It was a quiet day in Barcelona, the streets and metro weren't as busy as they usually are. Then we remembered it was Halloween, in Barcelona All Saints Day, where everyone goes to the cemetery to visit their lost ones. So while everyone was in the cemetery, Ed and I were entering the Montju´c domain.
Montju´c means Hill of the Jews
in Catalan. It's a flat-topped hill overlooking the entire city and at its top, there lies a majestic building, the Palau Nacional, now home of the National Museum of Catalan Art. In between the entrance of the hill and the museum is an avenue of magical fountains which rise and fall in unison, culminating in a magnificent outflow of water at the top. While Ed took some pictures, I sat near the edge of the largest fountain and closed my eyes while the tiny droplets of cool water splashed unto my face.
We were half way up the hill but all the same the view was impressive. I looked to my right, past the fountain, and saw something I did not expect. Across the patches of grass lay the Barcelona Pavilion designed by minimalist master Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Of course! We had seen this so many times in university, how could I forget this masterpiece was in Barcelona?
I rushed over, while Ed lagged behind not understanding my gasp and my consequent dash in the Pavilion's direction. The basic geometric shapes and the minimal nature of the design was an extreme contrast with what we'd been experiencing with Gaudi in the past few days. The entire one story building is constructed out of stone, steel, glass and marble. The design is so deliciously simple and rational you can't help but give a hats-off to Mies van der Rohe. Despite its apparent rectangular plan there are almost no corners in the building or anything that might suggest you are in a box.
Mies van der Rohe truly knew what "less is more" meant making this building one of the seminal examples of modern architecture. The beautiful different types of marble in shades of jade, sand, and lilac all stand apart in different planes, not touching each other but complementing each others presence, highly polished to mirror off other planes and materials in the building. It has a classic serenity you don't see in very many buildings, and I couldn't have been more pleasantly surprised.
We headed back towards the museum at the top of the hill, climbing the set of stone stairs on either side of the Palau Nacional where in the middle lay another great fountain. Turns out that the Palace was also a product of the 1929 International Exposition in Barcelona. I wondered how much time they needed to finish this vast building in time for the Exposition. Today it homes the largest collection of Catalan art in the world, starting with Romanesque going all the way to Modern Art. We just had to go have a look.
Unfortunately the museum was closing earlier than usual so we only had an hour and a half to run through its salons. Some incredible examples of Gothic Catalan paintings were available in an obscene amount. I desperately wanted to take pictures of some of the beautiful golden images of Madonna and Child or Saint Barbara but no photographs were allowed. We tried to make it up to Baroque but the salon was already closing and we were being kicked out of the museum. A short visit, but worth it.
We didn't know where else to go next so we just followed the paths. I knew there was more to this hill than a museum and some magic fountains. We headed east to were less people were headed. Just around the corner we found a small sign that pointed to the "Old Botanical Gardens of Barcelona". What did this mean? Were these an older version of the gardens? Are there newer gardens? Are they just old?
We entered a leafy domain enclosed by different trees and plants. The garden seemed really small but had a tiny dirt path that, to our surprise, spiraled downwards! We walked the charming snail-like trail descending through trees filled with raspberry and plum colored berries, lavender flowers, bright orange fruits hanging from branches, hazelnuts dropping from the high trees like tiny shooting stars. We got to the bottom of the botanical spiral where there was a pond and some benches perfect for a private reading spot. I imagined sitting here listening to the delicious silence that echoed on the trunks and the vines and leaves of the ancient trees that emerged from this pit. Some trees were so tall I couldn't see where they ended. There was one particular tree whose lime colored leaves were starting to pale; I stood next to its elder trunk and looked up to the immense canopy, observing how some sunlight crept in between the leaves, turning them into translucent little shades. At that moment I suddenly understood how Gaudi found inspiration in Nature. It was all so perfect.
My meditative state was disrupted by a Polish family with little children that came running and yelling into the bottom of the quarry, excited by the place they'd found. We left them to play about and enjoy their family time and so started our climb upwards. There were really old stone steps, green and moldy from time, which marked our exit from this amazing little spot. As we walked upwards I mentioned to Ed that if Barcelona were my place of residence, I would come here every weekend with a book or to write and watch the trees. The place seemed as if it were out of a fairy tale book, yet there were virtually no people. I guess people prefer malls.
We left my little old botanical garden and continued to walk aimlessly through a lonely park until in the distance we saw a strange white object. We walked around to see if we could get a closer look and found a road pointing to the Olympic Park. Of course! I suddenly remembered how the 1992 Olympics were held here. Before us lay a huge space made of concrete where olive trees and large columns were strategically placed. To the left, lay Palau Sant Jordi, a domed building which I only assumed could be a large stadium. And to top off the view, that huge needle-like structure we had seen before which towered above all of Barcelona. What an amazing place to hold an event like the Olympics.
We walked around the immense palce taking advantage of the superb silver lighting for our photographs. It was really quiet up here, just a few kids playing ball and some tourists, but the usual sounds of a city were not audible even though you could see it right in front of you.
On our way out of Mount Montjuic, we passed through some beautiful gardens organized in terraces connected by staircases. There was a tiny fountain that started way at the top of the hill and finished at the bottom of the park, bringing water down in small ducts, from terrace to terrace, unto the moldy pool at the bottom. We also found a long coiled up snake in a corner of the fountain, where the water flowed down. It seemed to be dead but Ed touched it with a leaf and it slowly awoke. After a while of observing it we noticed its tail was badly hurt and so we understood the poor snake to be dying. I'd never seen a snake so up close even though I've always been fascinated by them, but I felt so sorry for this one. We continued our downward exit of the hill.
We'd seen so much that day and walked so much but we knew that there were attractions we'd missed, like the Joan Mirˇ Foundation and the Botanical Gardens (the new ones). It was getting dark already and our poor feet were knackered. We only had two more days in Barcelona, one of which was going to be dedicated to my shopping. The cold weather was approaching and I didn't have any proper winter clothes. Besides, Barcelona is amazing for shopping! Only problem was how to keep Ed entertained........
By this point in our stay in Barcelona we had seen all we really wanted to see. What we had left were attractions that we had learned about during our stay and we thought they'd be cool to go to. With our map we organized a walk to Mount Monj´uc and see where we'd go from there.