Cultural Walk in Barcelona (16 Nov. 2013)

From today’s cultural walk for my class in Barcelona:

Throughout its history, the city of Barcelona has always produced and attracted artists, writers and intellectuals. Whether Catalan or not, the city provided the perfect setting for all of them to be creative and leave a legacy that we can still trace today in the streets and the cafes of Barcelona.

Today we talked about such artists as Picasso, Miró, Ramon Casas and Santiago Rusiñol… architects like Gaudí, Puig i Cadafalch, Domènech i Montaner and Josep Vilaseca…writers like Jacint Verdaguer, Rubén Darío and Aribau…and other important figures like Granados, Ocaña, Subirachs, Pere Romeu, Josep Clarà, etc.


Passeig de Gràcia – Plaça Catalunya – Portal de l’Àngel – Carrer Montsió – Avinguda de Portaferrissa – Rambla de Sant Josep – Plaça Reial – Carrer Avinyó – Carrer Ferran– Plaça Sant Jaume – El Call – Plaça Sant Felip Neri – Plaça de la Catedral and the Roman City Walls.


Casa Batllò – Casa Ametller – Casa Lleó Morera – La Diosa – Monument to Francesc Macià – Els Quatre Gats – Roman City Walls and Aqueduct – Palau Moja – Escribà Pastry Shop – House of the Umbrellas – Miro’s Circular Mosaic – Cafè de l’Òpera – Lampposts of Gaudí – Generalitat – L’Ajuntament de Barcelona – The Interpretation Centre of the Jewish Quarter – Picasso’s Mediterranean Friezes – The Roman Temple of Augustus – The Barcelona Cathedral.

Key terms

L’Eixample – Modernism – Trencadís – Renaixença –Els Jocs Florals – Tertulia

L’Eixample is the name given to the XIX-century extension of Barcelona towards the mountains as a result of the population boom. It was the plan of Ildefons Cerdà in 1859, and it resulted in the inclusion of Sants, Sarrià, Gràcia and other villages/suburbs.

Modernismo is the Spanish name given to a continental style of art, architecture and literature that flourished between 1880 and 1914 and had a strong expression in Barcelona thanks to Gaudí and his colleagues. It coincided with the Catalan industrial revolution.

Trencadís refers to the broken ceramic shards that are used in Modernist buildings to cover facades and walls in colourful mosaics, lke the façade of Casa Batllò in Passeig de Gràcia.

Renaixença refers to the Catalan Renissance of the second half of the 19th century. It was golden age of the Catalan culture, championed by the likes of Jacint Verdaguer, Aribaul and Maragall. The Catalan language was celebrated and epic poems were written.

Els Jocs Florals are the Floral Games revived during the Catalan Renaissance. They were competitions between writers and poets, inspired by an old Greek tradition.

Tertulia is like a cultural salon. Tertulia gatherings were gatherings of people with a common passion for art and culture to exchange their creative works (whether art, poetry, music, etc.) and to discuss the latest trends and events. Els Quatre Gats in Barcelona was very famous for tertulia.


Half-forgotten corners in Barcelona’s Medieval Quarter

Today I took my class for a cultural walk in Barcelona. There were people from 14 different coutries…a cultural mosaic proper of a cosmopolitan city of many charms.
Away from the tourist herds, one can still enjoy half-forgotten corners at the very heart of Barcelona’s Barri Gòtic (Medieval Quarter). Plaça Sant Felip Neri is one such place…an oasis of tranquility located only a few meters away from the maddening crowds. Behind the peaceful ambiance lies a horrible memory, one that remains engraved in the scarred walls of the Baroque church at the Plaça: it was here that, during the Spanish Civil War, Italian aircrafts bombarded the city, killing over 40 people (mostly children) back in 1938.

Franco, the Spanish dictator that led the Nationalists against the Republicans, had allied himself to Fascist Italy and to Nazi Germany, and literally asked them to bombard Spanish cities like Guernica and Barcelona in order to crush the resistance. He emerged victorious in 1939, but the tragedy remains immortal in the memory of stone (like the walls of the Church of Sant Felip Neri) and in the visual memory of art (like the painting of Guernica by Picasso).

During the Spanish Civil War, several great literary figures joined on the Republican side, writing their memoirs and describing their firsthand experience. George Orwell had much to say, and I leave with some quotes from his novel ‘A Homage to Catalonia’ that we read during today’s walk:

“All the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.”

“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.”

“The quickest way of ending a war is to lose it.”

Cultural Walk in Barcelona: In the footsteps of great cultural figures (Nov. 18th)

This Sunday, I will organize the annual cultural walk for my class in Barcelona, followed by a tertulia session at one of the city’s cultural cafes.
One of the things that fascinate me about Barcelona (apart from its Mediterranean character and cosmopolitan feel) is the abundance of public artworks that can be enjoyed by all in the streets and squares of the city. Signature works by Spanish artist like Picasso, Joan Miró, Gaudí and Subirachs, as well as international artists and architects like Roy Lichtenstein, Frank Gehry, Jean Nouvel, Rebecca Horn and others.

Many of these works date back to 1992, the year in which Barcelona hosted the Olympic Games. The city witnessed one of the most massive urban regeneration processes in its history, with several neighbourhoods and beaches given a ‘facelift’ to project an image of a confident and modern city. It came at a price: some things are lost forever in the name of ‘urban development’, and the original ‘chiringuitos’ of the fishermen are lost once and for all, replaced by chic restaurants and cafes that cater to massive cultural tourism.

A Guided Walk for the IAON Pro-Iraqi Activists (Oct 6th)

This Saturday, I will have the pleasure of accompanying members of the Pro-Iraqi IAON (International Anti-Occupation Network) on a guided walk in the streets of Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter.

IOAN is a coalition of groups that stand in solidarity with the Iraqi people and for Iraqi sovereignty and against the US-led occupation of Iraq. It was established in April 2006 at the Madrid International Seminar on the Assassination of Iraqi Academics and Health Professionals.

Poster attached.

Modernism’s ‘Apple of Discord’ – Tales & Photos from my Walk

Well, it’s not exactly an apple, but it’s a story that I told during the cultural walk that I organized for the ECSA presidents last weekend.
The Apple of Discord is a famous Greek myth, supposedly provoking the Trojan War. When Eris -the Goddess of Discord, was not invited to a banquet hosted by Zeus, she decided to take her revenge: She threw a golden apple into the banquet with a few words written on it: ‘To the fairest one’. It had the expected result immediately as three of the goddesses present disputed the title of ‘the fairest’: Hera, Aphrodite and Athena. Zeus was too smart to fall into judging the dispute, and instead he directed them to a Trojan shepherd named Paris, whom he praised as a man of good taste. Each of the three goddesses tried to win Paris to her side with temptations and promises, but it was Aphrodite that made the most irresistible promise, and accordingly was voted by Paris as the fairest. The promise was to give him the fairest mortal woman, who happened to be Helen, the wife of the King of Sparta This ‘Judgment of Paris’ provoked the Trojan War as the Spartans moved to bring back Helen from Sparta.

The Spanish word for apple (manzana) has a double meaning: apple (the fruit) and a block of buildings. The ‘Apple of Discord’ is the name given to the most famous block of buildings in Barcelona, dominated by three Modernist buildings, each of which seems to claim being ‘the fairest’ (here there is a double-play with words using both meanings):
Casa Batlló by Antoni Gaudí;
Casa Amatller by Josep Puig i Cadafalch;
Casa Lleó Morera by Lluís Domènech i Montaner.

The three architects are what you can consider to be the holy trinity of Modernist Architecture in Catalonia and Spain in general.
I am attaching photos of all three houses, and you can sit back and think of yourself as Paris: Make your judgment as to which of the three buildings is the fairest, bearing in mind that there are no promises or temptations other than the beauty of design and the exquisiteness of the details.

My Cultural Walk for the European Studies Workshop (May 11th)

Tomorrow marks the beginning of the European Studies Workshop that I’m participating in organizing for the European Community Studies Association (ECSA) in Barcelona.

As part of the cultural programme of the Workshop, I will be organizing a cultural excursion for the participants (poster and itinerary attached). Next week, I will share some of the stories that I will tell during the excursion on my blog.

Historic Cairo Storytelling Walk: Khoshqadam & Around (Jan 21st)

This walk (January 21st), organized for Pen Temple Pilots, was intended to introduce the participants to some of Historic Cairo’s forgotten monuments, explaining everything from a living heritage perspective.
The itinerary:
Al-Ghuriyya, al-Tawaqjeyya, al-Tarbeaa, al-Sharaibi, al-Gawdariyya, Darb Saada, al-Mangala, Khoshqadam, al-Siba’i, al-Dardiri, al-Tablita.
The monuments visited:
The Ghuri Complex – Mamluk, 1505
Wikalat al-Sharaibi – Ottoman XVIII c.
Mosque of Ali ibn Arabi – Ottoman XVIII c.
Bayt Mohamed al-Mahrouqi – Ottoman XVIII c.
Sabil-Kuttab and Mosque of Assanbugha – Mamluk, 1370
Mosque of Baybars al-Khayyat – Mamluk, 1515
Bayt Gamal al-Din al-Dahabi – Ottoman, 1637
Al-Dardir Hall – XII c.
Sabil-Kuttab Suleiman al-Kharbotli – Ottoman, XVII c.
Sabil-Kuttab Zein al-Abedin – Ottoman, XVII c.