The New York Times, February 6, 1893, p.2:|
A VIEW OF BARCELONAOLD SPAIN'S BUSIEST AND MOST MODERN CITY.
ITS PEOPLE, ITS ARCHITECTURE, AND ITS INDUSTRIES--
SIGHTS ON THE CALLE FERNANDO AND THE RAMBLA--
ELECTRIC LIGHT, ENGLISH CLOTHES, AND HORSE CARS.
BARCELONA, Jan. 20.--Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain, and by long odds the first in commercial enterprise and industry. I shall remember it as, seemingly, quite the most in touch with the spirit of the age. Perhaps this is the reason why so few tourists care to linger in it, and yet, if they would look around them, they would find enough to interest and amuse them in the life that ebbs and flows through these American-looking streets.
The approach to the city by rail from the French frontier gives a tone to all succeeding impressions of this strange land of Spain. But it scarcely prepares for the curious mingling of new and old, of provincial and cosmopolitan, which confronts you at every step in this unique city whose monuments reach back to the father of Hannibal and whose dwelling houses are Parisian of to-day.
I had not slept, only nodded with sudden starts in my seat, on my way through the late night. At 5 o'clock the Winter day was breaking over the bare hills which screen the line of rail from the sea not far away. The rays of the sun, falling aslant through a sky of light, lustreless blue, brought out in pale distinctness the least detail of the landscape.
It is a sunny, yet a sombre land, full of rock shadows, but where the pleasant shade of trees is unknown. The sun may pour floods of light down upon it, but its arid stretches never shine out rich with liquid color. The infrequent farmhouses stand blocklike and gray against the hillside, and between the hills there are glimpses of hamlets, with gray-walled and red-tiled houses huddling about the square church tower which rises yellow and weatherbeaten in watch over all.
Even the faces of the men who dawdle around the stations by the way are heavy and stolid, with a more than rustic seriousness. The red sash, wound round their waists below the short dark jacket, which displays forms naturally strong and lithe, cannot disquise an indolent lack of grace in the wearer. Clumsier and more rustic still are the women in their long gowns and cotton print, common and unadorned, as they stand with heads bare and faces stoically devoid of interest.
This first impression I found no reason to change afterward. There is nowhere that unfailing sunniness of disposition which makes the Italian peasant sing blithely all the day at his work, and still on into the night when his work is over and done. Here, amid the gray monotone of the earth and the pale sameness of the sky, silence weighs down the burden of labor, and the shadows of sleepiness and inaction brood over all.
The first lesson to be learned by the traveler in this unworldly land is that heed shall be given him ma˝ana, "tomorrow."
With the entrance to Barcelona, everything seems to change. Around the railway station there is the glint of steel rails, with the black iron of machinery along grimy stretches of roadbed, which betokens a great centre of transportation. Between it and the sea the monotonous white houses of Barceloneta, the working-men's suburb, crowd out along a hook of land into the harbor. On the other side the high, square, many-windowed buildings of a modern city begin.
Patches of bright color are flung recklessly everywhere. On the roof terraces of rich and poor alike the week's washing is hung out to dry in waving strips of red and blue, of yellow and green and white. Through the glass-inclosed balconies, which modify each story of these Parisian houses in a way befitting this southern clime, gayly-clad children are seen at play amid the shining green of lemon trees and the pale purple of flowering heliotropes.
The dull blue waters of the bay are dotted with white lateen sails, and over beyond, a military road, wide and brown, winds up the steep slope of a broad promontory where the fortress of Monjuich frowns over the city and port below.
The drive to the hotel in the centre of the town leads through avenues of plane trees, with broad rustling leaves of yellow green. Here and there is an open space around the straight shafts and plume-like tops of a group of palms, and there are occasional garden vistas of vines and flowers and orange trees hung with gold. It is hard for the south not to be beautiful.
Barcelona, including its manufacturing suburbs, has a half million of inhabitants. There is a reason of race for its industrial and commercial prominence among the cities of Spain. The people are Catalans, of restless yet practical blood, with a strain, one would think, of the ancient traders of Carthage. Barcelona has always been the capital of Catalonia, and it was once the seat of the King of Aragon and Navarre. The Catalan is still chiefly spoken among the people, and newspapers and books are printed in it; but Spanish is everywhere understood, and is the official language.
The city is in a great plain, surrounded by hills that slope gently toward the sea, except for the one abrupt promontory of Monjuich to the south. A quarter of a century ago the old walls of the city were torn down and the space they had occupied was turned into broad avenues--a reason for half the boulevards of continental Europe. Once the city burst these narrow bounds, it spread out rapidly. Its map has now the look of a checker board, in regular squares, like the streets of new American cities, but with a curious congestion in the centre, where ancient Barcelona lies.
In all these modern squares, and through the chief streets of the old town, are the electric light and the American horse car. Outside the checker-board plan of the city are scattered suburbs, each of which is devoted to some particular branch of industry.
Barceloneta is for fishers, sailors, and workmen in the navy yard; and down here were built the Pinta and Ni˝a, the imitation caravels ordered by the United States in honor of Christopher Columbus. Other suburbs are given over to metal working, tanning, fruit preserving, cotton mills, salt works, and railway works for nearly the whole of Spain. Most of the "monte" cards in use are made here, and the trade of the port is principally with South America and Mexico.
The great commercial street of the city is the Calle Fernando, which, under different names, runs from the handsome new park west through the old town. It is still narrow, like all the other streets of that part, but its course has been straightened, which cannot be said of the other many threads of this antique labyrinth.
The Rambla is the city's unique promenade and chiefest pride. It was a wide street running at right angles with the Calle Fernando, with a drive on each side and a great walk shaded by spreading plane trees in the middle. It passes, for nearly a mile, from the port up through the old town into the very heart of the new.
By the stone quays at its foot there idles in the sun a motley crowd, looking out at the black hulks and skeleton rigging of the ships moored in the harbor. On working days heavy carts from the warehouses go lumbering by. On holidays the common people take their airing here in good-natured throng, where the red trousers of the soldiers, whose low yellow barracks are near at hand, show conspicuous. Some street vendor mounts a chair and prepares a ready market for his cheap wards by astonishingly clever tricks with playing cards or other sleight of hand.
In a booth in the open space, week day and Sunday alike, a gaudily-kerchiefed woman gives out refreshing liquids of various heat and strength from amid a many-colored glitter of glassware and bottles. Most in demand, so far as I could see, is the cold and clear water. In spite of the foreign sailors in port, acquaintance is here begun with that wonderful sobriety which still characterizes the Spanish people.
From this point, along the ample promenade around the port, may be seen heavy but not ignoble piles of stone buildings, with the classical doorways and windows of a style already past. Along the Rambla everything is of the latest day. The past has scarcely left a trace, except for here and there a church standing solitary on its corner. To find historic memories anywhere, it would be necessary to plunge into the labyrinth of torturous narrow streets which lead off on either hand into the quarters of the old city. When the newer part is reached, the wide and well-paved streets, crossing each other at right angles, and the regularly built edifices, have an almost American aspect.
Life surges slowly up and down the Rambla. A striking feature is the mantle worn by the men. It is fastened at the neck and hangs down over the shoulders to the knee. Black on the outside, it is faced deep with plush or velvet of richest color--crimson, sky-blue, or bright green. These long strips of color wave to and fro as the dignified wearer walks along, or are wound round his breast as he swings the end of his cloak across his shoulders to protect mouth and throat from the wind.
Among the exquisites, however, London coats are beginning to supplant the picturesque native mantle. The women, also, are too often bonneted and draped in the fashions of Paris to add much to the interest of the scene. Only here and there does a fragment of black tulle [veil netting] thrown over the head recall the national matilla.
Over the ground floor of many of the fine buildings on each side of the Rambla, amid the gilded mouldings of window frames and the gay wall facings, painted or in colored tiles, there stretches in giant letters of gold the device, Peluqueria. It is the name given to the shops of barbers, dating, perhaps, from the time when perruques were the staple of their craft. Inside, these shops are as spacious and luxurious as the exterior would lead one to believe, and yet the prices of service would be thought cheap in other countries.
There is a reason for all this splendor in the barber shops. It is the same for which Figaro, the barber of Seville, stands in the operas for all that is sprightly, audacious, and knowning. The shop is very like a social club. It is a centre of news and a lounging place, and the Spaniards have a natural love for perfumes to revive their senses, and shampooings and powder to refresh and dry the skin. The barbers are sympathetic and boon companions of the bull fighters and other celebrities. You see photographs along the walls signed by their originals, "To Don Fulano, the most illustrious barber in Spain!"
Another puzzle is to know where the cafÚs of Barcelona get their custom. At every step you see their multitudinous tables through the windows of the ground floors along the street. They must be filled at some hour of the day or night, else their expenses could not be defrayed. They are little frequented by ladies, who in Spain are kept in a semi-Oriental seclusion. But their atmosphere is constantly charged with the densest tobacco smoke, which, of course, must come from the mouths of numerous patrons.
The Leon de Oro, which is devoted to German beer, is made up of mediŠval halls, profusely decorated on walls and ceiling with carved oak and armor and hanging tapestries. There is, perhaps, no cafÚ of the Paris boulevard which is so handsomely fitted up.
There is also a surprising number of theatres, one of which is among the largest and finest in all Europe. It has a fine fašade, immense vestibule, and a staircase in white marble, and its splendid electric lights are reflected back from ornaments carved in marble. The upper foyer is richly decorated, floored in mosaic, and surrounded with mirrors. There are smoking rooms on each of the floors, and a roof garden with tropical plants for Summer evenings.
The stage can be seen perfectly from every seat in the house, and the means of egress permit 5,000 spectators to get into the street in twelve minutes. Perhaps the only defect of this Teatro del Liceo [Barcelona Opera House] is that it is too large for purposes of seeing and hearing to advantage...
In the old town and the new, at appropriate intervals, handsome monuments have been erected in memory of the city's past glories. It is such a monument which gives its name to the Paseo de Colon, a promenade that runs along the port from the foot of the Rambla to the City Park. A large round column of white stone supports, high up in the air, a glistening statue of Columbus. It commemorates his coming to the Court of Ferdinand and Isabella, then held in Barcelona, after his great discovery. It is true that Aragonese pride would never record his visit in the city archives, through jealousy of Castile, which sent him forth.
In one of the bronze high-reliefs along the base the sword in Columbus's hand has been broken off, and in another an Indian's head has been quite twisted around. This, again, is in contrast with the Italian man of the people, who, though unable to read, at once recognizes any beauty of art and is respectful accordingly.
A former sailor, a specimen Catalan in look, "elevates" visitors in a patent lift through the centre of the column to the gallery round the top. From his conversation I gathered that many ideas are fermenting in heads like his own, ideas quite as modern as any feature of the city I have named. But his grim, Anarchist aspect, I soon learned, was only skin deep; indeed, it is common enough among these people...
"That should be torn down," he said, pointing to the fortress of Monjuich on the hill. "It is there to fire on the people."
I knew enough of Spanish history to remember that more than one Government had held Barcelona in obedience only by the guns of this commanding position.
"How," I ventured, "could the Government defend the city without it?"
"We need no government," he said loftily; "we should all be a republic," which I thus found stands here, and perhaps elsewhere, for a blessed lack of government.
It is not well to jump at conclusions in a foreign land. I had afterward many occasions of talking on these subjects with Spaniards of the common people, and I came to believe that, after all, there is some nobleness of thought in their system of leveling. It is an upward process, and not down.
In France every one seems to say, "No one shall be better than I;" and so down must tumble everything high and sacred. In Spain, they profess at least, "I am as good as the best;" though I do not quite see how the leveling up is to be accomplished. But the Spanish workman thinks he knows it all, as he gives the true hidalgo swing to the mantle over his shoulder.
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The Kingdom of Spain is located on the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts of Europe, between France and Portugal. The capital is Madrid. The area of Spain is 194,898 square miles (504,784 square km). The estimated population of Spain for July, 2008 is 40,491,051. The official language is Spanish, and, in parts of the country, Catalan, Galician, or Basque.
Spain's powerful world empire of the 16th and 17th centuries ultimately yielded command of the seas to England. Subsequent failure to embrace the mercantile and industrial revolutions caused the country to fall behind Britain, France, and Germany in economic and political power.
Spain remained neutral in World Wars I and II but suffered through a devastating civil war (1936-39). A peaceful transition to democracy following the death of dictator Francisco FRANCO in 1975, and rapid economic modernization (Spain joined the EU in 1986) have given Spain one of the most dynamic economies in Europe and made it a global champion of freedom.
Continuing challenges include Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) terrorism, illegal immigration, and slowing economic growth.
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