Tag Archives: Poble Espanyol Barcelona

Travels in Spain, Plaça d’Espanya and Poble Espanyol in Barcelona

Palau Nacional de Catalunya

The train from Montserrat arrived back at Plaça d’Espanya in the middle of the afternoon and this was our chance to take a look at another famous district of Barcelona – Montjuïc, a flat top mountain area which overlooks the port and the city.

The Plaça d’Espanya was included in the plans for the expansion of Barcelona in the mid-nineteenth century and was laid out with wide boulevards and six main roads all converging on the centre of the square where there is a monumental statue surrounded by a Baroque colonnade.  It was completed in 1929 on the occasion of the International Exhibition which was held in this area of the City.

The statue at the centre is designed as an allegory representing all of Spain. Three sides with sculptures that symbolize the three principal rivers of the Iberian Peninsula,  Ebro, Guadalquivir, and Tagus, around the central sculpture, three decorated columns which symbolise  a Spanish/Catalan self-assessment of the qualities of themselves as a Nation – Religion, Heroism and Arts.

Plaça d'Espanya 2

The Plaça d’Espanya is a busy roundabout, on one side is the old bullring, now a shopping centre (because bull fighting is banned in Catalonia) and on the other are two bell-towers known as the Venetian Towers, on account of the fact that design and construction was heavily influenced by St. Mark’s Campanile in Venice.  From there a walk up a gentle gradient towards the imposing structure of the Renaissance style Palau Nacional, built in 1929 as the main exhibition hall and today The National Art Museum of Catalonia.

This is a lovely part of Barcelona that has a national and international ambiance with architecture borrowed and copied from across Europe and with buildings designed to give a representation of all of Spain.  A shame then that large areas of it were destroyed in the calamitous Spanish Civil war of 1936 to 1939.  Fortunately everything is now rebuilt and restored in the original style.

To illustrate this, at the centre of this Spanish showcase, next to the Palau Nacional, is an attraction called Poble Espanyol, built in 1929 and still there now as a tourist attraction.  I found it to be a rather odd sort of place that aspires to celebrate the various regions of Spain but, for me anyway, failed to effectively capture the spirit of the country and it isn’t really a museum but rather a collection of shops and restaurants claiming to sell and serve regional specialities.  For anyone who has been to Disney World EPCOT World Showcase you will probably know what I mean.

Poble-Espanyol-2

The Disney view of the World doesn’t include Spain in the World Showcase, which is an oversight if you ask me, but if it did then something like Poble Espanyol would be exactly what it would most likely look like.

An interesting thing about the attraction is that it claims to introduce the visitor to the heritage and culture of each of the Autonomous Communities of Spain and yet it only showcases fifteen of the seventeen and as we left I couldn’t help wondering why the Canary Islands and La Rioja didn’t rate a mention or at least a shop? So, I have looked it up; apparently the research designers were unable to organise a visit to the Canary Islands for economic reasons and LaRioja didn’t exist as an Autonomous Community of Spain until 1980.

We stayed around the area for a while but it was too late to visit the museum or the shops of Poble Espanyol so we stopped for a drink in the park and then made our way back to the metro.

Magic Fountain Barcelona

The route took us past a cascading waterfall and four ionic columns originally erected in 1919 to be a symbol of the Catalan Nation and its aspiration for self-governance and independence (the columns represent the stripes of the Catalan flag). The originals were demolished in 1928 under the orders of Madrid but were rebuilt in 2010. I understand the symbolism of the columns but to be honest I found them to be a little inconsistent with the area and a bit jarring on the eye.

Not so the adjacent Magic Fountain which was providing a fountain display where the water was dancing and leaping into the air with a cycle of changing routines. The fountain was commissioned to replace the four columns in time for the National Exhibition. It is a great spectacle but the best time to see it is at night time when the fountains are accompanied by a light show and music.

We weren’t staying close enough to return later (mid-June and not getting dark until quite late) so instead we returned to the same restaurant as the previous evening and instead of the fountain took night time pictures of the Sagrada Familia as an alternative.

Montjuic Columns

Click on an image to scroll through the gallery…

Weekly Photo Challenge: Time

Siguenza Sundial

Lined on each side with caramel coloured houses with terracotta tiled roofs, the Calle de Valencia followed the line of the old medieval town wall and half way to the castle we passed through the Puerto del Porto Mayor which was once the main gateway into the narrow streets of the old town and from here there was a final twisting climb to the Plaza del Castillo and the Parador Hotel.

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Worth a Detour (Part Two)

Worth a Detour 2

Following on from my previous posts about places worth avoiding where I suggested the charmless Liechtenstein capital of Vaduz, the dreary Austrian city of Klagenfurt and the pointless Poble Espanyol in Barcelona, I come to my nominations for the top 2…

No. 2  – Les Rochers Sculptés, Brittany, France  

Driving in France we were delayed by a longer than expected stop in the attractive town of Dinan and were seriously behind schedule so the sensible thing to do was to go directly to our next intended destination of Mont St Michel but Kim was intrigued by a visitor attraction marked on the map called the sculptured rocks so sensing unexpected delight we left the main highway and set out on the coast road.

Let me now straight away give you a piece of advice – unless you are really determined to see rock carvings do not take an unnecessary detour to Les rochers sculptés!  We were expecting a stack of rocks standing in the sea pounded by waves into interesting formations but the site is a small area of stonemason carvings in the side of the granite cliff.

Rock Sculptures St Malo

These sculptures were carved just over a hundred years ago by a hermit priest, Abbé Fouré, who had suffered a stroke and lost his ability to hear and speak and the story goes that he began these sculptures as a means of alternative communication. I am not trying to underestimate the value of the work here you understand, what I am saying is that it is a tedious detour and the visit is going to be over in about twenty minutes or so (if you stretch it out as long as you can or go around twice).

If you do want to go and see them then I would do it soon because after one hundred years they are seriously eroded by the sea and the rain and it can’t help a great deal either that visitors are allowed to climb all over them.

After the pointless visit I was impatient to get to Mont St Michel but stuck on the coast road progress was infuriatingly slow as we passed through several towns and villages all with inconveniently snail like speed limits.  Out in the Gulf of St Malo we could see the abbey on the island but it seemed to take a frustrating age to get there as the road snaked around the coast and every few miles or so we came across a tractor or a school bus which slowed us down even more.  Several times I cursed the decision to go and visit Les rochers sculptés.

Les rochers sculptés St Malo France

Drum roll Please…

No. 1 – The Astronomical Clock in Prague, Czech Republic

Astronomical Clock Prague

I have no hesitation at all in declaring this the runaway winner of places I nominate not to go out of your way to visit and I am not the only one who thinks so because this overrated tourist attraction regularly makes an appearance in similar lists.

We arrived with about forty minutes to spare so sat at a roadside bar and watched a sizeable crowd beginning to assemble.  After a second glass of the excellent beer we wandered over to take up a good position to see the famous astronomical clock that stands in the centre of the square strike one.  It really was very impressive to look at but not nearly so good that it justified the city authorities blinding its creator after it was completed just so that he couldn’t make another one elsewhere.

Anyway, bang on time, the mechanism creaked into action and the little statues started to do a little jig, I especially liked the skeletal figure of death that to be absolutely certain of the time diligently inspected an hourglass and then rang a tiny bell to get proceedings started.

First came the promised highlight of the event when a small window opened and the twelve Apostles passed by in procession each one in turn blankly gazing out over the square.  They had to be quick though because this wasn’t so much a procession as a hundred-metre dash and they sprinted past as though the landlord at the rugby club had just called last orders at the bar.  Then a cock crowed and the clock chimed out the hour and that was it.  I thought the whole horological experience was over rather too quickly.

Whilst I am in Prague let me also mention  Wenceslas Square because this is another huge disappointment.  I had been expecting something similar to St Marks Square in Venice but it was lined with shops and familiar fast food restaurants and it felt a little just a little unsophisticated and disappointing.  It was big too, much bigger than I had imagined.  I was expecting it to be like the Grande Place in Brussels, the Plaza Mayor in Madrid or the Piazza Navona in Rome with an attractive open space and stylish pavement cafés but it wasn’t even pedestrianised and it was full of impatient cars and speeding trams that made the visit rather an ordeal.

If you go to Prague you will probably go and see the clock and the square but don’t expect too much is all that I am saying!

Have you seen the Prague Astronomical Clock? What did you think?

Worth A Detour (Part One)

Kim The Navigator

Recently I was reminded about a story I have told previously about map reading.

Driving in Switzerland I allocated navigation duties to Kim and we made steady progress towards our destination – Liechtenstein.  After a couple of hours we stopped at a restaurant and this gave us time to examine the map again to find the most suitable route and Kim explained how she had carefully plotted a course to avoid places that the map helpfully pointed out as ‘worth a detour’.  Kim had interpreted this information as ‘worth avoiding’ when of course it actually meant ‘worth going out of your way to take a look’.  

This little memory nudge made me begin to think about some places that we have gone out of our way to visit and then found them to be desperately disappointing.  I offer here my top five places worth avoiding…

No. 5 – Vaduz, Liechtenstein

Vaduz Liechtenstien Concrete

“It occurred to me that there is no reason to go to Liechtenstein except to say that you have been there.  If it were simply part of Switzerland… nobody would dream of visiting it” – Bill Bryson,  ‘Neither here Nor there’

We passed into the World’s sixth smallest country and very soon arrived in Vaduz which although looking overwhelmingly dull we felt compelled to stop there and take a quick look.

I don’t really know what I was expecting, it just sounded as though it should be more interesting than it is, the very fact that it has been able to remain independent through two hundred turbulent years of European history should have given me a clue.  If none of its more powerful neighbours had taken a fancy to it or annexed it for themselves in all of that time that probably says a lot about its value or its interest.

It is a city completely lacking in interest or charisma, it appears to have rejected completely the enchanting picture postcard charm of neighbouring Switzerland and chosen instead to build a bleak city of tarmac and concrete worthy of the very best Soviet town planners with nothing to relieve the monotony of box buildings and Spartan austerity.

Perhaps this is deliberate, Liechtenstein is a country of tax dodgers and secret bank accounts and the men of finance don’t want too many tourists dropping by.

For an immensely rich place (the Prince of Liechtenstein is the world’s sixth wealthiest head of state) I was expecting something special but I have to say that I found it bone-crushingly dull, the sort of place you might send prison inmates for special punishment, worse even than solitary confinement.

No. 4 – Klagenfurt, Austria

Klagenfurt Austria

For a few years we were in the habit of visiting different European Christmas markets.  In 2007 we travelled to Ljubljana in Slovenia and an examination of the train timetables suggested that we could cross over into Austria and travel to the city of Klagenfurt to see a different market.

This was not a straightforward journey.  It was not a direct route and required some time and effort to get there.  The train stopped at the border and the Slovenian engine was replaced with an Austrian model and then a few miles later we had to change trains to make the journey to Klagenfurt, we didn’t mind, we were confident that we were going to see a magnificent traditional Austrian Christmas market.

How disappointed we were when we discovered that the market in Klagenfurt was even tackier than the one in Ljubljana – it was full of cheap trash and repetitive rubbish that none of us had a mind to purchase.  And there wasn’t a great deal of seasonal good cheer on offer either.

I am sure that the market would be more lively and vibrant at night but in the middle of a cold and overcast day it was just dull and lifeless and minding every stall was someone who looked as though they wished that they were somewhere else.

We hurried through the market towards the city centre but this was in turmoil of improvement works that closed off the main square and the Lindwurm fountain, which is about the only one thing worth seeing in Klagenfurt.  I am sure that it is a fine city because it is the sixth largest in Austria and the state capital of Carthinia but the grey clouds made it seem uninteresting and without charm.  I do not recommend a visit to Klangenfurt!

No. 3 – Poble Espanyol, Barcelona

Poble-Espanyol-2

On a Tourist Bus excursion in Barcelona we sat on the top deck to just about as far as it is possible to go to visit Poble Espanyol before it turns around and comes all the way back.

This is a showcase attraction built for the 1929 Barcelona Exposition and is a sort of Frankenstein’s monster with various bits of Spanish architecture and heritage stitched together in one open air museum.  Whilst this may work at Beamish in County Durham in the UK which restricts itself to the North East of England or St Fagans in South Wales where the exhibits come from a relatively small geographical area it is quite something else to try and bring together all of the differing cultural heritage of a country as diverse as Spain into one setting and succeed.

I found it to be a rather odd sort of place that aspires to celebrate the various regions of Spain but, for me anyway, failed to effectively capture the spirit of the country and it isn’t really a museum but rather a collection of shops and restaurants claiming to sell and serve regional specialities.  For anyone who has been to Disney World EPCOT World Showcase you will probably know what I mean.

An interesting thing about Poble Espanyol is that it claims to introduce the visitor to the heritage and culture of each of the Autonomous Communities of Spain and yet it only showcases fifteen of the seventeen and as we left I couldn’t help wondering why the Canary Islands and La Rioja didn’t rate a mention or at least a shop?

The Disney view of the World doesn’t include Spain in the World Showcase, which is an oversight if you ask me, but if it did then something like Poble Espanyol would be exactly what it would most likely look like.  It is a curious place, without heart or soul and if you ever take the Barcelona Bus Touristic I suggest that you stay on board when it pulls up here and continue to the Nou Camp stadium instead.

On a countdown of my places to avoid this is 5 through to 3, next time I will reveal my top 2.

Have you ever been somewhere and been terribly disappointed – do tell!

Travels in Spain – Sigüenza and the Alcazar

Sigüenza Tourist Map

“The museums of Spain had a certain attraction when they were haphazard and underfunded. In Astorgia, a letter was on show written in 1052…. It was stuck in a frame with some sticky tape” –  Christopher Howse – ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’

It was mid morning by the time we left the hotel after an excellent breakfast prepared by the owner, Juan and into a stone street bathed in mellow golden sunshine where there was a simple choice – up the hill to the Alcazar or down in the opposite direction to the Cathedral.  After a short debate we decided it might be preferable to get the climb out-of-the-way and start at the top of the town and make our way slowly to the bottom.

Lined on each side with caramel coloured houses with terracotta tiled roofs, the Calle de Valencia followed the line of the old medieval town wall and half way to the castle we passed through the Puerto del Porto Mayor which was once the main gateway into the narrow streets of the old town and from here there was a final twisting climb to the Plaza del Castillo and the Parador Hotel.

The Parador Hotels are classy places that are well beyond my limited budget and can be found all over Spain.  These were originally a State owned chain and were luxury hotels in old castles, palaces, convents, monasteries and other historic buildings that were established to promote quality tourism, to act as guardian of the national and artistic heritage of Spain and to assist poorer regions to attract more visitors.  They are no longer fully owned by the State and during the recession have begun to suffer financial difficulties but there didn’t appear to be a drastic shortage of guests this morning.

The present day castle was built in the twelfth century but there has been a fortress here since the Visigoths built the first in the fifth century.  Later as the Northern Kings led the Reconquest of Spain the Moors constructed a new castle on the same site but in 1124, the crusading ecclesiastic knight, Bernardo de Agen took possession of the castle and began the local Christian reconquest and the building of the Alcazar.

Sigüenza Alcazar

The castle was extended and remodelled at various times between the fourteenth and the seventeenth centuries but was partially destroyed in 1811 during the French occupation who finding the place rather easy pickings raided and sacked the town several times.  It again suffered damage during the Carlist Wars and during the Spanish Civil War when Sigüenza became part of the front line fighting during the Aragon campaign.  It had to be almost completely rebuilt after that so although it now suffers the indignity of being a hotel at least we have the Parador initiative to thank for what we see today.

It was possible to walk around parts of the old external areas but there was no getting away from the fact that the interior of the old castle is a hotel so with little or nothing to see except the reception desk, an expensive restaurant menu, some overpriced souvenirs and a couple of reproduction suits of armour we didn’t stay long and made our way down a narrow stone street towards the Plaza Mayor.

On the way we made a short detour through the maze of streets looking for the Museum Casa del Doncel, the alleged one time home of Martín Vázquez de Arce (more about him later) and after explaining several times that we were pensioners paid the concessionary fee and went inside.

I was so glad that we didn’t pay the full price because, to be honest, there wasn’t a great deal to see and it seemed as though it was either in the process of being prepared to be  a museum or it had run out of funding and was part way through the process of closing down.  It also turns out that this was not the home of Martín Vázquez de Arce anyway, it was simply the sort of house that he might have lived in and the association with him represents blatant opportunism!

On account of this it didn’t take very long to complete the tour and soon after we back outside in the sunshine at the front door of the house, a replica of which can be seen in the Poble Espanyol in Barcelona built for the International Exhibition of 1929 and  a sort of Disney World interpretation of Spain that wouldn’t be out-of-place at the EPCOT World Showcase in Florida.

Our route led us to the pedestrianised fifteenth century Plaza Mayor via a number of churches, historic houses and artisans craft shops until we eventually reached the central square of the town which although wouldn’t get into my personal top five Plaza Mayor was very pleasant indeed with renaissance architecture, iron balconies and covered colonnades, palaces and the magnificent cathedral with history dripping like Alcarria honey off the walls.

The Plaza bar was already open and doing some lazy business and we got caught by an invisible tractor beam that pulled us towards a table where we stopped for a while with the first beer of the day before setting off again through the stone pillars and across the cobbles as we left the square and made our way to the cathedral which was where we were going next.

Sigüenza Casa del Doncel