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History of Barcelona – why is Barcelona so popular?

Looking for something good to read on the recent history of Barcelona? Interested in Barcelona modern architecture and urban design? Want to learn about politics in Catalonia and the financial and social history of Barcelona? Want to know why Barcelona is so popular?We have the book recommendation you’ve been looking for, we’ve read it, and it’s amazing. It opens like this:

I love Barcelona. I love its streets, its buildings, the soupy air, the smelly hammy bars, the Mediterranean in the winter, the diversity of its neighbourhoods, the music on the metro (Midnight Cowboy, muzak and Mozart), the arty urban parks, the way the rub tomato on their bread before they make sandwiches, the harsh rasping Catalan, the Rambla after it has rained, the magnificent combination of football and concrete at the Camp Nou, expat shopping at Marks and Spencer, the lush hills which pop up all over the city, the density which means you could walk across the whole city – a city of 1.5 million people- in half a day, the greasy butifarra sausages. The beaches and the beer.„

Well, who doesn’t! In our opinion, it is exactly the love for Barcelona which makes Donald McNeill’s book „Urban Change and the European Left – Tales from the New Barcelona” so insightful, relatable and fascinating to read.

The quote was taken from the introduction and what follows are seven chapters accompanied by vintage photographs which read like seven stories about Barcelona. The book talks about the shift of governments and the accompanying urban change which redesigned the city between the early 1920s till late1990s. This text puts everything in the European and global context and guides you swiftly between politics and economy, between the grassroots and the crowned royals, between the ruins and the new shiny stadiums.

Reading this book is like being there on Spanish civil war protests and anti-franco manifestations, it’s like watching thousands of hopeful Catalans appreciate their new-found freedom in Spain’s democracy in the 1970s, it’s like observing buildings being torn down and new ones erected in the 1980s, it’s like witnessing the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, it’s like being one of the first excited tourists to arrive here in late 1990s. It’s like watching it all unfold.

It’s understanding why Barcelona is now a city of 1.5 million people visited annually by more than 32 million.

I am not alone in this homage to Barcelona, being joined by multitudes of curious or hedonistic visitors on architecture field trips, football weekends, honeymoons, raves, inter-rails, cultural espionage forays, conference circuits, and Thomson city-breaks. Its popularity has been an indicator of the city’s success in marketing itself abroad, helped by the boundless free publicity of the 1992 Olympics and a grapevine that has wended its way throughout Europe and as far afield as North America and Japan.”

Pick up „Urban Change and the European Left – Tales from the New Barcelona” by Donald McNeill if you have an interest in Barcelona, in politics – especially socialism in Spain and Catalan nationalism, Spanish history including francoism and the regime opposition, the country’s rise and transition to democracy, globalization and capitalism in Barcelona, if you’re interested in the region’s economy and financial history, Barcelona architecture and urban change post the Olympic Games of 1992 or the region’s Catalan identity and culture. We picked it up and learned about all the above, Kat quoted the book in her dissertation and now that we cruise the Barceloneta beachfront on bikes, we remind ourselves it did not even exist 25 years ago.

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