by Robert Hughes

Hardcover, 1992




New York : Knopf, 1992.


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.

Media reviews

Het hele boek door blijft Hughes het best in zijn element — gepassioneerd, erudiet, wendbaar — als hij over bouwkunst mag schrijven. Voorzien van een register is Barcelona ideaal als architectuurgids voor de hedendaagse citytripper.

User reviews

LibraryThing member jcbrunner
My first thought about Barcelona always goes to the eponymous ying and yang duet of Freddy Mercury and Montserrat Caballé for the 1992 Summer Olympic Games. My second thought goes to the crazy architectural genius of the city, Antoni Gaudì. Robert Hughes' genial history of Barcelona similarly builds up to Gaudì, leaving the messy story of the 20th century and the city's recovery to other authors. After a prologue about the modern city of Barcelona, Hughes smartly divides his history into two parts. Part one gives an account of the "Old City" from insignificant Roman times to its medieval heyday as the center of a medieval empire followed by decay. The second part about the "New City" deals with the 19th century, presenting the birth of Catalan nationalism, the 1888 Universal Exposition (which revealed Barcelona to a world-wide audience) and finally a concluding chapter about Gaudì.

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.
… (more)
LibraryThing member nemoman
This is the "go-to" book on Barcelona, its history and its culture. If you love the city, or you are going to visit it, I cannot think of a better book to read.
LibraryThing member Niecierpek
A whale of a book, but a very satisfying companion to Catalonian history in general and Barcelona’s story in particular with exquisite chapters on Modernism and Gaudi. Highly recommended if you have a need to be informed. One has to start early, though. I was only halfway through (541 pages in my edition) when I visited Barcelona, and I wish I had read it in its entirety before I got there. I wouldn’t have missed a couple of more obscure modernista places then, and I would have known more about, frankly, everything there. A big book, but well worth it. Fantastically researched and very well written.… (more)
LibraryThing member kurvanas
This is one of the best travel books I have ever read. Though, to be honest, this book is too massive to travel with. However, it is dense with history and wonderful artstic and biographical facts, illuminating sidelights on restaurants, roads, buildings, events, etc. It truly is a biography of a city. You will feel as if you intimately know the city afetr reading this text. An amazing accomplishment.… (more)
LibraryThing member featherbear
In brief, I began the book some time ago, got about to the halfway point. After a long hiatus, finished the second half. Great skill in architectural description and communicating the author's enthusiasm; had me wishing for more pictures of the buildings and details. My favorite: the description of Domenech i Montaner's Hospital de Sant Pau in chapter 7. As an aside, Hughes wonders about the affinity of Japanese tourists for the works of Gaudi. Is there an affinity of his surrealistic designs and manga, perhaps? I got a little bogged down in the number of names to keep track of, and there were a lot of architectural and building construction terms that I was unfamiliar with. The first half covers history, culture, and the plan of the city. Hats off to the author for mastering the secondary literature available only in Catalan, given his many other interests (Australian history, American art and culture). From the many quotations and references it sounds like it would be worth learning Catalan just to be able to read the gossipy chronicles of Josep Pla. I now want to go back and re-read the first half. This is a recommendation from the perspective of a novice in both the history of the region and architecture in general; I'm not in the habit of assigning 4 or 5 stars; a 3 is "good enough to re-read."… (more)
LibraryThing member rameau
Interesting history of Barcelona from Roman times up til just before the 1992 Olympics. The most interesting parts of the book are the end where he talks about the Barcelona Art Nouveau and Guadi and the milieu from which they emerged. (Basically there was both a left- and right-wing modernism allied with socialism/anarchism and Catalan nationalism/Catholicsm, respectively, with Gaudi coming from an ultraconservative Catholicism.) I wish it had more illustrations. There were many intriguing works of art that I'll have to look up online. (Also amusing: the Catalan roots of Australian Impressionism.)… (more)


Page: 0.4608 seconds