Barcelona

We arrived at Barcelona early in the morning and found quarters at the ” Cuatros Naciones,” which is the best hotel in the town. The streets were full of people, and as the day passed on, fine carriages drawn by superb horses and filled with handsome ladies and gentlemen drove up and down the ” Rambla,” which is the chief parade, and through the Paseo de Gracia, the Central Park of Barcelona. The women wore lace mantillas over their heads, and no hats or bonnets were seen except on the heads of foreigners or travellers. There was no end of pretty children and flowers, and all sorts of delights for the eye; gypsies playing on guitars and mandolins, and most respectful old beggars, so polite and courteous that it seemed a pity not to reward such ridiculous good manners. The whole town seemed to be in the streets, not only at the hours for promenade, but at all hours of the day or evening. Unlike the custom in other towns in Spain, the women throng the streets. They are very beautiful, some white as alabaster with flashing dark eyes, others olive brown with rich red lips. They dress in the gayest of colors, and add to the constant clatter of the town by their vivacious conversation. The tram-cars, which pass incessantly, are drawn by mules curiously clipped in patterns. A gypsy band was playing under my windows, and a man with a silver dish was passing it around and collecting the coppers of the passers-by.

It was the last of April, and there was an expectation of labor riots throughout Spain on the first of May. Barcelona is a large manufacturing city which receives thousands of bales of cotton from the United States, and the government had made extensive preparations to prevent riots. A large body of troops paraded the city daily, and regiments of infantry and cavalry and a large park of artillery were in constant motion. Perhaps it was due to these precautions that the day passed quietly when it came, while many outbreaks occurred in France and other countries. The soldiers wear red trousers and gray coats, and a queer flat cap with a curved front and a visor that folds over the brow. The officers have black oilcloth covers, which they wear over the cap, and short black coats with a closely buttoned vest. Most of the soldiers were very young, short and light, alert in their bearing, and of a serious aspect which seemed at variance with their youth. The cavalry were well mounted and rode their horses to perfection.

There is nothing to designate Barcelona as a Spanish city except the people, and they are Catalans rather than Spaniards. The main streets are long and well paved, and contain many handsome shops. The Rambla is a wide boulevard, with a broad walk in the centre, beneath arching plane trees, and a carriage drive on either side. It is a mile long, and the upper half is devoted to the flower market, where fruits and birds in great variety are offered for sale during the morning hours. Here every variety of costume may be seen: men wearing long dark cloaks with gay linings, which they swing gracefully over one shoulder; peasants dressed in black velvet, with red caps falling back over the neck, and large sashes around the waist; and women with their faces half hid by lace mantillas or shawls, short skirts, and dainty shoes upon their feet. Spain is the only European country where American ladies can find shoes ready-made, which are small enough to fit their little feet; but the hands and feet of the Spanish ladies are like those of our own countrywomen, delicate and beautiful. At the foot of the Rambla, towards the sea, is the Muralla del Mar, a spacious promenade formed by a sea-wall that overlooks the harbor, which is full of the vessels of all nations. At the commencement of this terrace stands a noble monument to Christopher Columbus, who was received here four hundred years ago with great pomp by the sovereigns to whom he had given a new world. It is a fine shaft, surmounted by a bronze statue, with elaborate bronze bas-reliefs around the base. From this terrace, also, one can see over the port to the blue Mediterranean, and on the north to the arsenals and the citadel. We climbed the heights and had a magnificent view of the old city and its port, the Cathedral towering in the midst, and beyond, the new city, with its rows of elegant buildings. Then the suburbs, gemmed with handsome villas, and far on the outskirts a multitude of factories, which explained the busy and commercial aspect of the place.

In the principal streets there are many handsome cafes, which seem to be always crowded with men. People do not sit out upon the pavement as in Paris, but in these immense mirror-lined saloons at little tables. Here in the morning the Parcelonese come to take their chocolate, which is served thick and hot, to read the journals, and to talk politics. All day long the cafes are full of men sipping sweet beverages or drinking wine, and at night the crowd is so great that one can hardly find a place. The noise of hundreds of tongues is increased by the clatter of hundreds of dominos upon the marble tables, and finds vent into the streets, where it blends with the cries of itinerant venders and the roar of a great city.

There is one street, the ” Calle de la Plateria,” where the silversmiths live and make quaint silver ornaments and earrings of antique form for the peasant women. Here the lover of old and curious treasures can search and sometimes be rewarded by finding real prizes in the work of former times.

The climate of Barcelona is hot and dry in summer, but mild in winter, with rarely any snow.

There are charming retreats in the suburbs, to which the prosperous inhabitants resort for residence. In summer the sun beats down upon the hills, and the moisture is drawn out of the soil, which cracks in wide and ghastly rifts. Then the lizards run about in the pleasing heat, and the dangerous tarantula is at hand. Of this poisonous insect a Spanish legend says it was once a foolish woman, who was never tired of danc ing. When our Lord was passing by she behaved so irreverently that lie changed her into a spider, and placed the form of a guitar upon her back, with the fate that whoever was bitten by her should dance till he fell down from faintness and fatigue. We have begun to hear these apocryphal gospels, of which Spain is full; but though we do not believe the legend, we will avoid the tarantula.

Nothing could be more delightful than the spring days which we passed in Barcelona. We could appreciate the language of Washington Irving written in 1844: ” All here is picture and romance. Nothing has given me greater delight than occasional evening drives with some of my diplomatic colleagues to those country-seats or torres, as they are called, situated on the slopes of the hills, two or three miles from the city, surrounded by groves of oranges, citrons, figs, and pomegranates, with terraced gardens gay with flowers and fountains. Here we would sit on the lofty terraces overlooking the rich and varied plain, the distant city gilded by the setting sun, and the blue sea beyond. Nothing can be purer and softer and sweeter than the evening air inhaled in these favored retreats.”Barcelona has become a city of traffic and manufactures since Irving’s day and can hardly merit now the description of Cervantes, ” flor de las bellas ciudades del mundo,” the flower of the beautiful cities of the world, but it is still grand, beautiful, and captivating.

In Barcelona besides the English Church, whose chaplain attends British ships in the harbor, there are missions of the Swiss Church with chapel and schools, a Wesleyan mission, and several halls in the suburb of Gracia, where the Plymouth Brethren hold and support meetings. The city seems, however, to a traveller to be given up to Romanism and pleasure upon Sundays and the numerous holidays of the Roman Catholic Church.

The streets of Barcelona in the older part of the town are narrow, winding, and dull, yet they open into squares, and reveal buildings which are important and interesting. In the square of the Constitutio are two palaces, the Casa Consistorial, a fine Gothic hall of the fourteenth century, in which ancient councils were held; and Casa de la Disputacion, with a beautiful staircase leading to the chapel of St. George, which is full of fine architectural features. George was the tutelar saint of the Disputacion, and tradition narrates how he fought the Moors for the Aragonese and Catalans; his day is still kept as a festival, though the old jousts and tournaments which enlivened it have ceased.

The old palace, which contained the archives of the kings of Aragon, has many thousand manuscript volumes, rich and rare, and illuminated missals which formerly enriched convents. This library is reached by a staircase, on which stands a fine statue of Vilardell, the brave knight whose statue adorns many places in Barcelona. The library has also a beautiful Moorish ceiling. The dismal court of the prison and palace of the Inquisition, with its little windows heavily barred and secret doors, is also to be seen. There are in Barcelona a fine cathedral and many churches worth visiting, especially by artists and architects. The Cathedral, a noble Gothic structure, is approached by an elevated flight of steps, which adds the appearance of height to the principal front, left unfinished for many years, but now completed. It has lofty bell towers, and on the side of one portal is an inscription, which gives the year 1298 as that in which the building was begun, and 1329 as another important date in the prosecution of the work. Over the entrance is a carving which represents the fight between the dragon which the Moors- are said to have let loose, and the legendary hero Vilardell. The country is full of legends, and this one narrates that when the hero was forced by the Moors to abandon his castle, God tried his charity first by appearing to him in the form of a beggar. He answered satisfactorily to this trial and then his courage was tested. He was armed with a miraculous sword with which he could even smite the rocks in twain, and cut down the sturdiest trees. He killed the dragon with this noble weapon, and now came the trial of his humility. Alas! he failed; for he was so elated by his victory that he cried out, ” Well done, mighty sword, and not less mighty arm of Vilardell ! “While he was thus exulting, he felt some drops of dragon’s blood falling from the uplifted sword upon his arm. They were deadly poison, and the vaunting warrior died instantly, being, as the pious narrator informs us, “punished for his vainglory.” The legend is instructive and warning, and is no doubt, like many such tales, “founded upon fact.”

The interior of the Cathedral is composed of three vast naves, and in a cloudy day the gloom is intense; but when the brilliant sun of Spain streams in through the superb stained windows, which are said to be the finest in the country, the effect is wonderful. The colors are chiefly blue, and purple, and red, but so pure and fresh that they dye with their gorgeous hues every object upon which the transmitted sunbeams fall.

Under the high altar is a subterranean chapel, which contains the body of Saint Eulalia. Here lights are always burning, and whenever we were in the Cathedral we saw women kneeling and praying at the head of the staircase which leads down to the tomb of the saint. Eulalia means “well-spoken”; and the virgin with this complimentary name is said to have been martyred by the Roman emperor Dacian in 309, and her body removed from the church of St. Maria del Mar five hundred and sixty-nine years later. Many sovereigns have been in the habit of passing the night at her shrine. She was a maiden of such beauty, and her murderers were so dazzled by it, that a mist gathered in their eyes and hid her completely from view as they attempted profanely to gaze upon her loveliness. De Amicis tells us that her body is still as intact and fresh as during life, and that there is no human eye which can bear the sight.

Once an incautious bishop in the last century, who uncovered the remains from curiosity, became blind in the act of looking at them. Under these circumstances we were quite content to give Saint Eulalia a wide berth and contemplate her from the top of the staircase.

Below the organ hangs a monstrous Saracen’s head, with open mouth and a long beard, and in one of the chapels is the crucifix which was carried on the flagship of Don John of Austria at the battle of Lepanto. It is bent on one side, and the explanation is, that when the Moors directed their fire against the sacred image, it turned aside and thus avoided the shot. The choir is adorned with the painted shields of the Knights of the Golden Fleece, who held a general assembly here in 1519. The scene must have been imposing, when these walls were hung with rich tapestries and velvets, and Charles V. on a brocaded throne, surrounded by kings of Poland and Denmark, the Prince of Orange and the Dukes of Alba, Frias, and Cruz, and a great and glorious company of the nobility of Spain and the Low Countries, presided over the Chapter. It was at that visit that Charles said, “I would rather be Count of Barcelona than King of the Romans.”

A great round arch leads into the cloister, a large quadrangle, where ancient orange trees, full of golden fruit, and large trees of geraniums and giant shrubs flourish amidst the plash and murmur of fountains. One of these fountains, the Fontana de las Ocas, is the figure of our famous knight, Vilardell, on a horse which spouts water from his nostrils and has a long curving jet d’eau in place of a tail. Beside these fountains dwell the flocks of geese which have been kept here for generations. They stretch out their long necks and hiss at the intruder, and are famous guardians of the treasures of the Cathedral.

The churches of San Pablo del Campo, and San Pedro de las Pudellas, with their early architectural features, -heavy, low, round arches, -and the grand nave of Santa Maria del Mar, with its octagon columns, are all worth a visit. We heard a sermon in one of these, from a very eloquent priest, who warned the people against the heresies of Protestants and the sin of unbelief. The church was crowded to the door with people, a large majority of whom. were men, standing in the aisles and against the pillars, while the women mostly sat upon cane-bottomed chairs. In all of these buildings the gloom was intense, but there was no dampness as in the Italian churches. The windows were full of rich glass, the architecture was grand, the floors were dirty beyond description; but upon them men and women kneeled, praying aloud, and often weeping and sobbing piteously. One evening we heard a special mass with grand music which echoed through the long-drawn aisles and among the arches, like heavenly melodies; but when the singing ceased in the chapel and we were alone in the great nave, the silence and darkness became so oppressive that we were glad to get out into the Rambla among the gay crowds, to dissipate the impression of sadness which the service had inspired.

Barcelona possesses a little park, upon which much money has been spent. It is full of palm trees and aloes and coffee trees, and has fine artificial terraces and caverns and fountains. It is carefully kept and very pretty. Near by is the barracks of the troops, a large number of whom are always quartered here; and our evening drives were enlivened and distracted by soldiers practising upon their musical instruments, with every variety of discord. There was no other music in or near the park, and perhaps those who “have no music in their souls ” might mistake these fearful sounds for the music of a band.

Beyond the gates there is a curious cemetery, a kind of city of the dead, with long streets of walls. These walls are full of crypts, or shelves. The dead are placed in the walls lengthwise, arranged in rows, like volumes on the shelves of a library. On a depression in the wall over every crypt the name of the person within is inscribed, and either glass or wire netting is placed over it. The space is often large enough to contain little offerings of pictures, photographs, and artificial flowers; and in some cases the toys and playthings which are placed within indicate that children are buried below. These spaces are rented by the year; and if the rental is not paid the casket is taken away and deposited in the paupers’ cemetery, the glass is removed, the name is erased, and the crypt made ready for a new occupant. The cemetery is very extensive, and between the part occupied by the middle classes and the very poor, among trees and flowering shrubs, is a fine marble chapel. Barcelona has stretched out its streets and avenues like an American town, in advance of population. The new portions of the city, most of which owe their construction to the international exhibition of 1888, are very handsome; but they loaded the city with debt and ruined many contractors. The exhibition did not prove a success, and it will be some years before the natural growth even of such a prosperous city as Barcelona will recover from the strain.