and other monuments ( their prices and hours ), temporary exhibitions, banks, entertainment, restaurants and shopping areas, the sorts of hotels and where they are all located on very simple maps.
Catalonia shares it’s northern border with the countries of Andorra and France in the mountainous Pyrenees. The Mediterranean Sea forms it eastern border with the coast running south west down as far as the region of Valencia. The eastern border is shared with the region of Aragon. Throughout history Catalonia has struggled for greater autonomy in it’s relationship with Spain. In attempts to gain full independent it has on more than occasion revolted. Few Catalonians today aspire to have any real expectations of independence but the struggle for greater autonomy within Spain continues.
History – Greeks and Romans established trade along this part of the Mediterranean coast. In the middle ages Catalan art and literature flourished and the now established coastal trade saw merchants become very powerful rivalling those of Venice and Genoa. In 1461 Catalonia rose up in protest at it’s alliance with Aragon but the rebellion was crushed. The subsequent union of Aragon with Castile side lined Catalonia. Trade routes were moved, commercial income fell, famines and plagues all contributed to it’s decline. But the Catalonian desire for independence continued. It rose against Philip IV during the thirty year war of 1618-48 and followed that by taking the side of Archduke Charles in the War of the Spanish Succession against Philip V. It was a centre for socialist influence at the turn of the 19th Century. 1931 saw the Catalans establish a separate government which went on to win autonomy from the Spanish Cortes in 1932. Two years later a revolution for complete independence failed, but in another 2 years autonomy was restored. In the Spanish civil war of 1936-39, Catalonia once again picked the wrong side and following Franco’s victory over the republicans the region suffered badly and the cherished Catalan language was banned in public life. In 1978 it was restored and is now an official language of the region along with Castilian or Spanish. It elected its first parliament as an autonomous region in 1980. By the mid-1990s Catalan nationalists had become a force in both the region’s and the nation’s politics.
Catalonia comprises four provinces, Girona, Barcelona, Tarragona and Lleida, all are named after their capitals.
Girona or Gerona in the north sits on the Onyar River. Dating from pre-Roman times, the old town has preserved its medieval aspect. Girona was ruled by the Moors from 714 to 797. During the Peninsular War of 1808-09 the town resisted the Napoleon’s French forces. Industries today include chemical production, machinery, paper making and textiles. Outside the city and on the coat the beaches and coves around Begur and Palafrugell and particularly attractive. Or take in a sunrise at the Cap de Crues, Spain’s most easterly point. Just to the south is the enchanting whitewashed village of Cadaques built around a rocky bay. The artist Salvador Dali spent the holidays of his youth there and later lived in the nearby village of Port Lligat. The barren shorelines, odd formations of rocks and desolate moonscapes so typical of his paintings can be seen in abundance throughout the locality. The Teatre-Musea Dali is located in the town of Figueres and contains a great deal of the artist’s works. The Pyrenees, in the north of the province, offer many opportunities for walking and hiking, the Parc Nacional d’Aiguestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici being one of the most attractive areas. There are several ski stations operating throughout the winter months.
There is evidence of some settlement in the area going back to the 15th century BC but Barcelona is reputed to take it’s name from the powerful Carthaginian family of Barca who founded the basis for the city as we know it today. Under the Romans and Visigoths the city flourished. In the 8th century it fell to the Moors and in 801 it was taken by Charlemagne, who included it in the Spanish March. The March became independent under the leadership of the powerful counts of Barcelona in the 9th and 10th centuries, They won lands from the Moors to the south and acquired all of Catalonia. In 1137, following the marriage of Count Raymond Berengar IV to the heiress of Aragon the two regions became united. The city of Barcelona became the capital as it was for future kings of Spain. A well ruled Barcelona expanded trade in the Mediterranean. Its cloth industry flourished and it became a powerful centre of banking and commerce. Around 1400 saw the peak in it’s fortunes, decline followed along with the rest of Catalonia. The French occupied the city on three occasions in 1640-52, 1715 and 1808-14. Catalan separatism centred on Barcelona and the city was the scene of many insurrections. It revolted against Philip IV of Spain from 1640-52. It also became the Spanish centre of socialism and other radical political doctrines around 1900. Barcelona was the capital of the region’s autonomous government from 1932-39. During the civil war the Spanish Loyalist government sat in Barcelona until it fell to Franco’s forces in early 1939. The region saw demonstrations against Franco’s dictatorship throughout the 1950′s. Today Barcelona is Spain’s second largest city and the claims to be cultural centre of the country. It is the capital of the Catalonian region and more than one third of region’s population reside there. Barcelona is also Spain’s largest port and its chief commercial centre with international banking and finance houses. It is a major industrial centre and production includes aviation, chemicals, electrical equipment, foundries, locomotives, machinery, textiles and vehicles. The city itself is modern, with wide avenues, bustling traffic and striking new architecture. By contrast the well preserved old city, Roman walls can still be seen, is filled with narrow, winding streets and ancient structures, including a cathedral, many churches, the city hall and the Lonja or exchange. Barcelona is the site of a reputed opera house, the Contemporary Art Museum, the Fine Arts Museum of Catalonia and the Picasso Museum. In 1992 it hosted the summer Olympics. The remainder of the province of Barcelona is in the main hilly or mountainous. But it also home to some highly fertile plains where cereals grapes and olives are grown. The province also produces one third of Spain’s wine. Much of the area’s power is generated by hydroelectric plants built on the Ebro, Cinca and Segre rivers. The coastline, stretching nearly 400 kilometres has many good harbours and marinas, excellent fisheries and an buoyant tourist trade. West of Barcelona you will find the vineyards of the Penedes area. Also the mountain of Montserrat, on a clear day the peak at 1236m above sea level offers views of the Pyrenees to the north and to Mallorca in the Balearic Islands to the south east.
Tarragona sits on the mouth of the river Francola on the Mediterranean. It was formally known as Tarraco and in 218BC was captured by Roman forces. They built up is fortifications against attack by the Carthaginians. The ruins of Roman walls and an aquaduct remain still. It fell to both the Visigoths and the Moors in the 5th and 8th centuries respectively. The Christians recaptured it in the 12th century but when it’s trade was captured by either regions Barcelona or Valencia it fell into decline. In 1903 Carthusian monks settled in the city having been expelled from La Grande Chartreuse in France. Their famous liqueur is produced here to this day. Today it is important as both a commercial centre and port. Industries include flour mills, an oil refinery and wine production and export. Some of the countries finest wines are made nearby in the Priorat region.
Lleida lies on the river Segre. Formally known as Llerda, Julius Ceasar defeated the generals of Pompey here in 49 BC. The Moorish invasion from the south saw Lleida fall in 714. It was liberated by Christian forces in 1149. By tradition a strategic, fortified city, Lleida became a key defence point for Barcelona in the Spanish civil war. It eventually fell to Franco’s forces in the April of 1938 having withheld for nine long months. A castle, whose ramparts enclose a Romanesque cathedral, dominates the old section of the city. Lleida is the centre of a fertile farm area and agriculture predominates. There is little in the way of a manufacturing industry.
More used to Grand Prix cars than dog sleighs, Monaco’s Prince Albert’s forthcoming trek to the North Pole has been greeted with surprise by many.
But the Prince is fairly accustomed to the cold, in contrast to the Mediterranean warmth of Monaco where he became ruler last July following the passing of his father Prince Rainier, who had ruled the tax haven for over 50 years.
Albert represented Monaco at the last five Winter Olympic Games in their Bobsleigh team. And he is going to face some cold and hostile conditions on his seven day trip to bring to the attention of fellow world leaders the environmental damage to the arctic regions that global warming is having.
Speaking at a recent news conference in Monaco, Albert explained his thinking behind the trip to assembled journalists.
‘If in our modest way, by this action we are able to bring environmental problems to the forefront and force some leaders to take stronger actions, this expedition will have achieved its objectives’.
Environmentalists have welcomed Albert’s expedition, and his image in the world’s media is changing from that of a playboy millionaire to a responsible leader.
In 2002 47 year old Prince Albert agreed to a DNA test to show whether he was the father to a boy born to a former air hostess he had had a relationship with, and more recently has been linked by the press with 28 year old South African swimming champion Charlene Wittstock.
But one of the first actions he took after succeeding to the throne was to sign the Kyoto Protocol, taking Monaco outside of the small group of countries that had failed to ratify the treaty, designed to reduce the world’s emissions of greenhouses gases.
Monaco Grand Prix
The Monaco Prince Albert inherited from his father is now the world’s best known tax haven, and the ultimate European destination for luxury hotels, including the Hotel de Paris, frequently quoted in guides as among the top ten in the world.
one local on-line travel guide comment that Prince Albert’s interest in the world’s environment sets a different agenda than that of his father, who transformed the principality in his reign into an economically safe country for the world’s wealthy to live and invest.
Residents of the principality enjoy a zero rated income tax.
As well as being a tax haven, Monaco hosts the best known Formula 1 Grand Prix of the year around the streets of Monte Carlo and Fontveille in May. Over recent years Monaco has also become a destination of choice for the super-rich in September, when it hosts the Monaco Yacht Show.
And while the Grand Prix and Yacht Show fill the hotels in Monte Carlo and Monaco each year, and on an everyday basis every second car seems to be an Aston Martin or Ferrari, locals hope that Prince Albert doesn’t look too close to home when it comes to his concern for the environment. Cancelling the Monaco Grand Prix in 2007 to show his concern for the environment would certainly grab world headlines, but might not be a popular decision among his subjects.
But locals feel that there is little danger of this though – Albert is after all the son of Hollywood star Grace Kelly, and future media appearances could just as well be in celebrity magazines as environment campaign ones.