The dreamlike fantasy of Barcelona's special architecture dares you to make sense of its stunning flights of imagination.
It's one of Europe's most intriguing cities. It has its museums – housing Picasso, Dali and Miro – its Liceu Opera House, and the Palace of Music. But it's the architectural splendor that makes the city so remarkable.
The prime mover of many of these wonders is Antoni Gaudi, born in 1852. His goal was to help reawaken interest in Spain's medieval past. Beginning in the late 19th century, he not only accomplished that, but went off in another direction that exploded into a world of creativity. His architectural work using hundreds of colorful tiles and whimsical designs proved puzzling and intriguing.
Soon, Gaudi became a leader in Catalan Modernism (which for the Catalans means Art Nouveau-style). While he spawned a number of eye-catching creations, two of his most powerful works are the Sagrada Familia Cathedral and La Pedrera (also called Casa Mila). This was constructed as an eight-floor apartment house around two circular courtyards.
The front of the building undulates horizontally like ocean waves past ironwork balconies. On the roof are wildly sculptured chimneys – looking like twisted ceramic ice-cream cones.
But its Gaudi's Sagrada Familia Cathedral that's considered Europe's most unconventional church. It has eight spires, each sporting bell towers topped with Venetian mosaics.
Still planning additional towers, his work stopped when he was killed by a tram in 1926. Now, his haunting dream of completion is being carried out by others.
On a much smaller religious scale are two synagogues. One founded in 1918 offers Sephardic and Orthodox services in the same building, and the other is the Synagogue Major on Callet Marlet. Neither is imposing from the outside.
A Vivid History
The Synagogue Major, built in the 14th century, has recently discovered a Roman foundation that can be viewed in the small chamber. An adjoining larger room has Torah scrolls, 30 chairs and a large menorah.
With minimal space, some Bar Mitzvahs and several wedding have been held here.
Barcelona's Jewish past is an inglorious one; the 14th-century Inquisition forced most Jews to convert to Catholicism. Most were gone by 1492.
But after a slow renaissance, some 4,000 Jews now reside in Barcelona.
While architecture may be the soul of Barcelona, the city's most dynamic force remains one stretch of the rambunctious La Rambla. Bordered by car traffic on both sides in the wide tree-shaded central walkway, vendors sell the likes of multicolored, caged parrots and canaries. Nearby, florists flaunt vivid, cut flowers.
While hotels and restaurants have blossomed of late, the main attractions remain the same: the physical and the human, sometimes wrapped up into one.