There are many ways to learn more about a city or a region. Exploring it on your own, taking tours and doing online research are just some of the most obvious. This time we would like to focus on that very special part of the trip preparation, the one in which we want to get immersed in the culture, the history and the soul of a destination, well before traveling there. It is in this sense that literature comes handy and becomes a wonderful, entertaining and honest way to connect with a city, region or country.
Barcelona has more than 2000 years of history and an incredibly rich tradition of art and architecture. A lot of this has been reflected in the many books written about the Catalan capital. We chose to select only some titles that, for one reason or another, have become internationally acclaimed must-read publications, in which the city of Barcelona emerges as one of the main players of the fascinating and sometimes dramatic stories narrated in these books. Here is our list of highly recommended books about Barcelona:
The Cathedral of the Sea
Following a sort of chronological order, we should begin with The Cathedral of the Sea, by Ildefonso Falcones. The story of Arnau, the born-slave protagonist of this spellbinging historical novel, unfolds in parallel with the construction of Santa Maria del Mar, the most beloved church by the common people of XVth century Barcelona. Adventures, love, wars, betrayals, religion, fortunes and miseries: you can find here all the ingredients that compose an unforgettable voyage to that remote and fascinating age with a first hand look into the vibrant although often brutal society of Medieval Barcelona.
Victus – The Fall of Barcelona
This next recommendation of books about Barcelona, Victus – The Fall of Barcelona, is set during the dramatic period of the War of Spanish Succession. In this page-turning novel, the author, Albert Sánchez Piñol recreates the events that led to the infamous siege of Barcelona and its final fall in 1714. Combining historical and fictional characters, the narrative seduces the reader with well crafted descriptions of tragic moments, battles, political intricacies and even comic situations. It never loses the engaging momentum and the accurate impartiality of the historical vision, while educating about such an important part of the history of Catalonia that is still nowaday reflected in the contemporary political, cultural and economical situation.
The City of Marvels
Set between the two International Fairs that took place in 1888 and 1929, The City of Marvels, by Eduardo Mendoza, follows the story of Onofre Bouvila, a peasant that arrives to the big city with a plan to get rich and through his intelligence, picaresque, crimes and lack of scruples in time becomes one of the richest men in Barcelona and Spain. With a light and pleasant prose, the author is capable of clearly explaining the transformations, both social and architectural, that the city went through during those crucial years.
Homage to Catalonia
The Spanish Civil war and the revolution that took place in Catalonia are among the most tragic, dramatic and at the same time engaging periods in the history of the whole country. So much has been written about it that it’s almost impossible to choose only one title. However, Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell can be easily considered not only a captivating story of the experiences lived in first person by the author when volunteering with the POUM (Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification) and fighting against the fascists, but one of the best descriptions of the atmosphere, emotions, actions and drastic feelings that were characterizing Barcelona during the Civil War and whose heritage and consequences can be seen up to nowadays.
In a way different from the previous four, Robert Hughes’s Barcelona is one of the most comprehensive guides about the city that has ever been written. Covering the history from its roman foundation in the I century bc until the famous Olympic Games of 1992, Hughes provides us with thousands of interesting details, stories, anecdotes and images that reveal the amazing connections between art, politics, economy, language, culture and idiosyncrasy that make this city and the entire region of Catalonia that incredibly unique place that we all love.
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