Friday, February 26, 2010

A Visit to Montjuïc

{{Si el honor y el valor valen más que las personas, es que no hemos aprendido nada}}

Monday I didn't have French class due to Semaine Blanche (a French national holiday), and being as that's my only class on Monday, I had the day completely free and decided to explore. I hadn't yet been to the mountain of Montjuïc, which boasts an interesting array of sights, so I decided to enjoy a leisurely day walking there and enjoy the fantastic views out over the city from the top. When I arrived I was right by the Fundació Joan Miró, but I wanted to walk outside, so that will wait for another day. I wandered down the old gardens of Montjuïc--by the Greek ampitheater and garden, the beautiful old stairs through the trees, the cascading fountains that surround you with the constant pleasant hum of running water, making my way up to the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya. This important museum is located in the spectacular and dramatic Palau Nacional, which was constructed for the 1929 Worlds' Fair. This magnificent building is located at the top of a grand staircase from the Plaça Espanya, and overwhelms you with your first vista of its stately towers and firm presence of "being". I didn't go in because I still wanted to explore the other beautiful monuments of Montjuïc outside. Plus I bought a pass that gives me one entry to each of the 7 main museums of Barcelona--el Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, Museu Picasso, Fundació Caixa Catalunya la Pedrera, Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona, Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona, and Fundació Joan Miró--for 6 months, so lots of time still to see the amazing exhibits and Art that Barcelona has to offer. Plus, for being a student at the University of Barcelona, I get discounts to several other museums in Barcelona, along with discounts at various restaurants, for concerts, and other attractions.

I walked alongside MNAC and found myself near the old Botanical Garden of Barcelona, a pretty little site, but it seemed rather run-down. After taking a little stroll through the garden, I wandered up the adjacent stairs and by the torch-holding man to one of the other great attractions of Montjuïc: the Olympic Stadium from the 1992 Olympics. It's an impressive, stately building named for Lluís Companys, the president of Catalunya at the time of the Spanish Civil War. After the war, when Franco came to power, he was exiled, but was captured and extradited to Spain by Nazis. He was sentenced to death by the firing squad and was executed at Montjuïc Castle on October 14, 1940. In front of the building is a great open plaza with an interesting, twisting Telefónica tower designed by Santiago Calatrava, a huge fountain, and rows of yellow columns. I loved walking through the plaza, imagining it 18 years ago, packed with excited tourists, anxious athletes, people from all over the world filled with hopes and expectations for the events and their teams.

I followed the road from the Olympic Stadium a bit further in the direction of Montjuïc Castle and found myself by the new Botanical Garden of Barcelona. The entrance was only a couple of euros, and well worth it. The garden features sections dedicated to the different Mediterranean-like climates of the world--Chile, California, Australia, South Africa, North Africa--with a plethora of paths to wander and explore. Plus there are magnificent views of Barcleona from the garden. I loved meandering slowly through it, imagining how spectacular it will be to return in April or May and see everything in bloom.

Next came a ride on the bus to my last stop: Montjuïc Castle itself. It's a stately building, full of presence, commanding and intimidating. It was much bigger than I expected and I spent several hours wandering through and around it, taking in the strategic views over the Mediterranean and all of Barcelona from the top, eyeing the cold, hard forms of machine guns against the setting sun, feeling the history in the stones. Fortifications were first constructed on this area in 1640 and it was converted into a castle in 1694. It has long been a highly-contested and desired point during wars in the Barcelona area. After the Spanish Civil War, it was converted into a military prison, and many strongly outspoken opponents of the Nationalist government of Franco were executed there. It functioned as a military prison until 1960, and in 1963 it was converted into a military museum by the orders of Franco. He ceded the grounds to the city of Barcelona, but the museum itself remained property of the Spanish Government until 2007, when the entirety of Montjuïc became property of Barcelona and Catalunya. It was a moving experience, walking around this massive building at sunset, knowing all the sorrows and bloodshed that it had faced throughout the years.

The castle completed my "Montjuïc day" and I took the bus back down to Plaça Espanya and headed home satisfied by another day of wandering and getting better acquainted with my city.

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