I couldn’t blog about Barcelona without mentioning the port; sea trade brought prosperity to many European cities and here the port has been central to city life for two millennia. Origin stories suggest that the city was either founded by Hercules, or by Hamilcar, the father of the famous Carthaginian military leader Hannibal. In either event it was the Romans who began to fully develop the area to take advantage of the natural harbour here.
Nowadays the place is bustling with visitors, but to me it seems to lack a clear identity. Is it a marina, a ferry terminal, a shopping mall or a historical monument? The answer is that it is all of these in part, but what does that make the whole?
Most of the commercial activity (it is one of Europe’s largest container ports) takes place conveniently out of sight of most visitors, with the ferry terminal dominating the western end of the vista that greets you as you arrive at the end of La Rambla – the main street of the old town.
Here you will also find the Mirador de Colón, the monument to Christopher Columbus. Here the explorer returned to his Spanish sponsors to report the discovery of America, further reminder of past nautical glories. Best not mention that Columbus was Italian, or that his statue, intended to point in the direction of the Americas, actually points to Genoa, city of his birth.
Around the fringes you will find the converted warehouses that house museums and restaurants, but then on a peninsula jutting into the docks is the commercial heart; an IMAX cinema, the largest aquarium in Europe, and the Mare Magnum shopping centre, which because of it’s tourist destination status is the only mall open on Sundays.
There’s some amazing art too, though I found myself less enthralled by Frank Gehry and Roy Lichtenstein than Spanish artist Andreu Alfaro. His piece Onades (Waves) dominates the entrance to the ferry buildings and consists of great loops of polished steel. At first I assumed they were an interpretation of the Olympic rings with a hint of Mickey Mouse ears, but as the work was installed well after that event any comment on the commercialisation of sporting ideals would be misinterpretation on my part.
Standing guard over all of this are the towers of the cable car that ascends to Montjuic and the Olympic Park. Inconveniently the central tower is no longer an access point, so you must start further along the coast if you want to take that ride. It’s well worth it though for the panoramic views of the city that it provides.