Barcelonia, The Catalonian Capital – Spain Travel

Of the three cities which have good reason to claim the title of Queens of the Mediterranean—Genoa, Marseilles, and Barcelona—this last has every prospect of becoming the largest and perhaps the wealthiest. It has the immense advantage of combining the business of mill and shop, of warehouse and dock, or, as I said, of Liver-pool and Manchester in one. I often drove in the afternoon all around the place, far beyond the ensanches, as the spacious quarters of the new town are called, and went for more than three hours through a perfect maze of tall chimneys, emitting a much denser smoke than the shafts in Lancashire, yet but slightly, if at all, affecting the purity of the light elastic atmosphere, which seems here blest with perpetual brightness. All these industrial suburbs, Sans, Las Cortes, Sarria, etc., were to be incorporated with the city of which they are a continuation; and as some of them—Gracia, for instance —are towns of 30,000 or 40,000 inhabitants, they will soon raise the population of Barcelona to half a million.

And nowhere else, perhaps, is the useful more admirably blended with the sweet than it is here. Barcelona, in spite of the dingy narrowness of some of its old quarters, is at all times a sunny town, and every spot about the harbor and all round the old walls, especially the sea-wall, is being widened and improved. It basks in a genial sky and climate. Few cities in Europe can boast a more stately or pleasing thorough-fare than the famous old Rambla, or a more elegant promenade than the Paseo de Gracia. There are nowhere more charming citizens’ villas than the casatorres, or garden-houses, of St. Gervasio, Sarria, and Gracia. No people in the world seem better adapted to steer between the extremes of “all work and no play,” and “all play and no work.”

They have noble churches, a Gothic cathedral, St. Maria del Mar, also Gothic, and about a hundred others, with operatic masses in the morning, while there are as many or more theaters open in the evening—ten theaters in the town alone, without counting those in the suburbs, and the seven play-houses in the open air, only used in the long summer-time. The opera house (Gran Teatro del Liceo) is said to exceed the Milan Scala in size, and it is not yet the principal theater.

Besides these two, we have the Teatro del Ciro:), the Teatro Cervantes, with imitations of the Olympe, . Odeon, Nouveautes, and other places of entertainment, the style and the very names of which are borrowed from prototypes in Paris or Madrid. Between the morning spectacle at the church and the function at night in the play-house, there is the lounge in the Rambla, or the stroll in the Paseo de Gracia; in the Rambla a dense mass of human beings thronging, especially the rich flower-market, toward noon; in the Paseo a long line of well-drest and evidently well-to-do promenaders toward sunset.

Morning, noon and night besides, there is the happy gathering at the cafe. The cafes at Barcelona are as grand and sumptuous as those of Paris, and some of them—that of the “Seven Doors,” of the “Nineteenth Century,” and others —more vast in proportion than any in the world. These establishments are, or seem, at least, from their immense size, empty on week days throughout the best working hours; but in the evenings, and especially of a Sunday or holiday, one finds it difficult to obtain a seat or table; and till late at night there is a thronging there of family parties, with children of all ages, nurses and babies not forgotten, people of all classes meeting here on a footing of equality, all prolonging their sitting till very late hours at night; a medley of sights, a Babel of voices; a never-ending, the at first bewildering, study of characters.