All of this is nothing new
bullets, bravely writing brave prose about brave men and women who were fighting during the 1936 Revolution that turned into Spain’s bloody civil war.
Latterly, Barca’s indignados have gathered here and squatters occupied buildings last time I visited, though they seem to have either left or been forced out. Nearly a quarter of Spain’s young are without work and you feel for them. You can’t just come to Spain for a holiday any more without reconciling the fact that it can often be pretty miserable for the locals.
Beyond this tourist Barcelona a flurry of developments sprouted up when times were good. You can find them in the eastern, former industrial, parts of the city. Now, many of these projects lie halffinished or deserted.
From my luxurious suite at the top of the Melia Sky Hotel on Avenida Diagonal I get a breathtaking view of the city. But right in front of the window – a half-finished skyscraper. The walls are there but nothing else. No builders come to work on it, nothing seems planned for it at all. A crane sways in the wind – lost and without much hope.
I remember back to the opening bash of this hotel in October 2008. Back then Spain was perched on a sort of a precipice, but no-one seemed to care. Turn left out of the hotel and you get to the new Torre Agbar, the headquarters of Barcelona’s water company. It’s a thrilling – and expensive – building. It’s well used and well loved. Yet its size and its cost seem out of place. Turn right out of the hotel and you get to the Parc del Forum – a wasteland of concrete built for the sailing events in the 1992 Olympics. It’s like a humongous skate park, with sloped pavilions, steep steps and huge pavements. It’s deserted except for one weekend a year in May when it comes alive with the Primavera Sound music festival. It’s important to see all this in context, to see these ghost projects as part of a wider Spanish history. Property speculation, duff judgment and building for the ego rather than for any specific need is nothing new. Barcelona’s most famous architect was guilty of it all a century ago. Park Guell looks as stunning as ever but it’s actually an unfinished ghost project, too. A hundred years ago, Antoni Gaudi thought he was building a housing development. But – like so many housing developments in today’s Spain – it never worked out that way. The houses didn’t get built and the Park today is just one of the most beautiful pieces of landscape art on earth. With its mosaics, its stunning entrance lodge and its lizard fountain, it’s like a fairytale.
The view from the winding bench at the peak of the park, down towards the sea never fails to amaze me. It is one of the most perfect urban frames you could wish for.
And what’s that in the distance? Another unfinished building at Barcelona’s heart. The Sagrada Familia, that huge cathedral, is perhaps the greatest of Spain’s cock-eyed super building projects because it’s the one that might never be finished at all. A century in the making, it could easily be a century more before it even nears completion.
Perhaps as a tribute to the Spanish buildings that either never worked, never got used, never got finished, or never became loved, should work on the Sagrada Familia just stop altogether? That way it becomes a monument to the weird way that Spaniards – whether for money, grandeur or just through not thinking things through – always seem to end up with half-finished or half-deserted monuments.
They may be strange but these odd buildings stop you in your tracks and make you think.