Facing the Mediterranean, Barcelona has throughout its history been wide open to cultural currents and trends from overseas. The second largest city in Spain, with 1.6 million inhabitants, it enjoys its status as one of the world’s major global cities, for its particular dynamism in the fields of culture, foreign investments, tourism or fashion.
Its chronicle starts in the late Antiquity. A legend says that the Carthaginian Hamilcar Barca –the father of Hannibal- named the city Barcino, but it is unquestionable that the Romans established the coastal plain bounded by the verdant Collserola mountain range in the primitive urban nucleus, with a grid plan still visible today in the layout of what is now called the Gothic Quarter.
This ancient neighbourhood tells the story of the prosperous destiny of the Mediterranean town. It thrived under the rule of their counts (9th-12th century), who gradually conquered all of Catalonia. Its incorporation in the Crown of Aragon, through a dynastic union in the midst of the 12th century, and the later expansion in overseas possessions –Naples and Sicily, and even Athens- initiated the golden age of Barcelona as a leading commercial metropolis in the western Mediterranean.
The Gothic Quarter reflects this period of prosperity and autonomy through the vast quantity of monuments it possesses, such as the Cathedral of Santa Eulalia, or the Church of Santa María del Pi.
The discovery of America, which supposed a spectacular shift in the global trade routes, was a point of inflection, and Barcelona, as most of the Mediterranean harbours, lost its prominence. Much later in the 19th century, the northern Spanish city experienced a spectacular urban and industrial development.
At the turn of the 20th century, Barcelona expanded with wide and elegant boulevards, and striking buildings of the modernism, artistic and architectural style led by Gaudí, creator of several houses (Casas Battló, Vicens, Milá…), Park Güell, and the astonishing and unfinished Sagrada Familia, all listed as World Cultural Heritage by UNESCO.
The organization of the Olympic Games in 1992 gave another impulse, providing modern infrastructure worthy of the cosmopolitan city and new seafront promenades with clean beaches. In its heart, Barcelona keeps the Rambla as its main artery, a continuous bustle of street artists and a stage for thousands of plays of urban life, leading irresistibly to the sea.