Wise up! Respected Catalan journalist and historian Carlos Mesa talks to us about the city he loves the most in the world
Barcelona is one of the most beautiful places on earth.
It is the city where I was born and the one that I love the most. It is also one of the most visited cities worldwide, the most attractive destination around the globe. Barcelona attracts visitors because of its culture and history, art and architecture, the sea and the beach, the Mediterranean culture, climate and, of course, food and wine.
Barcelona continually surprises me.
The city conceals many odd things that we sometimes do not realise. Modernism, which was a Masonic trend, and, of course, the Freemasons themselves (a secret political and philosophical institution founded on the basis of brotherhood) left us great works of art, including many mysteries and strange symbols. Even today you can find examples of Masonic architecture in modern architecture. For example, the Hotel Arts – between each floor of the hotel there are 33 steps, a Masonic number. The Torre Agbar has two colours – red and blue, which are typical Freemason colours.
The main attraction is definitely modernism and particularly Gaudí’s work.
And that’s what makes Barcelona so unique from an architectural point of view. Antonio Gaudí is the city’s most important Freemason and of course the most mystical and mysterious architect. His masterpiece, the Sagrada Familia, is the last cathedral built on the European continent and the largest in Europe at the moment, as well as being the most mysterious considering its odd symbolism and appearance, which do not conform to those of a traditional Gothic cathedral.
When the Sagrada Familia is finished, it will be one of the masterpieces of humanity.
It is 170m tall and comprises 12 bell towers, 12 bells that will be heard from anywhere in Barcelona when rung at the same time, 3 organs with 1492 tubes each and a seating capacity of 1,000 people. La Sagrada Familia will have lights which, when lit, will be seen from anywhere in Barcelona.
The Sagrada Familia’s approximate date of completion is 2026.
Gaudí knew he would not finish the Sagrada Familia. As with all cathedrals in Europe, there are different styles and shapes within the same building and they are often worked on by different architects and artists. The works follow a very fast pace, each week you see something different and something new. The main difficulty in construction is the tests that must be carried out. The works have to be paused to try one element or another or to test a new structure. Keep in mind that Gaudí did not explain very clearly how the Sagrada Familia should be finished.
Now Gaudí is the paradigm of Barcelona.
However, in the seventies, Gaudí was not important, he was a nobody. In 1978, the Japanese artist Etsuro Sotoo came to Barcelona and after seeing the poor condition that the Sagrada Familia statues were in, selflessly offered to fix them. From this moment he began writing about Gaudí in Asia and, through him, the Catalan architect became known in Japan and worldwide.
No other building can compete with the Sagrada Familia.
Although Barcelona has many modernist buildings that are eye-catching. A stroll down Paseo de Gracia can show us many of them, where one can find the Casa Batlló and Casa Milà next to a controversial block, where architects competed to be the one who built the most beautiful building. Barcelona also boasts Domènech i Montaner buildings, including the iconic Palau de la Música Catalana. They are very nice buildings, but none of them has as much history and meaning as the Sagrada Familia.
The Eixample district is one of the most interesting places in Barcelona.
Its architect Ildefons Cerdà created a very interesting city whose streets always convey something. For example, Calle Aragón is designed so that every night, when you look towards Castelldefels, you see the moon in the dead centre of the end of the street. In fact, what we call blocks, he called octagons, the same building system that was used in the time of the Templars.
The Gothic Quarter is one of the most mysterious and curious places in Barcelona.
For example, few people know about the cut gargoyle. The gargoyles were formerly made so that the water did not fall directly on the walls of the buildings. Carlos I ordered to cut one of the gargoyles in front of the Palau Lloctinent and shape it like the trunk of an elephant, because when he went outside he always got wet. Today, the gargoyle remains cut.
One of my favourite places has always been Parc Güell.
I love to go there at any time of the day and let it take me to another time and think about life in other moments in history. It is one of the most magical places that you can visit and find in Barcelona. In fact, the prototype of the banks in Gaudí’s Park Güell is in the village of Sant Boi and very few people know it is there.
To become a real local first you have to make friends.
Someone from Barcelona is a person who has many friends. It is true that the locals are a bit reserved, but if they do make friends they become long-lasting relationships. To really live in Barcelona and feel truly integrated in the community, you must go out, make friends, meet people, see Barcelona, and discover the city with an open mind. Barcelona is a city of great opportunity and we have to enjoy and savour it.