“We’re strangers in our own town,” complains a local tour guide who cannot be named as they are not supposed to discuss politics. “There are just too many tourists. The government just wants money. What you see here is the most aggressive form of tourism.”
Perhaps. But maybe what I am also seeing is just another phase of Barcelona’s constant reinvention of itself; something it has done for centuries in the face of urban expansion, civil war, industrial decline, recession and now, tourist boom. Just over two decades ago, this was an industrial port town with little tourist industry. It sprawled sullenly along the Catalan coastline with its back to the sea, the waterfront occupied by the dockyards. Grim railway sidings separated the city from the Mediterranean. Factories poured their waste into the water.
Yet today, Barcelona is one of Europe’s most successful cities in terms of tourism: a center for the arts, for sport, for gastronomy. What changed everything this time round, it is widely acknowledged, was the 1992 Olympic Games. This was the pivotal event that stopped Barcelona looking inwardly, towards the mountains, and turned it around to embrace the water and the future.
Architect Richard Rogers wrote in Britain’s Guardian newspaper of the transformation: “Barcelona has become the most confident city in the western world in terms of urban regeneration… It was ultimately successful because it used the Games as a catalyst for improving the life of the city and of the nation.”
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