A monumentally informed and irresistibly opinionated guide to the most un-Spanish city in Spain, from the bestselling author of The Fatal Shore. In these pages, Robert Hughes scrolls through Barcelona's often violent history; tells the stories of its kings, poets, magnates, and revolutionaries; and ushers readers through municipal landmarks that range from Antoni Gaudi's sublimely surreal cathedral to a postmodern restaurant with a glass-walled urinal. The result is a work filled with the attributes of Barcelona itself: proportion, humor, and seny--the Catalan word for triumphant common sense.
Much of Barcelona was built by the desire to control and to show off by both the rulers and the bourgeoisie. Catalan nationalism thus acquired its provincial, conservative flavor, a bourgeois reminiscence to a fake agricultural past. It is no wonder that art deco came to prominence in the spent decaying capitals of the long 19th century: Vienna, Prague, Brussels and Paris, as well as Barcelona. Financed by fat cats and their trophy wives, it anachronistically celebrated a time gone-by. Gaudì the ascetic religious nut celebrated an ascetic conservative religion that had died with the advent of the rights of man. The works of Gaudì (/as well as Gustav Klimt) are a crescendo of the dying old, killed by the First World War. Barcelona, the city thus preserves three eras of its prosperity: Medieval Barcelona, art deco Barcelona and 1992 Barcelona. Hughes offers a wonderful and highly readable account to the first two periods.