Parc del Laberint d’Horta

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In the Horta-Guinardó district of Barcelona next to the Collserola ridge, lies the green jewel of the district, the oldest garden of the city, Parc del Laberint d’Horta. The garden is located on the estate of a former marquis family, the Desvalls, and is composed of an 18th-century neoclassical garden and a 19th-century romantic garden.

Construction began in 1791 when the owner, Joan Antoni Desvalls i d’Ardena, and an Italian architect, Domenico Bagutti, created the design for the neoclassical garden.This garden has three terraces: a lower terrace with a 750-metre hedge maze of trimmed cypress trees; an intermediate terrace with two Italian-style pavilions with Tuscan columns and statues of Greek mythological characters Danaë and Ariadne; and an upper terrace with a pavilion dedicated to the nine muses. The overall theme of the neoclassical garden is love and the hedge maze labyrinth gives the park its name.

In the mid 19th-century, the Desvalls family hired Elies Rogent to expand the garden. Rogent created the romantic garden adding flower beds, gazebos, a waterfall and small squares all under the shade of massive trees. The overall theme of the romantic garden is death as there used to be a small cemetery.

In 1967 the Desvalls family gave the city of Barcelona ownership of the park and it was opened to the public in 1971. The former home of the family –Torre Soberana, a 14th-century country house –is now an institute of gardening education with a specialized library.

Parc del Laberint d’Horta is a 9.1-hectare peaceful garden museum full of mythological sculptures hidden in every corner and beautiful Mediterranian forestry and flowers.

Montjüic Castle

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As you linger towards the clouds atop Montjüic hill in Barcelona, you travel back in time to a 17th-century castle towering 173 meters above the Mediterranian Sea. You enter the castle grounds through a bridge that once extended above a moat that is now a parterre garden –a garden consisting of plant beds in symmetrical patterns in an ornamental arrangement. Castell de Montjüic, an old military fortress, provides breathtaking panoramic views of Barcelona and its port.

The foundation of the fortress was laid out in 1640 and only a year later saw its first battle during the Catalan revolt when the Principality of Catalonia challenged Spain’s authority. In 1694, the fort was demolished and redesigned by architect Juan Martín Cermeño who reconstructed the fortress into the currently standing castle and equipped it with 120 cannons.

Since then, the cannons of Montjüic were used to gun down the city of Barcelona and its citizens. The castle had been used as a prison and torture centre for political prisoners for three centuries. From 1936-1939, during the Spanish Civil War, both sides of conflict used the fortress to imprison, torture and shot political prisoners. Among these prisoners was the former president of the Generalitat of Catalonia, Lluis Companys, who was executed by a firing squad in 1940 upon orders of the Franco regime. In the 20th century, dictator Francisco Franco converted Montjüic Castle into a military museum to serve as a reminder of the Catalan defeat to Spain.

In 2007, the castle came under the ownership of the Barcelona City Council and now belongs to the citizens of Barcelona. Castell de Montjüic is now a beautiful and peaceful place with 360° views of the city, but will always serve as a historical symbol of the repression of the Catalan people and of the city’s struggles during various periods in history.

Les Falles

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From March 15 to 19 the streets of Valencia transform into a distorted Wonderland of massive dolls that stare down at you in satirical delight. These dolls, called ninots in Valencian, are mounted onto floats with other ninots, which are all filled with firecrackers waiting to be set aflame on the final night. These giant floats contain specific scenes that range from Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and Kim Jung Un taking a rollercoaster missile ride bearing sinister smiles and Mickey Mouse ears to football rivals Gerad Pique and Sergio Ramos sharing a friendly embrace in a teacup ride.

During these festivities, you can find beautiful fallera girls of all ages dressed in handmade ballgowns bearing handstitched flowers and lace. On their necks hang dazzling pendants and earrings and their hair is adorned with a hairdo fit for Star Wars’ Princess Leia with two earmuff buns and a braided labyrinth at the back complete with golden clips and pins. The complete fallera outfit can cost from 2,000 to 10,000 euros; an outfit suitable for a princess bride!

All day and night marching bands fill the streets with music, children throw noisemakers at the ground and the thunderous sound of firecrackers echo off the buildings. Les Falles is undoubtedly one of the most unique and popular festivals in all of Spain as the population of the city triples during the celebrations as people come to enjoy around 800 falles (floats).

This extensive street festival is a celebration held in commemoration of Saint Joseph. Each neighbourhood of the city has an organized group of people called the casal faller, that works all year long to produce these intricate falles that can extend up to five stories high and are burnt on the final night of the festival. The casal fallers hold many parties and dinners during the year to fundraise money for these falles.

The festivities begin on March 15th with La Crida, an opening ceremony beneath the Serranos Towers. At this ceremony there are displays of light, sound, music and fireworks and the Fallera Mayor (the Festival Queen) invites everyone to join the festival. After the opening ceremony, each day begins with La Despertà (the “wake-up call”) where a band marches down the streets playing loud music and fallers throw firecrackers in the streets at 8 a.m.  Throughout the festivities, there are several parades, the most memorable one being Cabalgata del Ninot, where participants dress as famous personalities or politicians to criticize current events in a satirical way.

On March 17 and 18 the casals fallers take an offering of flowers to an enormous statue of the Virgin Mary in an event called L’Ofrena de Flors where the statue’s pedestal is covered in flowers. Each day as the clock chimes 2 p.m., the Fallera Major calls from the balcony of the city hall, “Senyor pirotècnic, pot començar la mascletà!” (Mr. Pyrotechnic, you may commence the Mascletà!), thus commencing La Mascletà, a coordinated display of firecrackers and fireworks held in the Plaça de l’Ajuntament. Each night of the festival there are fireworks, until the final night on the 19th where the falles are burnt in the La Cremà celebration.

Les Falles is an outstanding festival of fireworks, fire and complete satirical creativity that brings the Valencian culture to the world stage.

 

 

Valencia

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Valencia, the third-largest city in Spain after Madrid and Barcelona, is a city that bridges together the past and the future. From the centre of the city, you can find century-old buildings such as the Cathedral of Valencia, still bearing bullet holes from a distant war, and the Plaza de Toros de Valencia, where bullfighters still battle raging bulls in an adrenaline-filled show. As you stroll closer to the sea, you will come upon the famous futuristic City of Arts and Sciences, created by native-born architect Santiago Calatrava. This former flood-prone riverbed now bears revolutionary buildings including an opera house and performing arts centre, a science museum, an IMAX cinema and planetarium, an oceanographic park and several restaurants, floating atop a massive swimming pool.

Valencia is a bilingual city of Valencian and Spanish and a cultural hub for a few world-famous celebrations. Two of these celebrations are Las Fallas (Falles in Valencian), a festival held in March in commemoration of Saint Joseph, and La Tomatina, a massive tomato fight in August in the nearby town of Buñol.

This booming Spanish city is also widely known for its exquisite cuisine and as being the birthplace of the mouthwatering paella (a simmered rice dish with meat or seafood). Other traditional Valencian dishes include fideuà (similar to paella, but with noodles), buñuelos de calabaza (pumpkin donut holes), fartons (an elongated confectionary sweet) and orxata or horchata in Spanish (a cool drink made of ground almonds usually eaten with fartons).

Valencia’s popularity as a tourist destination has been steadily increasing in light of the not-so-distant world famous metropolitans of Barcelona and Madrid, due to its distinct architecture and one-of-a-kind festivals.

Casa Batlló

España

Imagine a place that bends and curves at every angle like the cascading waves of the Mediterranian Sea. A place where the fireplace is carved like a roasting mushroom and the dining-room light looks down on you like an eye devoured in a whirlpool. Imagine a place where vertical vents open and close like a fish’s gills, where the glass gives you the illusion of swimming underwater and where the loft arches like the spine of a beast. A beast that sits atop this magnificent facade with shingled scales and a bulbous spine. This place breathes life as it mimics the not-so-distant sea and the beauty of nature. It is the masterpiece of the brilliant Antoni Gaudí; Casa Batlló.

Casa Batlló took my breath away as it plunged me into the depths of the Mediterranian Sea. The building is distinguishably unique as you coast down the prestige Passeig de Gràcia in Barcelona and feast upon the astonishingly colourful glass and ceramic mosaic tiles. These tiles reflect against the sun and give the illusion of a rippling lake scattered with water lilies. In front of the large windows on the main floor, there are several fine bone-like columns that appear like vines are growing out of the building. These columns are paired with balconies that look like fish-skeleton heads and a rich sandstone surface, which alludes to the house’s local name of casa dels ossos (house of bones).

When you dive through the doors of this UNESCO World Heritage modernist building, you will see that there are hardly any straight lines. Gaudí refrained from using any straight lines in his designs to make his buildings look as natural as possible. Every detail within the building is designed to mimic nature and follow the flow of the sea from the wooden winding staircases to the carefully crafted doors. In the centre of the building, there is a lightwell that begins with navy blue titles where the sun shines the most and gradually descends to lighter shades of blue at the bottom of the lightwell where the sun shines the least.

At the top of this aquatic representation, there is an arched roof with tiles that grade from green on the right side, to a deep blue and violet in the centre, to red and pink on the left side. These tiles have a metallic sheen and stimulate the varying scales of the back of a dragon. In front of the dragon, there is a turret with a blooming cross at the top, which has been speculated to represent the spear of Saint George (the patron saint of Catalonia), who plunged his lance into the back of the dragon.

The original building was made in 1877, but Josep Batlló, a textile industrialist who owned a few factories in the city, bought it in 1900 because of its location in the centre of Passeig de Gràcia. Batlló hired Gaudí in 1904 to redesign the building and only two years later, it became the underwater castle we see today.

Casa Batlló is a magnificent work of creativity and imagination that exemplifies Gaudí’s adoration of nature from the colourful tiles to the rolling walls.