For two weeks we enjoyed the manic of Barcelona. We attended concerts, rode bikes by the beach, ate tapas and drank Sangria. We lived in an apartment in one of the residential neighborhoods and tried to blend in. The Castilian people are vying for a new European country of Catalonia, and you see their patriotism hanging from balconies. The locals hold folk dancing every Friday and Saturday night and have resurrected their original language. When we were in Barcelona three side trips really stood out to us:
We arrived in the pre-dawn dusk – the sun came up over a huge bank of clouds. The views of, and from the top of the mountain are stunning. The mountain juts up out of the earth in an other-worldly way, and it is easy to see why over the centuries this was considered a holy site.
One of the most famous tourist attractions in Catalunya in the northeast part of the Iberian peninsula is the Monastery on Montserrat. Set on top of a craggy mountain (Montserrat means, literally, “Saw Mountain” in the Catalan language) the Benedictine abbey is known for its famous boys choir and the Virgin of Montserrat, a statue of a black Madonna and child that has been attracting pilgrims to the mountain for many centuries.
It is one of the black Madonnas of Europe, hence its familiar Catalan name, la Moreneta (“The little dark-skinned one”). Believed by some to have been carved in Jerusalem in the early days of the church, it is a Romanesque sculpture in wood from the late 12th century. Legend has it that the Benedictine monks could not move the statue to construct their monastery, choosing to instead build around it. The statue’s sanctuary is located at the rear of the chapel, where an altar of gold surrounds the icon, and is now a site of pilgrimage.
Girona and Figueres (Dali)
Salvador Dalí, the genius of the surrealism art movement was a Spanish Catalan artist, illustrator, sculptor, author and film maker. Dalí was of one of most famous artists of the 20th century and he changed the world with his fabulous surrealist imagery and flamboyant personality. The main Dalí museum is called the Dalí Theatre-Museum and is in Figueres which is 2 hours north of Barcelona. The Dali Theatre museum was created by Salvador Dalí himself in his home town. It is the biggest surrealist work of art in the world and perhaps the most fun, original and creative art museum in the world. The museum is structured like a circular maze with many crisscrossing paths. Whether you like Dali or not hands down the most batshit and amazing museum I’ve ever visited. Dali was a real character, and you see it within every detail of the museum.
Girona is a beautiful city, nestled on the banks of the Onyar River. It is located in the northeast of Catalonia, Spain, about one hour’s drive from Barcelona. It was chosen by the HBO Seris Game of Thrones. There are 6 or 7 locations from season six of the show, for example, from the scenes outside the sept in Kings Landing to where Arya fought and ran from the assassin in Westeros. It was cool to compare how the locations look now versus scenes from the show.
The medieval sector was once home to the Jewish Quarter or Call. It consists of a labyrinth of narrow streets and patios that have maintained their medieval atmosphere. It is one of the best preserved Jewish quarters in the world and clear evidence of the importance of the Jewish culture in Girona.
Begun in the 5th century, by the 12th century, Girona was home to a large Jewish community. and one of the most important Kabbalistic schools in Europe here. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella demanded all their subjects convert to Christianity. The Jewish population refused and so were expelled from Girona in 1492. Members of the community believed they would return one day, so they blocked off their properties and streets in hopes of reclaiming them in the future. The Christian neighbors who were left behind were reluctant to move into these vacant homes for fears of being labeled secret Jews by the Catholic Church. As a result the homes remained unoccupied for 500 years. With time the Call was completely buried under subsequent construction projects. In the 1970’s, the old town of Girona began to be gentrified. A businessman bought the 11th century buildings to create a restaurant. During work on the building they discovered an important Kabbalistic site and sparked preservation and education of a Jewish site in Spain.
We visited the Jewish History Museum which aims to tell the story of the Jewish Communities of Catalonia, which throughout the entire medieval period formed part of and made decisive contribution to the history of the country and its cultural and scientific development.
Sagrada Familia. (Holy Family Basilica)
The Sagrada Familia, inspired by nature and faith, has been under construction since 1882. Six new towers are being added to this Catholic basilica in Barcelona, bringing the total to 18 and — at long last — finishing the work begun by Antoni Gaudi. When asked why the project was taking so long, the pious Gaudi was fond of saying “my client is not in a hurry.” He was talking about God. When asked why he lavished so much care on the tops of the spires, which no one would see from close up, Gaudi answered: “The angels will see them.”
The first thing a visitor notices upon entering is the size of the main chamber,. With a stunning array of columns that are constructed to look like trees growing inside the basilica, the roof stretches far above the viewer, to a height that’s almost vertigo-inspiring from below. It all contributes to a sensation that although one is standing indoors, one could just as easily be outside, in a crisp white forest ringed by some of the most intensely colorful stained glass windows you’ve ever seen.
The church as 3 stunning facades. The Nativity facade, featuring the holy family, the Passion facade featuring sculptures from the last days of Christ’s life and the Glory facade (which will access the central nave) will be dedicated to the celestial glory of Jesus, in his death and resurrection. (Still under construction)
The stone spires are represented as trees and built with different stone to represent diversity in nature. They vary in color and load bearing strength. Essentially none of the interior surfaces are flat. The branching columns, as well as have a structural function, reflect Gaudi’s idea that the inside of the temple should be like a wood that invites prayer and is fitting for celebrating the Eucharist.
To lesson the load of the roof and bring light into the building, the skylights in between the columns, are built using pieces of golden and green glass to reflect daylight inside. All the stained glass in the apse follows a plan of graduated tones to create an atmosphere suitable for introspection. As the sun moves across the sky, its light further emphasizes the qualities of each facade. Gaudi said that the sun is the best painter and that light from the windows flows over the stones like a stream. The shape and placement of windows create the mottled effect one would see with the sunlight pouring through the branches of a thick forest.
The church is a fever dream of spires and vivid stained glass, ornate facades and ornamental arches. The basilica is a vision inspired by faith and love of nature. He understood that the natural world is rife with curved forms, not straight lines. He noticed that natural construction tends to favor sinewy materials such as wood, muscle and tendon. The lesson of Gaudi is not to copy his solutions but rather to look at nature for inspiration … nature does not go out of fashion.