Having lived in Barcelona for almost 4 years I like to think I have a pretty good handle on the city and its rich variety of culture. The prospect of taking an ‘alternative’ walking tour appealed to me as I pondered the concept of what ‘alternative’ was going to mean. I was promised a look at the other side of the city, an opportunity to go ‘behind the mask’ of the famous Barcelona. It sounded intriguing.
I picked my way through the tourist-packed streets and made my way to our meeting point; Travel Bar, located just off the Ramblas on Carrer de la Boqueria. At 5pm a friendly-looking guy called Duncan came outside and rounded up the wanderers.
The tour began by taking in the Plaça del Milicia Desconegut (unknown militia), which is named after the many different people who gave their lives fighting Fascism and defending their rights during the Spanish Civil war. From there we crossed La Rambla and made our way along Carrer Hospital into the Raval. Duncan stopped regularly to point out some of the city’s graffiti and to talk more about the liberal ideas and concepts which are an integral part of Barcelona.
We weaved further and deeper into the Raval, down Carrer D’en Robador into another square where we accidentally disrupted a football match between local children. Duncan explained that this game was organized every Friday by the local library as a way to give the kids something to do and to provide an opportunity to bring members of the community together.
Squats and community centres
Another big theme of the tour was the many casas okupas (squats) that are dotted around the city. As we passed through the Raval we saw one of the bigger ones. The huge building lies vacant since the residents were evicted earlier this year. We were told that the squat had been used as a local community centre and provided a place where cultural events were held and cheap food was offered. Sadly, nothing has been done with the place since.
We continued our walk whilst constantly having pieces of street art or slogans pointed out to us by our guide and seeing many of the ‘wasted spaces’ created by the design of the city blocks that make up a significant proportion of the city. Although these spaces were initially earmarked to be used as gardens, very few of them are. The ones that are, are used to great effect. There is a community garden in the Raval, (open on Sundays to the public,) where the residents are growing food and plants as part of a co-operative, and another located 2 minutes walk from Santa Caterina market, which is doing a very similar thing.
Unemployment in Spain is currently at 27%, with under 25’s representing a staggering 57%. It’s therefore is easy to see why the ideas of community and sustainability are becoming more important. Barcelona does waste much of its space and in many places this is purely because people have never been used to using it more effectively, often because of the high levels of bureaucracy that exist in Spain.
la Rambla and Via Laietana
The final part of the tour crossed back through the tourist filled areas of La Rambla and Portal de l’Àngel before passing through the Gothic area and taking a look at Santa Caterina market and some more street art before continuing on to the graffiti fan’s paradise. There were many people on the tour who specifically wanted to see the graffiti that Barcelona is famed for. We saw plenty, including some work supposedly by Banksy.
However, tucked away in a little corner street at the bottom of Via Laietana was the best part of all, a whole 2 walls dedicated to different types of art made by many different people. As the fine for spray painting in Barcelona is over 1000€, many artists get around this by making the art at home and then sticking it up on their chosen wall. Tired but happy, we ended with a beer on Passeig de Colom.
I would certainly recommend the tour to anyone who wants to see and hear something different about Barcelona. It offers you the chance to think about the way the city is being run, and the positive and negative impact of tourism upon it. But more than that, it makes you ask yourself about the future and development of your own city.
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Text by Benjamin Ward