Sitting on top of Monjuïc, in an ideal place for a defense vantage point, sits the Castell de Montjuïc. With wonderful 360º views of the city below, this place was built in 1640 during the Reapers’ War. Since then it has served as a fortress, military prison, weapons museum and now used for cultural activities and displays.
The castle can be reached by a funicular and cable lift, which offers a magnificent view of Barcelona.
A notable death was the execution by firing squad of the president of the Catalan government, Lluís Companys, executed on the 15th October 1940 at the castle after being deported by Nazi Germany and handed over to Franco’s troops.
The only real question is, has it ever been used as a castle as its name suggests?
Right in the city center, in the midst of Ciutat Vella, lies a plaza that can be traced to the X century. Once a cementery of the Basilica de Santa Maria del Pi, the plaza nowadays hosts (and from 15 years ago) a little market for artists, craftspeople and artisans on the first and third weekend of every month. All products are handmade and range from cheese and honey to sausages, wine and biscuits. Next to the plaza, a painters display is set.
The Plaza del Pi gets its name from its literal meaning, Plaza del Pino. The story says that a pine tree was planted in 1568 and lasted until the war. Since then, a new pine is planted when the current one gets sick or dies. The one currently standing in the plaza was planted in 1985.
Paella is originally from lake Albufera, a lagoon in Valencia and dates back to the mid-19th century. In Spain, paella is considered a regional dish and not the national dish we all think it is.
According to Valencian tradition, paella should be cooked over an open fire, fueled by orange and pine tree branches along with pine cones which imbues the rice with the aromatic smoke. Said to be a dish of poor peasants due to its filling and cheap nature from ingredients from the countryside.
Paella, above anything, is a rice dish which means when the rice is cooked well, paella will be good, no matter what is in it. Normally “bomba” rice is used and stirring is definitely forbidden.
Its name comes from the pan where it is cooked in and from the Latin word for ‘pan’ or ‘dish.’ People eat it straight from the pan.
Well cooked paellas have a lightly toasted layer that remains at the bottom of the pan once finished. This layer must be crunchy but not burned and never burnt. The socorrat, as this layer is called, is a privilege for whoever gets to eat.
This 60 meter high monument, the Christopher Columbus Monument, was built in 1888 in homenage of the explorer and discoverer of America. The monument is in Plaça de la Porta de Pau (Square of the Gate of Peace) and took 6 years to complete. The 7 meter tall statue of the standing Columbus points towards the sea, thought strangely enough, it is not in the direction of the “new world” he discovered.
Columbus was born in Genoa, Italy. However, some historians in the nineteenth century claimed that he was Catalonian and thus a reason why this monument is placed in Barcelona.
The monument has caused some debate as whilst with Colon’s discovery of America the exchange between America and Europe began, it also meant slaughter, suppression, enslaving and destruction of the indigenous people, their culture and the theft of their treasures.
One of the main tourist attractions in Lisbon is, in fact, a public service: its six tram routes, three funiculars, and one vertical lift.
Funiculars climb and descend the city’s steepest hills and given their age they have been declared national monument since 2002. Ascensor do Lavra is the oldest, inaugurated in 1884. Ascensor da Bica is the youngest, inaugurated in 1892. And this one, Ascensor da Glória is the most popular amongst tourist.
A recipe now considered a national treasure has been kept secret for 200 years. It is said that only 6 people know the recipe for the Pastéis de Belém a Portuguese egg tart pastry (similar to pastéis de nata except made in Belem). It is incredible to think that these cakes that are only made of egg yolk, milk, flour and sugar end up being crispy on the outside, sweet and creamy on the inside.
It is said that to keep the recipe a true mystery, not only do all bakers have to sign a non disclosure agreement but they also work inside the secret factory – Oficina dos Segredos. A recipe invented by the monks that lived in the Monastery in Jeronimos in the early 19th century to bring income to their home and to use up the leftover yolks from starching their habits with egg whites.
Be sure to buy more than one because these mouthwatering tarts sprinkled with cinnamon are too good to be on a diet. It is no surprise that this place sells on a daily basis around 20,000 tarts; number which in the summer gets doubled!
When one thinks of Spanish food, one thinks of paella, tapas or churros and hot chocolate. Churros are long, light, crispy sticks of fried dough which is created from water, salt and flour. The dough is deep-fried in a large boiling vat of oil and slowly pouring the mixture into the container; gently stirring the oil with a stick, it allows the dough to fry and solidify in a large spiral. The deep-fried dough is then cut into smaller sticks with scissors and might have a bit of sugar added on top. Churros can be eaten just like that, though in Spain, traditionally, they are served with a steaming cup of thick hot chocolate as a kind of decadent dipping sauce.
In Madrid one can enjoy this snack literally any time at the emblematic Chocolatería San Gines which dates back to 1894. The classic style cafeteria stays open until the early hours in the morning; often its busiest hours are after 4am on weekends when it sees people nurturing a hangover.
Chocolateria San Gines is located on a tiny little street – Pasadizo de San Ginés, and tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the city, the chocolatería is easy to miss. This is actually the reason why during the Second Republic of Spain, some people called it “La escondida” (the hidden one). The Chocolatería was made even more famous when in featured in Luces de Bohemia, a play by a Spanish author Valle-Inclán and also due to its “Salón de Tertulias”, a hall which functioned as a meeting place for literary personalities during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Nowadays the chocolatería is just as busy as a century ago and entering is like walking through time with its white marble with thick forest green leather seats and gold letters spelling out the name San Ginés. The building dates back to 1890, when it was originally built as a restaurant and inn. In 1894, San Gines began serving their famous chocolate and churros and has since survived two Spanish wars (American and civil), political unrest, an economic boom and an equivalent downfall. And it is still a favourite amongst locals, tourists and travel guides alike.
Originally called the Parque del Buen Retiro, or “pleasant retreat,” is a public park since the late 19th century, in 1868. It hasn’t always been so, the 1.4 km2 (350 acres) at the edge of the city center was originally built as a retreat for the Spanish Monarchy – hence its name.
The park was planned in the 1550s and redesigned, adding a palace and a theatre, under the supervision of Gaspar de Guzmán, Conde-Duque de Olivares. Both buildings burned in 1734. King Ferdinand VI ordered the palace rebuilt, but it was razed during the Peninsular War; a remnant now serves as the War Museum.
The construction of the Sacred Cor church, which gives the Tibidabo its distinction from the city, started in 1902 after an eclectic design by Enric Sagnier i Villavecchia; replacing an earlier chapel from 1886. The church took about 60 years to build.
Sagrat Cor is perhaps the most apt of Tibidabo’s attractions as the local legend says it is where the devil tempted Jesus. The name Tibidabo comes from a piece of the Latin version of the bible, Matthew 4:9 and Luke 4:6. ‘Haec omnia tibi dabo si cadens adoraberis me’ was the phrase supposedly said to Jesus by the devil as they looked down from a mountain on the kingdoms of the world – All this I shall give you if you kneel and worship me.
The Tibidabo is easily recognisable not just for its height, but for the iconic combination of church of the Sagrat Cor and the multi-colored ferris wheel of the amusement park, both sitting at the top of the highest summit of the Collserola mountain range. The mountain, at 512 meters tall, borders Barcelona to the North and for those who trek through the national park to its summit get rewarded with beautiful panoramic views of the whole city and the Mediterranean Sea.