Catalunya, of which Barcelona is the capital, is not Spain but a separate, distinct country. So say the
Catalans – and with good reason. It has its own language, its own
customs, a thriving historic capital and a hard-working mentality far
removed from the 'mañana, mañana' procrastinations often associated
Shaped roughly like a triangle, Catalunya is a diverse region of
(often avant-garde) urbanisation, mountains, beaches and farmland,
proud of its political and artistic heritage, and its modernism.
Bounded by the Pyrenees to the north, the Mediterranean to the east,
and the River Ebro, running diagonally between them, it consists of
four provinces: Girona in the north, Lleida in the west, Tarragona in
the south and Barcelona in the north.
Tourists flock to the area, some to the countryside, others to beach
resorts like Lloret de Mar, and Blanes. Still more travel to the
vibrant city of Barcelona where the medieval Gothic cathedrals, Gaudi's
magnificent modernist structures and the beachside Olympic and Forum
2004 developments stun the eye. Catalunya's biggest tourist attraction, however, is the FC Barcelona
museum at the Nou Camp stadium.
Unlike much of mainland Iberia,
Catalunya was not colonised by the Moors. Before the unification of Spain, Barcelona was the capital of an
empire which stretched to Athens. Its subsequent decline, and the
political dominance of the peninsular by Madrid, is keenly felt by the
people in the region.
Fluttering everywhere in the region are yellow-and-red striped flags – the symbol of Catalunya. Catalanisme is a widespread movement to promote
Catalan independence – and bustling himself to its forefront is Joan Laporta, longterm
president of FC Barcelona who now fancies a move into politics.
Laporta's old club is, and always has been, a major symbol of Catalan
nationalism, supported by most of the football fans in the region: one survey suggested that 65 percent of the population follow Barça.
Real Madrid are supported by 18 percent – mainly migrants relocated to the area during the Franco era – and only three percent are up for Espanyol,
Barcelona's other Primera team, whose hard-core fans, Las Brigadas
Blanquiazules, hate FC Barcelona and Catalanisme, welcome Madrid, and
carry Spanish flags to the game, some bearing the (illegal) black eagle
For the vast majority for whom football means Barça, there is no
occasion when the hatred of their political, economic and historical
bondage to the 'oppressive' capital of Madrid bursts out more than when
Real Madrid come to play in the awesome Nou Camp.
To these fans, Madrid are the team of General Franco, who – keen to
unify the country he dictated from 1939 to his death in 1975 – sought to
destroy Catalanisme, to eradicate the language and customs of the
region, forcing into exile those opponents he didn't execute or throw
Since El Generalisimo's death, Catalan culture has flourished, and
the previously illegal Reapers' Song, a ballad celebrating the Catalan
peasants' revolt against billeted Spanish troops in 1640, has become
the official national anthem. The song, which Laporta once played
before the clasico against Madrid, describes what the Catalan rebels
should do to the Madrid-financed invading soldiers:
'Drive them off, these people,
So conceited and arrogant,
A good blow of the sickle,
Defenders of the land,
A good blow of the sickle.'
As ever, when in a foreign country, make an attempt to ingratiate yourself with the locals by learning the lingo. However, don't make the mistake of speaking (Castilian) Spanish. Catalan, used in all state schools and the mother-tongue of 60
percent of the population, is akin to the French dialect Provençal.
'Please' is 'si's plau'; 'thank you' is 'merci'.
Though it's ridiculed by the rest of the country, the Catalans are fond of the
Sardana (folk dancing), which consists of groups of people forming
circles and placing objects within them, thereby demonstrating unity
and sharing. It's a tame affair, so both young and old can participate
BARCELONA: THE CITY
A vast metropolis with a population of over three million, Barcelona is
the capital of Catalunya and a city that has it all. It is a city that
excels in everything: industry, fashion, art, music, design and sport –
most notably football. With so much to do it's impossible to exhaust
your options in a single holiday, so you'll just have to go back for
more. The prosperous commercial centre is decorated with gothic
architecture, mixed with more modern (arte nouveau) creations.
This sums up Barcelona, a wonderful blend of the old and new. Despite
the money invested in the city there are some run-down areas to be
avoided. Petty crime is rife – especially if you look like a dozy
tourist – and Barcelona does have drug problems. That said, Barcelona
poses no greater danger than any other major European city, and you
shouldn't feel afraid to explore.
The hub of the city is the Ramblas, an ancient road that forms the
spine of the city. Lorca once remarked that Ramblas was "the only
street in the world which I wish would never end". For a sense of
ancient Barcelona saunter to the east end of Ramblas to the Barri Gotíc
(the Gothic quarter). Here you'll find yourself surrounded by buildings
from the 14th and 15th centuries. Barcelona's wealth of riches leaves
other major European cities desperately keeping up with the Jones'.
CITY GUIDE: ARRIVAL
The main airport is 12km south-west of Barcelona at El Prat de
Llobragat and is linked to the city by train and a handy Aerobus
(departing every 12 minutes). Some budget flights arrive at either
Girona or Reus, from where the trip to the city takes a little longer.
Placa de Catalunya, (0034) 906 301 282, www.barcelonaturisme.com.
Getting about is easy thanks to a first-class public transport that
includes a metro, trams, buses and even cable cars. Just pick up a free
transport map from the tourist office and away you go.
If your hotel is in the city centre the nearest clubbing zones are
Barri Gotic, Raval, Eixample and Gracia. However, should you venture
into the city's outskirts it's here that you'll find the designer,
big-name venues. Poble Nou for example offers little during the day
but transforms into a trendy nightspot.
Café Royale, c/Nou de Zurbano 3. Pretty people lounging about. Prepare to feel inadequate.
Otto Zultz, c/de Lincoln. More of the beautiful set dancing wildly.
The Loft, c/Pamplona 88. Two floors, international DJs.
Carpe Diem, Avgda. Dr Gregorio Maranon 17. Huge tent, best in summer.
The Museu de Barça. Built in 1957, and enlarged 25
years later for the World Cup semi-final, the Camp Nou is a world-class
stadium – and as you'd expect its museum is a shrine to great Barcelona
teams and players through the years. To say it's not entirely impartial
is one enormous understatement, but it is a must for any football fan.
Tickets are 7 euros (11 euros with a tour of the stadium) and opening
hours are Monday-Saturday 10am-6.30pm and Sundays 10am-2pm.
SOMETHING A LITTLE DIFFERENT
Why not ride the cross-harbour cable car from Barceloneta (the 1992
Olympic village) to Montjuic for a dazzling view of the city? The cable
car departs every 15 minutes, tickets cost 6 euros one way and 7.20
If you're in the area, it's well worth taking a train 75km north-east
of Barcelona to Girona. Having survived 21 invasions by the 18th
century, and been besieged five times in the 19th century, this
medieval city has earned its nickname 'Immortal'. Today it is stormed
by nothing more fearsome than armies of tourists strolling through its
cobbled streets. Be sure to visit the markets in the old town for a
break from the beach. The tourist office is at the train station in
Placa d'Espanya (0034 972 226 575).
New Year's Eve – Cap d'Any – sparks wild street celebrations. As the
clock counts down to midnight, you eat 12 grapes in 12 seconds, each
representing good fortune for a month of the year ahead. Top tip: go
Explore the area with the interactive map below. Click club badge for a club guide.
For regular updates on the crazy world of Spanish football, see our blog La Liga Loca
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