25 Things You Should Know About Barcelona

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With its Catalonian roots and modernist architecture (much of it by the legendary Antoni Gaudí), Barcelona's charm feels timeless. Read on for more about this coastal metropolis, the former home of Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí.

1. Nobody knows exactly how the city got its name, but two legendary figures are frequently cited. According to one account, Hannibal's father, Hamilcar Barca, named the settlement "Barcino" in the 3rd century BCE after his family's surname. A different tale credits Hercules, whose ninth ship (barca nona) was said to have washed ashore in the area.

2. The Eixample section of the city is a nearly perfect grid, although the corners of each square are cut off, effectively making every block an octagon. In the 19th century, geometry-obsessed architect Ildefons Cerda designed the areas to ease traffic patterns and navigation, but also to build a community within each block, which featured a communal garden in the middle. As a bonus, the setup also maximized sunlight and the ventilation of the surrounding homes.

3. One of Barcelona's most popular arteries is the three-quarter-mile road called La Rambla. During the Middle Ages, it was the site of a polluted stream outside the city walls affectionately known as Cagalell, or "stream of shit." Today, the road is divided into five sections—Canaletes, Estudis, Sant Josep, Caputxins, and Santa Mònica—which is why it's often referred to in the plural as Las Ramblas.

4. During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), more than 1000 underground bomb shelters were built to offer Barcelonians refuge from enemy attack. You can experience the claustrophobic atmosphere of one of the subterranean structures, Shelter 307, a massive bunker with specialized rooms (toilets, a children's room, an infirmary, and more) linked by 400 meters of tunnels. The Museu d'Historia de Barcelona manages the site and offers public tours.

5. The annual Sant Jordi festival (which took place this year on April 23) toasts Catalonia's patron saint, Saint George. As part of the celebration, men traditionally give their loved ones a rose. But it's also the anniversary of both William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes's deaths, so women give a book in return.

6. A 200-foot-tall monument of Christopher Columbus is located at the end of La Rambla, near the harbor. Completed in 1888 by sculptor Rafael Atche, the towering column honors the explorer who returned to Barcelona from the Americas and reported his findings to his patrons, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. In his left hand, he holds a scroll, and with his right, he supposedly points toward the New World.

7. Construction on Antoni Gaudí's masterpiece cathedral, La Sagrada Familia, began in 1882 … and is still going. The Gothic- and Byzantine-influenced design reached its final stage in November 2015, but projections still target 2026 as the completion date. By then, it will have 18 towers and reach a height of 564 feet, making it the tallest religious building in Europe. Despite not being finished, it's still Spain's most-visited monument.

8. A modernist masterpiece, Park Güell is a complex of public parks designed by Gaudí and a local industrialist, Count Eusebi Güell. Originally, in 1900, Güell had envisioned the complex as a housing development interspersed with green spaces, but only two homes were ever built and few buyers showed interest. The residential project was abandoned in 1914 and the city later converted the rest of the area into municipal parks with roads, walkways, a plaza, and gatehouses designed by Gaudí. Today it's one of seven properties in UNESCO's Works of Antoni Gaudí world heritage site.

9. Another site in the UNESCO group is Casa Milà, an apartment building designed by Gaudí and nicknamed La Pedrera, or stone quarry. It took six years to build and was completed in 1912 in the Catalan Art Nouveau style. With 48,438 square feet of space for visitors to explore, its most recognizable feature is the roof terrace with its winding paths of ventilation towers, chimneys, and stairs.

10. Spain's most powerful supercomputer, MareNostrum, is housed in the 19th-century Chapel Torre Girona on the campus of Barcelona's Polytechnic University of Catalonia. A team of researchers uses the MareNostrum for mapping the human genome, detecting complex weather patterns, and other massive projects using huge amounts of data.

11. The first boycott-free Olympics since 1972 was held in Barcelona in 1992. The summer games took place amid global political shifts—South Africa had outlawed Apartheid, the fall of the Berlin Wall had reunited East and West Germany, and 15 former Soviet countries competed as a "unified" team. More than 9000 athletes (6652 men and 2704 women) competed in 257 events—including baseball, badminton, and women's judo, which all made their official Olympic debuts that year.

12. The coastal city's beloved beaches are actually man-made. To prepare for the 1992 Olympics, industrial waterfront buildings were torn down and palm trees were imported from Malaga, resulting in two miles of idyllic waterfront space. Today, there are more than four miles of beach.

13. Singer José Carreras, who was born in Barcelona on December 5, 1946, sang the part of Tony on 1984's West Side Story recording with Leonard Bernstein. He later joined forces with Luciano Pavarotti and Plácido Domingo in 1990 to form the powerhouse combo The Three Tenors. Their first live album (recorded at their debut concert in Rome) went multiplatinum that year—and won a Grammy for best classical vocal performance.

14. In 2004, Barcelona-based candy shop Papabubble started making hard candies completely by hand. Today there are more than 40 locations around the globe, in cities including Beirut, Dubai, Lima, New York, Paris, Sao Paolo, Taipei, Toronto, and Zhengzhou.

15. Built for the 1929 International Exhibition by Carles Buigas, the Montjuïc Magic Fountain features a dancing water show with more than 50 shades of colors coordinated to music. Located at the end of Avinguda Reina Maria Cristina, it was restored for the 1992 Olympics and also hosts an annual Piromusical show, synchronized with fireworks, for the city's La Mercè festival.

16. For a panoramic view of Barcelona, hop on the scenic Montjuïc cable car, which travels up a hillside for 277 feet, with stops at Parc Montjuïc, Montjuïc castle (built in 1640), and the Mirador de l'Alcalde. From the upper terminal, board the Montjuïc funicular to ascend to more cultural attractions, including the Fundacio Joan Miro and Barcelona’s ethnological museum.

17. Barcelona's local cuisine combines the hallmarks of the coastal Mediterranean palate—fish and shellfish, legumes, tomatoes, peppers, other fresh vegetables, fruits, and wheat—with the rustic fare of the mountainous interior. Pork (especially Serrano ham) and wild boar, sausages called botifarras, wild mushrooms, cheeses, and wines add heartiness to the Catalan table.

18. Pablo Picasso's family moved to Barcelona in 1895, and he lived there on and off through 1904. "There is where it all began … there is where I understood how far I could go," he said of the city. Barcelona’s Museu Picasso, founded in 1963, houses 4251 of his works in its permanent collection, including early self-portraits in the figurative style, Cubist works, studies of harlequins and horses, and later sculptures.

19. Catalonia’s artistic legacy wouldn’t be complete without Surrealist master Salvador Dalí, who was born in Figueres, a small town about an hour northeast of Barcelona. He spent the last decades of his life creating a museum in his hometown to preserve his work. "I want my museum to be like a single block, a maze, a great surrealist object. It will be an absolutely theatrical museum. People who come to see it will leave with the feeling of having had a theatrical dream,” Dalí once said. The Dalí Theatre-Museum’s collection includes more than 4000 Dalí works, 11,300 photographs, and 537 manuscripts.

20. Barcelona’s most visited museum is dedicated to the city’s beloved football (that is, soccer) team, FC Barcelona. Within the team’s stadium, dubbed Camp Nou, is a collection of multimedia exhibits, memorabilia, and trophies from the team’s 22 league titles, four Champions League victories, and many more. Visitors can also take a tour of the locker rooms, the players’ tunnel leading to the field, and other hallowed spaces. In 2013, more than 1,530,400 fans passed through the doors, more than the Dalí Theatre Museum in nearby Figueres and the Museu Picasso.

21. The Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria is the city’s main market for food and drink. The current market was established in 1840, but the site has been a well-trodden spot for farmers to trade their produce and city dwellers to buy fresh food since the 13th century. Today third- and fourth-generation sellers offer fresh and salted fish, poultry and eggs, meats of every description, breads, pasta, wine, fruits and vegetables, and even frozen foods.

22. The old Sant Agustí monastery now houses the Museu de la Xocolata ("Museum of Chocolate” in the Catalan language), showcasing a sweet part of Barcelona's history. In the 15th century, shipments of chocolate from far-flung regions arrived in Barcelona and were distributed throughout Europe. Exhibits focus on the chocolate-making process, historical roots of the product, and even chocolate-themed works of art.

23. Barcelona’s Avinguda del Portal de L'Angel is Spain’s most expensive retail street. As of 2015, commercial real estate on the street sold for $335 per square foot.

24. The au courant clothing chain Mango was founded in Barcelona in 1984. Now, the brand has 2415 stores in 107 countries and operates Europe’s largest fashion design hub, the Hangar Design Centre.

25. The Royal Institute of British Architecture's highest honor, the Royal Gold Medal, has always be awarded to a person—except in 1999, when it was given to the city of Barcelona. Citing the city’s widespread revitalization after the 1992 Olympics, the organization announced, "Barcelona is now more whole in every way, its fabric healed yet threaded through with new open spaces, its historic buildings refurbished, yet its facilities expanded and brought up-to-the-minute.”

11 Things You Might Not Know About Sports Night

ABC
ABC

Before there was The West Wing, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, or The Newsroom, there was Sports Night. Premiering in the fall of 1998, Aaron Sorkin's freshman foray into television told the story of a late-night sports news show and the personalities that made it run, both in front of and behind the camera. Here are 11 things you might not know about the two-season dramedy, on its 20th anniversary.

1. IT WAS CONCEIVED AS A BOOK.

Originally, it didn't occur to Sorkin to think about Sports Night as a television series. He thought it might make an interesting book, and his agent at the time suggested a movie might be better—"Kind of a Broadcast News set in a SportsCenter place," Sorkin explained to TV Guide. "But I had a hard time thinking of a two-hour story to tell. It all seemed episodic to me, like small stories. I dismissed it, because it didn't occur to me to do a television series." A few years later, Sorkin found himself pitching the idea to ABC.

2. IT IS LOOSELY BASED ON SPORTSCENTER.

Shortly after Sports Night's premiere, Keith Olbermann—former co-host of ESPN's SportsCenter—couldn't help but notice the similarities between Sports Night’s fictional anchors Dan Rydell (played by Josh Charles) and Casey McCall (played by Peter Krause) and he and his SportsCenter co-host, Dan Patrick, respectively. After asking Sports Illustrated, "How much more of my life can these people borrow before they have to pay me?" Esquire sat Olbermann and Sorkin down together to hash it out. When Olbermann commented that "I have heard various stories about the origin of this series," Sorkin quickly confirmed that, "You are the origin. I sat in [a] hotel room for 13 months writing The American President. To keep me company, I would have SportsCenter on. I'd watch The Big Show four times in a row, and I thought it was the best-written show on television. It turned me into a big-time sports fan. As soon as I was done with The American President, I told [then-ABC head] Jamie Tarses, 'Send me off and let me write a pilot.'" Craig Kilborn has also long been rumored as part of the inspiration for Krause's McCall.

3. AARON SORKIN SPENT SOME TIME ON THE ESPN CAMPUS.

In order to research the series, Sorkin spent some time observing the goings-on at ESPN's main campus in Bristol, Connecticut. And it's there that he found the inspiration for Felicity Huffman's character, Dana Whitaker. "When I visited ESPN, I was very impressed with a particular producer who was juggling about a hundred things at once," Sorkin said. "She was the inspiration for casting a woman in the role of producer of Sports Night."

4. THE NETWORK INSISTED ON USING A LAUGH TRACK.

Given that Sports Night was a rather unconventional comedy, the network executives at ABC were worried that audiences wouldn’t get Sorkin’s sense of humor so they insisted on using a laugh track, much to everyone's dismay. "The network was looking for any touchstones that would make it feel like more of a traditional half-hour, and one of them was the laugh track," Sorkin told Entertainment Weekly in 2014. "By the second season, they said, 'You don’t have to use it anymore.' On those occasions when I go back and watch an old episode, that laugh track sounds so terrible." Added co-star Joshua Malina: "Would The Office have worked with a laugh track? No. At the time, studio executives were going, 'You don’t want to have a laugh track? But how are people going to know that it’s funny?'"

5. IT OVERLAPPED WITH THE WEST WING.

On September 22, 1999—exactly one year after Sports Night premiered—Sorkin's much beloved political drama, The West Wing, made its debut. While Sports Night struggled to find its audience (despite three Emmy wins and a Golden Globe nomination), The West Wing was an immediate hit, so much so that many people blame Sports Night's ultimate disappearance from the air after just two seasons on The West Wing. When ABC announced that it was canceling Sports Night, other channels—HBO and Showtime reportedly among them—came calling. But Sorkin decided that his attention would be better focused on The West Wing.

"While we received several intriguing offers for Sports Night to continue on another network, there were many other factors that were important for us to consider," Sorkin and his producing partner Thomas Schlamme said in a press statement. "We are tremendously proud of the two seasons' worth of episodes that aired on ABC and felt committed to reviving the show only if this creative integrity could continue. When we considered everything involved in making this happen, we felt it best for Sports Night to remain untarnished creatively."

6. JOSHUA MALINA WANTED TO PLAY DAN RYDELL.


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Joshua Malina originally auditioned for the role of Dan Rydell. "I immediately fixated on what would ultimately become Josh Charles’ role of Dan," Malina told Entertainment Weekly. "I thought it was perfect for me." But Sorkin knew he wanted Malina in the cast, so he decided to rewrite the role of researcher Jeremy Goodwin to Malina's strengths.

"Aaron called, and he was like, 'Hey, do you remember the role of Jeremy in the pilot?,'" Malina recalled. "As it was originally written, he was 21. And I was 30 at the time. He’s like, 'I know he’s young, but what if I took another pass at it?' And he started describing what he might do, and I just interrupted him and said, 'Are you trying to convince me? Yes! I would play anything in this!'"

7. ROBERT GUILLAUME REALLY DID HAVE A STROKE.

In January 1999, Robert Guillaume, who played managing editor Isaac Jaffe, suffered a stroke while on the set and was immediately rushed to the hospital, where he insisted that "I haven't had a stroke. I can't have a stroke. Disney doesn't allow it. Not during business hours." In order to explain his absence from part of the first season, Sorkin wrote his stroke into the series. He returned at the end of season one. Guillaume passed away of prostate cancer on October 24, 2017, just one month away from his 90th birthday.

8. CASEY MCCALL MADE A SPIN CITY CAMEO.

In 1999, Peter Krause made a cameo as Casey McCall in an episode of Spin City, which immediately preceded Sports Night on ABC's Tuesday night lineup. In the episode, Mike (Michael J. Fox's character) and his girlfriend watch the show-within-the-show version of Sports Night, which then segued into the evening's actual episode.

9. THE SHOW WASN'T LACKING IN CRITICAL ACCLAIM.

Though it struggled to find an audience, Sports Night was never lacking in critical acclaim. The show was nominated for eight Emmy Awards during its two-season run, and won three of them, including Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series for Thomas Schlamme (for the pilot). In 2000, Felicity Huffman scored a Golden Globe nod for Best Performance by an Actress in a TV-Series - Comedy/Musical.

10. ITS "LOW" RATINGS WERE ACTUALLY PRETTY HIGH.

Though low ratings are often cited as the main reason for Sports Night's cancellation after two seasons, it averaged about 11.5 million viewers per week. If Sports Night were still on the air, it would be one of ABC's highest rated shows.

11. IN 2014, KEITH OLBERMANN CO-HOSTED WITH HIS ON-SCREEN ALTER EGO.

In 2014, Josh Charles reprised his role as Dan Rydell on The Big Show with Keith Olbermann. The pair reenacted Sports Night with highlights and witty banter, and allowed Olbermann to poke a little fun at Sorkin.

13 Facts About Notre-Dame Cathedral

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Constructed between the 12th and 14th centuries, Notre-Dame de Paris has centuries of French history built into its stone. The Gothic cathedral reflects the prominent role of Paris as an economic and spiritual center in the 12th century, and its scars from the French Revolution are reminders of its long connection with the monarchy—a connection that almost resulted in its demolition. Yet although thousands of tourists enter its doors each day to photograph its rose windows and flying buttresses, this sacred destination still has its secrets. Here are 13 lesser-known facts about Notre-Dame de Paris.

1. A PAGAN CITY LIES BELOW THE CATHEDRAL.

The Île-de-la-Cité on which Notre-Dame de Paris now stands was once a Gallo-Roman city known as Lutetia. The cathedral may have been built right over remnants of a temple: Around 1710, pieces of a sculpted altar dedicated to Jupiter and other deities were discovered during an excavation under the choir (although it remains unclear if this is evidence of an ancient temple, or if the pieces were recycled there from another location). Additional architectural ruins found in the 1960s and '70s, many dating back to this ancient era, lie in the archaeological crypt located beneath the square just in front of Notre-Dame.

2. THERE'S SOME RECYCLED ARCHITECTURE ON ITS FAÇADE.

The Sainte-Anne Portal at Notre-Dame
The Sainte-Anne Portal at Notre-Dame

There are three portals on the western façade of Notre-Dame, each laden with sculpted saints and sacred scenes. One doesn't seem to fit, however—the Portal Sainte-Anne has a much earlier style than the rest. Its figures, such as the central Virgin and Child, look stiffer in their poses and less natural in their features compared to the other statues. That's because this tympanum, or semi-circular area of decoration, was recycled from a previous Romanesque church. A close examination in 1969 revealed that it was not originally made for this space, and had been adapted to fit the Gothic structure.

3. THERE'S A "FOREST" IN ITS ROOF.

The cathedral contains one of the oldest surviving wood-timber frames in Paris, involving around 52 acres of trees that were cut down in the 12th century. Each beam is made from an individual tree. For this reason, the lattice of historic woodwork is nicknamed "the Forest."

4. ITS FLYING BUTTRESSES WERE GOTHIC TRENDSETTERS.

Low angle view of the East end of Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral at sunset with flying buttresses
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The cathedral was one of the earliest structures built with exterior flying buttresses. They were constructed around its nave in the 12th century to lend support to the thin walls, after the need for more light in the incredibly tall church required larger windows, and thus greater supports. The exposed flying buttresses became an iconic aspect of Gothic design, and although there's some debate over whether Notre-Dame was the first church to have them, they certainly set the trend in sacred architecture.

5. TWENTY-EIGHT OF ITS KINGS LOST THEIR HEADS IN THE FRENCH REVOLUTION.

In 1793, in the midst of the French Revolution, 28 statues of biblical kings in the cathedral were pulled down with ropes and decapitated by a mob. (King Louis XVI was guillotined earlier that year, and any iconography tied to the monarchy was under attack.) The mutilated stones were eventually tossed in a trash heap, which the Minister of the Interior dealt with by ordering the material be repurposed for construction. It wasn't until 1977 that the heads of 21 of these kings were rediscovered during work on the basement of the French Bank of Foreign Trade. Now they're at the nearby Musée de Cluny.

6. THE TOWERS ARE NOT TWINS.

The two towers of Notre-Dame
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At first glance, Notre-Dame’s two towers appear like identical twins. Closer examination reveals that the north tower is in fact a bit bigger than the south. As with all the elements of the cathedral, they were built over time, and reflect how the cathedral is more of a collage of architectural trends and leadership than the culmination of one person’s vision.

7. ITS BELLS WERE ONCE MELTED DOWN FOR ARTILLERY.

The kings weren’t the only part of Notre-Dame destroyed during the French Revolution. The cathedral, like other churches around France, was transformed in the late 18th century from a Christian space and rededicated to the new Cult of Reason. All 20 of its bells—except the colossal 1681 bourdon called Emmanuel—were removed and melted down to make cannons.

While the bells at Notre-Dame were replaced in the 19th century, the new instruments were not as finely made as the older versions, and made a more dissonant noise when clanging. Finally, in 2013, a new ensemble of bells restored the cathedral to its 17th-century sound, with the deeply resonant Emmanuel still joining in the toll on special occasions.

8. NAPOLÉON AND VICTOR HUGO SAVED IT.

When Napoléon Bonaparte decided to have his 1804 coronation as emperor in Notre-Dame, the building was in bad shape. Centuries of decay as the city developed and changed around it, as well as the vandalism of the French Revolution, had left it on the verge of demolition. For years it had been used as little more than a warehouse. So when Napoléon declared its return to church use, and hosted his grand ceremony within his walls—an event in which he famously crowned himself—it brought Notre-Dame to new prominence.

Nevertheless, the coronation didn’t fix its structural deterioration. Then author Victor Hugo used the building as a personification of France itself in his 1831 novel Notre-Dame de Paris. (The book’s name is often translated as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, yet the hunchbacked bell ringer Quasimodo is not the main character; the central figure is Notre-Dame.) And Hugo vividly evoked its decrepit 19th-century state:

“But noble as it has remained while growing old, one cannot but regret, cannot but feel indignant at the innumerable degradations and mutilations inflicted on the venerable pile, both by the action of time and the hand of man, regardless alike of Charlemagne, who laid the first stone, and Philip Augustus, who laid the last. On the face of this ancient queen of our cathedrals, beside each wrinkle one invariably finds a scar. 'Tempus edax, homo edacior,' which I would be inclined to translate: 'Time is blind, but man is senseless.'”

The book was a success, and the momentum led to a major restoration overseen by architects Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Lassus and Eugène Viollet-le-Duc.

9. ITS MONSTERS ARE MODERN, NOT MEDIEVAL.

Gargoyle and wide city view from the roof of Notre-Dame
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Some of the most popular images of Notre-Dame are from the perspective of its gargoyles or chimera (the carved monsters that don’t act as waterspouts). Few visitors would guess that the fantastic creatures now on the cathedral weren't there until the 19th century; they were added between 1843 and 1864 during the radical restoration overseen by Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc.

Hugo had described gargoyles extensively in Notre-Dame de Paris, and Viollet-le-Duc was reportedly inspired by this romantic vision of the past. A daguerreotype from before this overhaul shows a building more stark than the one we know today, with no beasts perched on its towers, its medieval gargoyles having long been removed. Unfortunately, many of the 19th-century gargoyles are now decaying; PVC pipes have taken the place of those that have been taken down for safety.

The gargoyles were far from the only fanciful addition by the architect Viollet-le-Duc. Among the 12 apostles he had installed around the new spire, he included himself as the face of Saint Thomas.

10. ITS SPIRE IS A SAINTLY LIGHTNING ROD.

Look way to the top of the spire and you'll spy a rooster. This is not a purely decorative bird. In 1935, three tiny relics—an alleged piece of the Crown of Thorns and some bits of Saint Denis and Saint Genevieve (the city's patron saints)—were secured inside the metal bird’s body. The idea, the story goes, was to create a sort of spiritual lightning rod to protect the parishioners within.

11. THE ORGAN IS THOUGHT TO BE THE LARGEST IN FRANCE.

The Notre-Dame organ involves almost 8000 pipes (some dating back to the 18th century) played with five keyboards, making it the biggest pipe organ in France (although some claim that Saint-Eustache has a larger one). While there are some slashes on the wood of the organ loft—damage from the French Revolution, when its fleur-de-lis symbols were carved off—it was restored in 2013 to mark the 850th anniversary of the cathedral.

12. ALL ROADS LEAD TO NOTRE-DAME DE PARIS.

Point Zero marker outside Notre-Dame in Paris
Jean-Pierre Bazard, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Mostly overlooked beneath the crowds of tourists milling around outside Notre-Dame is a diminutive circular marker with an eight-pointed bronze star embedded in the cobblestones. It’s engraved with the words Point zéro des routes de France, and is the point from which distances are measured from Paris to other cities in France. It was placed there in 1924, although it had to be temporarily dislodged in the 1960s during the excavations for what was intended to be an underground parking garage. Those construction plans were thwarted when workers turned up architectural ruins—now kept in the archaeological crypt.

13. BEES LIVE ON ITS ROOF.

On the Notre-Dame sacristy, adjacent to the cathedral, is a small hive of bees. It was installed in 2013, with Buckfast bees—a strain developed by a monk named Brother Adam and known for its gentleness—living in its hives. Their honey is made from the flowering plants in nearby gardens, including the Square Jean XXIII just behind the cathedral. According to The New York Times, the sweet stuff is given away to the poor.

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