Ciutadella (43)

This is one of Barcelona's major open spaces and is the ideal spot for relaxing, walking and romancing.

Curiously enough, what is now a quiet and peaceful environment was, in another era, a violent and strongly fortified part of the city. Its origins were indeed warlike, as the "Citadel" used to be a military fortress.  In 1714, Philip V, having won the War of Succession to the throne of Spain, decided to punish Barcelona for having supported his opponents. The Catalan Parliament was abolished, use of the Catalan language was banned, and one of the city's districts, La Ribera, home to more than 10,000 people, was destroyed. It was on that site that the Ciutadella fortification was erected between 1715 and 1718, dominating the city of Barcelona in military terms for more than 150 years.

On the 29th of September, 1868 an uprising took place against Isabella II, thereby ending the Bourbon monarchy. 

On the following 3rd of October, the new revolutionary authorities decreed the demolition of the Ciutadella in an effort to definitively put an end to the historic cycle that had begun in 1714. 

At that precise moment the Progressive Party came to power. A year later, on the 12th of December, 1869, a law promoted principally by Catalan general Joan Prim decreed the donation of the Ciutadella to Barcelona city under the express condition that it be transformed in to a public garden.

So, after years of popular requests, on the 18th of December, 1869, the Government of Madrid finally agreed to demolish the fortification and the lands were returned to the city. The same year the decision was taken to create an urban park.

Little remains today of these military origins, save some buildings that are now used for other purposes. Today the Parc de la Ciutadella constitutes a tribute to nature, serenity and freedom. Proof of this lies in fact that the park houses several museums and spaces dedicated to art and nature in addition to multitudinous pathways and gardens,

The Barcelona City Council commissioned the park project to master builder Joseph Fontserè i Mestres, who was aided by a young Antoni Gaudí, who was still an architecture student and worked as a draftsman in the offices of Fontserè as a means of paying for his studies.

Gaudí was twenty-four years old when he presented his project for the main gate on the 30th of May 30, 1876, though the project was later signed by Fontserè. It also rumoured that he collaborated on both the waterfall and the Aribau roundabout.

The roundabout's surrounding fence is one kilometre long and features one hundred and thirty-two linked columns and seven gates, one leading onto Carrer Princesa, three onto Passeig de Pujades and three onto Passeig de Picasso. Each of the gate columns stands nine metres tall and is accompanied by three auxiliary columns of four metres each.

The three main gates are illuminated by candelabras featuring six spherical white glass globes. These bear the city's coat of arms and are crowned by the helmet of James I of Aragon (the Conqueror) with its characteristic winged dragon, a symbol that Gaudí used on many occasions.

In early 1885 the gates, which feature statues of Industry and Trade (by Venanci Vallmitjana) and Agriculture and Merchant Marine  (Agapit Vallmitjana), were completed.

But it wasn't until the famous Universal Exhibition of 1888 that the park acquired its current appearance.  Highlights of the park include the lake, the waterfall, the Glorieta de la Música and the Plaza de Armas.

One of the most spectacular attractions of Ciutadella is the monumental waterfall. This is decorated with statues by Venanci Vallmitjana and includes a central stone figure depicting the goddess Venus atop a shell. 

Another feature is the giant crab with claws fashioned into staircases by which visitors can ascend to the triumphal arch, the top of which is crowned by the Quadriga de l´Aurora, a group sculpture in wrought iron by Rossend Nobás. 

The entire Park is dotted with statues, including the obelisk dedicated to Rius i Taulet, the mayor of Barcelona at the time of the Universal Exhibition, the monument to the Catalan volunteers of the first World War, and the leaping gazelles made by Núria Tortras in honour of Walt Disney.

However, surely the most famous statue in the park is The Umbrella Lady, by Joan Roig i Solé – a delicate lady protecting herself from the sun with a parasol. The sculpture crowns a fountain and has become one of the city's most romantic and popular symbols.

The lake dominates the esplanade and rowing boats are available for rent, offering visitors an ideal way to enjoy the natural beauty of the park.

Following the path that leads to the waterfall and leaving the lake to your left, you will come across a huge stone mammoth built according to a scaled model by sculptor Miquel Dalmau.

Another good idea is to tour the park by bike, as the pathways are broad and the terrain is very flat. This way you will encounter countless plant species, some of which are most exotic and long-lived, as well as a variety of birds that nest freely in this extensive green area.

The park was designed with the express purpose of being a park for public enjoyment. And that is precisely what it is. So stroll around and enjoy it, and don't miss any of the other many places of interest that can be found in Ciutadella.

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