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.
The Royal Monastery of Santa Maria de Pedralbes is one of the purest examples of Catalan Gothic architecture in Catalonia. The monastery was founded in 1326 by King James II of Aragon for his wife Elisenda de Montcada. The building housed a community of Clarissa nuns, mostly from noble families. The nuns resided in the building from the 14th century up until the early 1980s. Now the building is an important historical landmark featuring a museum displaying the everyday life of the nuns, religious art and temporary exhibitions. The monastery also hosts a beautiful medieval garden with medicinal herbs, a spectacular fountain, an intricate well and peaceful sitting areas. The building is a massive work of art and boasts the world’s largest Gothic cloister at three-stories high with two galleries and 26 columns on each side.
Tomb of Elisenda
Between Parc National del Garraf in the north and the town of Vilanova i la Geltru in the south lies the beach-side city of Sitges, just 35 kilometers southwest of Barcelona. The flat, white beaches are laid with fine sand that touches the clear, blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea. There are 17 beaches in Sitges adjourned with palm trees and bordered with a walkway that stretches from the rocky valleys in the east to a massive golf course in the west. Sitges is widely known for its gay pride carnival from the end of February to the beginning of March and its world renowned October fantasy film festival. The photogenic setting of hills, the sea and plastered-white town makes Sitges one of the most expensive European cities to inhabit as its economy is booming with tourism and culture. Its busy narrow winding streets are full of restaurants, bars, shops, historical sites, churches and prominent art culture. This spectacular shoreline town proves to be a must-see destination to explore in Catalonia.
High atop Turó de la Rovira hill sits the historic Bunkers del Carmel in the district of El Carmel. The bunkers were built in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War as an anti-aircraft fort to defend against attacks on the city. Today you can find bulky 105 mm cannons mounted on the concrete walls and various gaping holes and crumbling walls. After the war, the bunkers served as a shelter for citizens and had as many as 3,000 residents in the 1960s. In the 1990s, the Barcelona City Council rehoused the residents of the bunkers to flats within the city in an effort to “clean up” the city for the 1992 Olympics. The bunkers were practically forgotten during most of the 1990s and 2000s until 2011 when the Carmelite Agency and the Museu d’Historia de Barcelona (MUHBA) underwent a project to restore the bunkers and improve accessibility. Now the bunkers have become an increasingly popular destination to visit with its breathtaking view of Barcelona. The panoramic scene is host to many photos, picnics, music sessions and hangouts in the city.
The Mediterranean Sea reaches the coastal region of Catalonia’s Costa Brava in an exquisite display of serene beauty. The sandy shores are paired with secluded coves and rugged pink rocks with the turquoise sea shining below. The picturesque coast is backed by glorious pine trees and rolling mountains. Costa Brava is located in northeastern Spain, consisting of the counties of Alt Empordà, Baix Empordà and Selva in the province of Girona. The spectacular beaches stretch from the town of Blanes to the French border. In the 1950s the Spanish government declared Costa Brava suitable for development as a vacation destination for package holiday tourists from France and Northern Europe. The summer climate, beaches, nature, landscape and crisp white town has made Costa Brava an inexpensive tourist destination for many European travelers.