Barcelona 10th - 13th April 2003
Researched and led by Sue Hayton
There was as much architectural interest as pure industrial archaeology on this trip, but that only served to add value. Barcelona is (in my humble opinion, at least) a very attractive city in which one can quickly feel at ease. There are many signs of the locals’ strong Catalan affinities but these were dwarfed in April 2003 by even stronger anti-war demonstrations. We observed, but were not side tracked from our main mission.
We stayed in the Hotel Park (right) - a classic 1950s building recently the subject of a sympathetic restoration.

Immediately opposite the hotel stands the Estacio de France, now so sparsely served by trains that some platform roads have been boarded over to permit exhibition use. The building remains impressive with three huge iron train-sheds and a grand entrance hall. Each railway track ends with the original hydraulic buffers, supplied by Ransome and Rapier of Ipswich.

The heart of the old city is still a maze of narrow passageways, which grew up in the maritime and merchant quarters dating from the 14th century. Images of riders on horse-back still illustrate the one-way street system now largely confined to pedestrians. In the busy trafficked streets around the Plaza Catalunya can be seen many of the eccentric buildings designed by Antoni Gaudi in the modernist style of the early 20th century. Perhaps most eccentric of all is Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia (Holy Family Temple), a cathedral-like building started in 1882 and with a current completion date of 2026. So it’s not only transport projects that are a long time in the making!
Our guided walk along Las Ramblas deviated from this popular tourist promenade to inspect IA sites in adjacent streets, including the Saint Joseph market - another imposing iron building with ornate stallholders’ fascias.
Barcelonetta is a distinct part of the city, developed to a plan in the early 18th century when the building of the Arsenal displaced many residents. The grid street pattern remains, as do the tower and offices of the gas works and some remnants of a factory founded in 1855 to make steam engines.
The modern harbour area - featuring IMAX cinemas and a yacht marina - also still retains some of its maritime and industrial heritage, including a 1772 lighthouse converted into a clock tower. Along the original seafront are many impressive buildings including the former Mundial Palace Hotel, said to resemble a French casino with lots of external stone decoration. It has served since 1918 as the port authority headquarters. Extensive views over the entire city can be had from the top of the Christopher Columbus statue, reached by a single lift inside the column. (I never did discover what connection Columbus had with Barcelona or how visitors were evacuated from the narrow observation platform in the event of a lift failure!) Close by is the Maritime Museum housed in the arched aisled halls of the old Royal Shipyard.
Ideal for a Sunday stroll is the Parc de la Ciutadella (right) in which the World Exposition was held in 1888. Many exhibition buildings remain, as do an elaborate water feature and many fine lamps and other decorative ironwork. An exhibition of minerals includes coal from Cardiff, England (sic)!

The trainshed of the nearby former North railway station was converted into an arena for the 1992 Olympic Games and still serves as an indoor sports hall. The station yard and other parts of the station building are now a long distance coach terminal.

Echoes of past exhibitions are also to be found around the Place D’Espanya where the 1929 exposition was held. Here too is the now disused bull-ring, with separate ticket booths at the foot of the entrance steps for the sunny and shady sides of the arena for which different prices were charged.
And what of the local transport? The metro seems efficient with five lines - one built to the wider Spanish gauge and the remainder to standard gauge. All stations bar one are underground. Current collection is by pantograph and an overhead current rail (not wire). A new, short light rail line is being built as an extension to metro line 4 from Trinitat Nova and is due for opening in September 2003. Also under construction is a longer light rail line along Avenue Diagonal. A new metro line has just been authorised which will serve the airport and a development area along the waterfront.
The lines of the Catalan Railways (FGC) operate intensive metro services over the city sections of their tracks (with networks running from two separate terminals in the city centre). There is a cross harbour cable car; another cable system using small four-seater cabins serving the heights at Mountjuic; three funiculars; and a daily historic tramcar service.
There was one last surprise. A side-trip additional to the organised itinerary took us by Catalan Railways to Montserrat where the mountain-top monastery has long been reached by a hairy (in two senses of the word) cable car. (There are also two more funiculars.) Until the 1950s Montserrat was additionally served by a steam rack railway. After a half-century of disuse, this is now being reconstructed as a modern, rack, light rail line on which trial operations have recently started. The opening date was predicted to be May 2003 by the tourist information office (albeit with some hesitancy).

Or could it all have been some divine vision summoned up by the monks’ special brew…?
Words Copyright © Barry LeJeune 2003
All images Copyright © Dan Hayton 2003