The Spanish city of Barcelonasits on the Iberian Peninsula, 100 miles from the French border, and just a few steps from the Mediterranean Sea.
With its roots reaching back into pre-history, the hands of many cultures have shaped Barcelona.
But it was the Catalan spiritthat created something truly unique.
In Barcelona, everything you see, taste, reach out and touch… every detail is an expression of Catalan creativity.
For this is more than just a city, Barcelona is a dream.
And just like our dreams, Barcelona is sometimes chaotic, often intense, and always, always seductive.
The dream begins in the city’s heart, in Placa de Catalunya.
Follow the gaze of Barcelona’s luminaries and legends, along avenues where iron, tile and stone melt together in a sensual dance.
To the South, drift withthe sea of souls down La Rambla, which the poet Lorca called, “the only street in the world I wish would never end.
” But beware, the busyness ofLa Rambla makes it a dream for pickpockets too.
To the north, glide up Passeig de Gracia, a boulevard lined with creations by some of the giants ofthe Art Nouveau and Modernista movements.
But it’s not just the city’s main avenues that lull the senses into a divine stupor; Barcelona’s side streets and alleywaysare often rabbit holes into the sublime.
And when the Mediterranean sun turns up the heat, cool off in one of the many plazasand let the city come to you.
Barcelona is a dream shaped by the past.
Lose yourself in the old town, Barrio Gotico, where each turn reveals some new layerof the city’s 2000 year-old history.
Pass through the Roman towers, which guarded the citywhen it was known in ancient times as Barcino.
Just beyond, Barcelona Cathedral, a Catalan-gothicmasterpiece 600 years in the making rises from the ruins of a roman temple.
While a few streets away, visit Saint Mary of the Sea, a spiritual safe harbor for generations of seafarers.
Barcelona is a city that has forever looked to the sea.
High above Port Vell stands Christopher Columbus, the intrepid mariner Cataloniansproudly claim as one of their own.
Nearby, set sail on your own voyage of discoveryin the medieval dockyards.
Though the sound of shipbuilding faded long ago, the Maritime Museum preserves the glorious echoes of Barcelona’s sea power throughout the days of sail.
Nearby in the old general stores, explore the Museum of the History of Catalonia, a portal into the daily lives, nightmares, and aspirationsof Barcelonans across the centuries.
If Barcelona is a dream, it is dream set to music.
Music is everywhere…on the streets, in flamenco bars, and clubs.
For this is a city whose soul is laid bare in the stirring laments and pounding heartbeat of song.
This passion reaches its crescendoin the Palace of Catalan Music, where even the statues, intoxicated by the joy of music, burst from the very walls.
Just off La Rambla a different kind of theatre awaits.
La Boqueria began as a goat marketin the 13th century.
Today, it’s the place to sample delicaciesfrom across Catalonia, such as jamon from forest-roaming pigs, fattened to perfection on herbs and acorns.
Wherever hunger strikes in Barcelona, a tapas bar is just a few steps away.
For like everything they do, Catalans have turned the humble snackinto an art form.
For in Barcelona, life and art are inseparable.
Explore the galleriesof the European Museum of Modern Art, which celebrates the daring works of artists building on centuries of Catalan tradition.
From Plaza Espanya, climb the steps to the National Palace, the home of the National Art Museum of Catalonia.
Here, take a deeper dive through Catalan creativity, from Romanesque murals, to the glittering works of the Catalan Renaissance.
The National Palace sits on the slopes of Montjuic, a broad hill laced withtrails, gardens and historic treasures.
Take the cable car even higher, and enjoy the commanding viewsfrom Montjuic Castle.
For many in Barcelona however, this is a place of sorrow.
For it was against these walls that prisoners cried their final defiant wordsbefore Franco’s firing squads.
Over the last 100 years, Montjuic has beencontinually re-imagined and re-shaped, first by the World’s Fair in 1929, and again by the Summer Olympics of 1992.
But the slopes of Montjuic were not the only part of the cityto be given an Olympic makeover.
Millions of tonnes of sandwere pumped onto two miles of shoreline, giving run-down waterfront barrios a new lease of life, and lifting Barcelona high into the ranksof the world’s great beach cities.
Whether it’s the sea, the soil, or the wind, Barcelona is a dream inspired by nature.
And this dream was at its wildestin the imaginations of the Catalan Modernists, who embraced nature’s lyricism in defiance against the harsh lines and cold logicof the Industrial Revolution.
Experience Catalan Modernism in full bloom, at Sant Pau Hospital, the visionary work of Lluís Domènech i Montaner.
With an entrance representing open arms, and grounds scented by the medicinal fragranceof lavender, laurel and lemon, if ever a hospital could healon aesthetics alone, surely it was this.
But it was another Catalan, Antonio Gaudi, who took Modernismto the next level, and far beyond.
Of the nine UNESCO World Heritage sites in Barcelona, Gaudi is responsible for seven of them.
Visit Casa Vicens, the first residence designedby this future architectural superstar.
Unlike anything built before, Gaudi fused Moorish and oriental styleswith eclectic materials to create the foundationsof a new architectural language.
But for Gaudi, this voyage into modernism was only the beginning.
Just off La Rambla, step through the arches of Palau Guell, whose tree-like basement pillars and rooftop chimney pots werebut a taste of things to come.
Halfway along Passeig de Graciais the Block of Discord, where contrasting buildingsby four modernist masters jostle for attention.
But it’s Gaudi’s Casa Batllo that steals the show.
It is here Gaudi began to realize his full powers, breaking every city by-law to create what locals call, the house of bones.
Gaze up at the facade, which resembles a lily-coveredpond straight from the brush of Monet.
Then follow the serpentine hallsand swirling interiors ever upward before emerging onto the back of a dragon.
Just around the corner isthe last private residence designed by Gaudi, Casa Mila.
Some say the facade evokescoastal cliffs festooned with seaweed; others say it conjures up themist-shrouded peaks of Montserrat.
Whatever the case, Casa Milahas inspired generations of artists, including a young American filmmaker, who in these chimneys found the inspiration for Darth Vader and his Storm Troopers.
Gaudi would have loved that, for he was more than just an architect; his genius extended to furniture design, interior decoration, and, landscaping.
Pass through the gatehouses of Park Guell, and explore paths ladenwith historic and mythical symbolism.
Cool off amid a forest of stone columns, bending under the world’s weight.
Visit the house where Gaudi lived in later life.
Then, take the stairs to Turo del Calvari, and behold the spires of Gaudi’s greatest vision, as they continue their climb towards the heavens.
La Sagrada Familia is duefor completion within the next decade, to commemorate the 100-yearpassing of the man they called, God’s Architect.
Yet even unfinished, over four million visitorsa year are stunned into silence as they gaze up intothis vast, visionary kaleidoscope.
Gaudi is the very essence of Barcelona.
For just like his creations thisis a city filled with grand visions, all brought to life by endless fragments of bliss.
Barcelona is a city thatshares with the world a message… such are the wonders we create, such is the life we live, when we allow ourselves to dream.