According to every poll worth its clipboard, Barcelona is the European city best loved by visitors, and to the current generation of cultural dilettantes and easyJetsetters it is almost impossible to imagine that it wasn’t ever thus. This is the city’s triumph, and its own self-assurance is fortified with the quiet knowledge of how it got here. Over the centuries the city of Barcelona has been buffeted by invading forces, fleeced by trade restrictions and strangled by autocratic central governments – and every time has bounced back prouder and more audacious.
Great Barcelona ! After the ‘grey years’, the interminable period between the end of the civil war and Franco’s dying breath, there was a huge zest for change, to move on to a new era. It stoked the desire to transform the city itself, while the Olympic bid and then the Games themselves provided extra incentive, not to mention cash.
The finest architects and urban planners were persuaded to take part in this vision. The axis upon which the project spun was the idea to ‘turn Barcelona around’ to face the sea, creating whole swathes of beach from virtual wasteland. Ugly high-rises flung up during the Franco regime were pulled down, derelict blocks razed to provide open spaces and parkland, and world-class artists and sculptors – Roy Lichtenstein, James Turrell, Claes Oldenburg and Eduardo Chillida among them -– commissioned to brighten up street corners. Along with the creation of the new Barcelona in bricks and mortar went the promotion of Barcelona-as-concept, a seductive cocktail of architecture, imagination, tradition, style, nightlife and primary colours.