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The beautiful seaside city of Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain, touting a population of 1.6 million. From the Basilica of the Sagrada Familia to the Casa Batlló, to the Gothic Quarter, Barcelona is filled with rich history and architecture.
For your first fun fact, in 2009 Barcelona was ranked one of the world’s most successful city brands. Barcelona knows it’s good and is good at letting other people know.
We’re here to fill you in on all the little known historical facts about this vivacious, buzzing city.
Table of Contents
It was either the father of Hannibal or Hercules who founded the city of Barcelona. Two pretty great options, and two pretty great stories as to how Barcelona came to be Barcelona. Well, supposedly Hannibal’s dad called it Barkenon and the Greek hero dubbed it Barca Nona.
Hans Christian Andersen visited Barcelona in 1862 and is reported to have said, “Barcelona is the Paris of Spain.” Yep, Barcelona has some decent cultural history too. Thanks for noticing, Hans!
Only 90 miles from the French border, facing the Mediterranean, confined by two rivers, and a semicircle of mountains, Barcelona’s location is just too good. The city wasn’t able to spread past its medieval confines for hundreds of years because the city’s heavy fortifications kept outsiders out and insiders in.
Up to one-third of the population of modern Barcelona was not born in Catalonia! Whether born in other Mediterranean countries or in other regions of Spain, Barcelona has its’ share of the diversity pie!
For the 1992 Olympic Games, Barcelona realized something was missing. And it was obvious. Too obvious. Barcelona didn’t have sand on its coast. They imported sand from Egypt to make a soft, sandy beach for the games and for the many visitors that would want to lounge in the sun.
P.S. – These are the 35 INCREDIBLE tours in Barcelona!
In 1899 Football Club Barcelona was born! Curiously, the team wasn’t just founded by Spaniards. It was with a group of Swiss and English footballers, as well as Spaniards, who founded this beloved football team. It’s amazing what a little teamwork can do!
During the autocracy in the 1920s, there might have been just a little bit of unrest for the political regime who made it illegal to speak Catalan. Fans flooded to the stadium to bask in their unhappiness and disapproval. The FC Barcelona stadium was a space for booing other teams and booing at their government.
The home stadium of FC Barcelona, named Camp Nou, is the largest football stadium of all of Europe. In fact, it’s the third largest stadium in the world, in terms of seating capacity. 99,354 seats for millions of fans, still seems like a squeeze to us!
Before the 2011/2012 season of FC Barcelona, the team avoided having corporate sponsorship displayed on their jerseys. That was until they signed a 150 million euro deal with the Qatar Sports Investments. So their jersey’s rocked the Qatar Foundation logo and then they switched it to the Qatar Airlines logo for the 2013/2014 season. We get it, Sometimes the money is just too good.
When it comes to revenue, FC Barcelona is the third richest team in the world. They also are the third most valuable sports team in the world. These players are worth their weight in gold! Which is worth a little side note: FC Barcelona players have received the most best player of the year awards. Totaling in eleven Ballon D’or awards!
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So maybe the construction workers of the Familia Sagrada weren’t exactly procrastinators, but after over 150 years construction is not finished. And it’s not going to be finished this year. No, not the year after. The estimated date of completion is 2026! Apparently, that still may not be enough years!
The architect mastermind behind the Familia Sagrada, is, of course, the infamous Gaudi. And where better to put the brilliant architect to rest but inside his own masterpiece. If you visit the Familia Sagrada, make sure to stop by his tomb in the underground level and tell him how much you love his work. We’re all fans, after all!
Near the beginning of the construction, in 1909, a school was built by Gaudi near the cathedral. This school was built for the constructor workers’ children, though other neighborhood children attended. Ding, Dong! It’s not time for church yet, but time for class!
Gaudi was irrefutably brilliant, right? But with his psychedelic, highly intricate architectural designs he couldn’t get away from his first love: nature. If you pay close attention to the designs you can see many references to nature, such as the interior pillars which loosely portray trees! See if you can spot turtles, too!
There are glass mosaics placed at the highest points of the Familia Sagrada. The reason being that Gaudi wanted the light of the sun and moon to catch there. The glimmering shine mimics a beacon, like a spiritual lighthouse to lead people home to this holy site.
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It’s not often that a choral society steps up to bat and hits an architectural home run! The Catalan Choral Society was the driving force behind the creation of the Palau de la Música, one of the most notable modernisme style buildings not designed by Gaudi. This architectural wonder is the only concert hall in the world that depends on natural sunlight during the day time.
You can’t visit Barcelona without being greeted by Joan Miró, the whimsical surrealist artist, who was born in Barcelona in 1893. Visitors are greeted at the airport by one of his pieces, and if you walk along La Rambla, you’re sure to step on his mosaic. Joan Miró even founded his own museum. He knew he was good.
In the time of Art Nouveau, also known as Catalan modernisme architecture, Barcelona had BOOM in brilliance! From Gaudi to Paul Güell, quite a number of the buildings built during the time between 1885 and 1950, have become World Heritage Sites. The kind of sites where your jaw drops and your eyes pop out in wonder. What a time of creation!
The wacky surrealist extraordinaire, Salvador Dali, was born in Catalonia and was no stranger to Barcelona. His first solo exhibition was there, as was many more after! He was named after his father and his older brother who died nine months before his own birth. His parents told him he was his brother’s reincarnation, and throughout his life agreed it was true!
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Pablo Picasso spent many of his formative years in Barcelona. This father of cubism and influential giant in the modern art movement uttered a unique and charming first word as a baby: “pencil.” If you stop by the Barcelona’s Museu Picasso you can see roughly 4,000 of his art pieces created by paintbrush, pastel, and yes, pencil.
Barcelona is home to the quirky, and certainly amusing, Museu de la Xocolata. You guessed it, a museum filled with chocolate sculptures. Bring your own candy bar in your pocket or purse, because you’ll leave this museum drooling.
Cinderella had a thing for shoes, and so do the people of Barcelona. One of only of the three shoe museums in the world is in Barcelona. The Museu del Calçat has wonderful exhibits on the history of shoes, from Roman sandals to Arabic Slippers. The real question is, do they have any glass slippers?
If art is not your thing, maybe you’ll enjoy a little aerial cable car ride to the Museu National d’ Art Catalunya, which is located on a mountain overlooking the city. But really, the MNAC is worth a visit. It has the largest Romanesque art collection in the world. The art pieces were rescued from neglected churches across Catalonia. Those lost little art pieces sure needed a good home!
Flamenco was thought to have begun in Andalusia over 500 years ago. However, it has had many cultural influences such as Islamic, Cuban, and Indian! It was the arrival of nomadic gypsies in the 15th century that truly marks the genesis of Flamenco. The gypsies brought new rhythms and instruments, and clothing! The Flamenco costumes were inspired by the gypsy calico ruffled gowns!
It was in the tail end of the 19th century that Barcelona could count on two hands, wait we mean nearly 15 hands, the amount of Flamenco cafes, theatres, and establishments. That is a total of 74 Flamenco hot spots!
“Cante,” or singing, is actually the most important part of Flamenco music. Flamenco was all singing, clapping, snapping, and shouting, until the 19th century when they decided adding a guitar wouldn’t be a bad idea. Couldn’t be a coincidence that Barcelona had a golden age of Flamenco at the same time the guitar was added to the mix!
Table Flamenco Cordobes opened in Barcelona in 1970. This tablao flamenco establishment was built on La Rambla and was founded by a family of artists. This Tablao is still hustling and bustling with flamenco activity as it’s recognized now as the main historical tablao in Barcelona!
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According to archeological finds, there was was a large Jewish community in Barcelona as early as the beginning of the Common Era. This community, for hundreds of years, was confined in the Jewish quarter, the Juderia. The Romans tolerated them, but then the Visigoths weren’t as understanding. Not cool, Visigoths!
In 1263, King James I of Aragon decided he wanted to convert the Jews to Christianity. Nachmanides, the great Jewish sage and scholar, presented a passionate case to the king about the validity of Judaism. He did such a good job that at the end of his speech, King James I rewarded his eloquence with money!
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El Call isn’t Spanish slang for “The Call.” It actually is the Jewish district in Barcelona. The name comes from the Hebrew word “kahal” which translates to community. In the center of El Call is Spain’s oldest synagogue and one of the oldest ones in Europe. Named the Sinogoga Major de Barcelona, the foundations are Roman and it is believed to have stood since the 5th century!
Rabbi Solomon ben Abraham ibn Adret was known by the abbreviation RASHBA, because his name was definitely a mouthful. He was born in Barcelona in 1235 and as a disciple of Nachmanides. RASHBA was also known as the “Rabbi of Spain” as he became one of the most renowned and respected Talmudists and codifiers of his time. We wrote extensively on Jewish law, and founded a great Yeshivah, a Jewish educational institution, in Barcelona.
There you have it! 31 facts about the history of the buzzing, the bustling, the beautiful, city of Barcelona! From eccentric artists with legendary moustaches a football that is more than just a team, Barcelona has a fascinating past and present. We can’t speak of the future of Barcelona, but we are sure it will be bring the world more extraordinary things!
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Lily Allen-Duenas is a wandering yoga instructor, massage therapist, and reiki healer. For the last two years she’s been journeying around the world, teaching yoga on island resorts in Cambodia, surf hostels in Sri Lanka, and wellness centers in the Phillipines. Lily loves building her life around her passions, health, wellness, and travel. You can follow her journey at wildyogatribe.com or get social with her @wildyogatribe