According to legend, the city of Barcelona was founded by Hercules four centuries before the establishment of Rome. In the 3rd Century BC, the settlement was rebuilt by Hamilcar Barca of Carthagena, father of Hannibal, who named it Barcino after his family name. Around 15 BC, the town was turned into a Roman military camp centered on a little hill near the site of today’s Plaça de Sant Jaume.
Although initially overshadowed by nearby Tarragona, the town steadily rose in prominence and wealth, though it took another five centuries for Barcelona to experience the first Golden Era in its history. In the Middle Ages, the dynasty ruling Barcelona took hold of the entire Catalonia and made the city into a powerful cultural and political centre, with possessions including Sicily, Malta, Sardinia and even parts of Greece.
The ancient and Medieval history of the city has greatly influenced its contemporary shape. Classic Roman grid-planning can still be seen in the historical centre of Barcelona. Important Roman ruins are visible under the Plaça del Rei; the Cathedral La Seu features remnants of Roman walls that have been incorporated into it. The ancient remains seamlessly blend with later Medieval additions, as in the thrillingly mysterious Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter), located in the very heart of the city.
European Art Nouveau left an indelible mark on the cultural history of this magnificent city. At the end of the 19th Century, a unique version of the trend emerged in Barcelona. Around this time, the prolific imagination of architects Antoni Gaudi and Lluis Domenech i Montaner forever changed the face of the city. The former is the best-known citizen of Barcelona, which he adorned with such constructions as the Casa Batlló, Pedrera, Parc Guell and Casa Vicens. Probably his most famous work is the imposing Sagrada Familia, a magnificent, still-unfinished church. Domenech i Montaner got his name down in the history of Barcelona with such fantastic creations as the Palau de la Música Catalana and Hospital de Sant Pau.
Barcelona is a Spanish city to those who have not yet been there. Paradoxically, the most recognisably Spanish city worldwide is the capital of Catalonia, a province in which the nationalistic drive, typical of various Spanish regions, is particularly strong. As Barcelonians say, their city is a place essentially Catalonian in spirit, and Catalonia isn’t Spain by any means. During the rule of General Franco, numerous attempts were made to curb the nationalist Catalan sentiment in the city and the entire region. All were unsuccessful; and if Franco's regime couldn’t crush it, it’s not surprising that the city’s vibrant Catalonian spirit flourished under a restored democracy. Speaking fluent Spanish won’t help you blend in with the locals much, as they speak their own language, Catalonian, unintelligible even to the Spanish coming from outside of the province.
Contemporary Barcelona is Spain's most popular city, overshadowing even the capital city and home of its football arch-enemy, Madrid. Football fans shouldn’t miss the chance to visit the legendary stadium of FC Barcelona, Camp Nou, and the club’s museum, which is the second-most visited museum in the province. Sport has always been of crucial importance to the image of Barcelona. For the 1992 Summer Olympics, a number of prime quality sports venues were erected, a whole new city district created and the entire centre thoroughly refurbished, particularly the city’s harbor and beaches. This impressive infrastructure is made use of during the great number of cultural events that take place here throughout the year.
Another way to experience Barcelona’s thrilling uniqueness is a tour of the city’s restaurants. Once it gets dark, step into the maze of small tapas bars and posh restaurants to try the best cuisine the Catalonian capital has to offer. Don’t miss the famous Catalonian cod, served with raisins and pine nuts, the traditional escudella soup, escalivada (a mixture of grilled vegetables), esqueixada (a salad of cod, onion and tomato), suquet (seafood casserole), mongetes amb botifarra (a stew of beans and sausage), pa amb tomàquet (crunchy bread rubbed with garlic, tomato and olive oil), and the delicious alioli (a thick sauce of garlic and olive oil). When it’s time for dessert, be sure to sample crema catalana (a cinnamon creme brulee), mel i mato (cheese with honey), tortell (marzipan pastry, sometimes glazed with fruit) and the traditional Christmas torro (a nougat-like confection made of almonds and honey).
Getting acquainted with the local cuisine is a very good start before engaging in what truly constitutes the spirit of this exciting city – its spectacularly vibrant nightlife. As far as nighttime entertainment options are concerned, Barcelona certainly beats the country’s capital, Madrid, and according to many even ranks alongside the nearby island of Ibiza. This is a city that never sleeps, and never ceases to vibrate with its own unique rhythm. Don't wait any longer to visit Barcelona, book a Barcelona hotel and start exploring it!