Barceloneta, Barcelona's old fishermen’s quarter, is a tale of reinvention. Thanks to the Olympics, an enticing stretch of yellow, sandy urban beach now serves as its waterfront.
On a sunny Sunday afternoon, the beach is packed. Every conceivable form of transport is whizzing up and down the promenade in the cycle lanes. Bicycles, rollerblades, skateboards, electric scooters, Segways – it is a constant stream of traffic. Whole family groups, grandma in a wheelchair, baby in a buggy, kids scampering around, parade along the promenade, each group escorted by an improbable dog, from the tiniest rat-like handbag dogs to slavering Dobermans and a pair of matched boy-girl bull terriers in pink and blue dog outfits. Image is all-important in Barcelona and dog choice is just one form of individuality.
Barceloneta was built in the 18th century when the fishermen’s houses in what is now Parc de la Ciutadella were destroyed to make way for a new citadel. The fishermen were relocated to this mean little spit of land jutting out into the sea. This suburb still echoes its earlier poverty, the dark streets festooned with washing hanging from grimy balconies. Desperate pot plants on each veranda struggle to reach the light in alleys so narrow that the sun never hits the cobblestones. Patriotic Catalan flags add flashes of red and yellow to the gloom.
But while Barceloneta was once a place tourists feared to tread, it has changed. Not exactly gentrified, as the houses are just too cramped, but edgy now, and hip. Hole-in-the-wall bars promise organic tapas, while some tantalizingly offer absinthe shots. Music thumps out of one bar, drinkers spilling cheerfully onto the street, the sweet scent of marijuana wafting through the warm afternoon air. The residents are now a stone’s throw from beach volleyball pitches, lounge bars on the sand, outdoor gyms and miles of promenade.
A poignant twist is that the artificial sand sparkles with color. It is not actually pure sand but the crushed-up fishermen’s houses, ground down to create the beach, imbued with the karma of generations of fishing families.
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