Barcelona, like many other cities around the world, is becoming homogenized, just at a time when Catalan identity and independence are more in the minds of locals than ever.
Spain has four original languages by constitution,” says Oliver, a guide in Barcelona’s La Seu cathedral [he is referring to Castillian, Basque, Catalan and Galician]. “In every part of Spain you find different languages, different customs, different food, different people. And yet everybody thinks we kill bulls, dance Flamenco, eat paella and drink Sangria.”
Parts of Barcelona are very much a reminder of the Catalan struggle. Outside the church of Santa Maria del Mar, a rust-coloured metal sculpture looms over a tiled square, an eternal flame burning at its pinnacle, recalling the resistance from the Wars of Succession, in which 5,000 Catalan soldiers died. In the quiet little square of Plaça St Felipe Neri, the walls are still pockmarked where a bomb exploded in 1938 during the Spanish Civil War, killing 42 people, mostly children, who were sheltering in the church.
Just 12 years before, the Sagrada Família architect Gaudí was killed by a tram on his way to worship here. The square outside is beautiful, but there remains an aura of melancholy, not least in the Museu de Calcat on one side, a dusty and very closed-looking building housing the city’s shoe museum. Despite the fact that one of the exhibits is a shoe belonging to Columbus himself, it is Barcelona’s least successful museum, 60th on the list. The most popular is the football museum at Camp Nou, home of Barcelona FC.