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Montjuic

There are two really spectacular views of the city of Barcelona. The Carmel Bunkers is an old disused war fort on the way up to Mount Tibidabo. Taking the metro to Alfons X you have roughly 30 minutes of walking through suburbia, shrubs, along a long wooden bridge then climbing the last few stairs until you reach the summit. The view is spectacular as you can pretty much see the entire city in front of you and the Mediterranean behind it. The bunkers are a great place to go around 6pm as you can watch the city in the daytime, dusk and then see the city light up as night rolls in. People take picnics, guitars and drink and sometime the parties up there go late in the evening. It is a really wonderful way to spend an early evening in Barcelona, which can often lead into a night fiesta up there. The other view is from Montjuic.

The name Montjuïc is referred to as “Jewish Mountain” in mediaeval Latin and Catalan documents. The remains of a mediaeval Jewish graveyard have been found on the mound, hence the name. Montjuïc, because of its strategic location at the foot of the Mediterranean, and alongside an important river communication; Llobregat River, was the birthplace of the city of Barcelona. In recent years, archaeological discoveries that have been carried out have changed the vision of the history of Barcelona. It should be noted that Montjuïc became since the Iberian period, and especially Roman, the main quarry of Barcelona, which meant a drastic change in the mountain’s dynamics.

Montjuïc is a broad,  shallow hill with a relatively flat top overlooking the harbour, to the southwest of the city centre. The eastern side of the hill is almost a sheer cliff, giving it a commanding view over the city’s harbour immediately below. The port is an amazing hustle and bustle of activity with cargo ships arriving constantly dropping crates on to land and being loaded up just as quickly to once again set sail. The top of the hill which stands at a height of 184 metres was the site of several fortifications, the latest of which, the Castle of Montjuïc, remains today. When you walk up the top make sure you visit the castle. It is a 5 Euro entry ticket and it is well worth it. The view from the top is absolutely spectacular. Not only is it very much in tact, the gardens up there are stunningly well kept. Even the old cannons are still up there pointing out to sea.

Inside the fortress there is a museum which documents the history of not only the fortress but of the mound itself. Through time anyone who controlled Mont Juic also controlled the city. The fortress largely dates from the 17th century, with 18th-century additions. In 1842, the garrison loyal to the Madrid government shelled parts of the city. It served as a prison, often holding political prisoners, until the time of General Franco. The castle was also the site of numerous executions. In 1897, an incident popularly known as Els processos de Montjuïc prompted the execution of anarchist supporters, which then led to a severe repression of the struggle for workers’ rights. On different occasions during the Spanish Civil War, both Nationalists and Republicans were executed there, each at the time when the site was held by their opponents. The Catalan nationalist leader Lluís Companys was also executed there in 1940, having been extradited to the Franco government by the Nazis.

The slopes of the Montjuïc were naturally wooded and traditionally used to grow food and graze animals by the people of the neighbouring Ciutat Vella (literally meaning ‘Old Town’ this is the oldest part of Barcelona) In the 1890s, the forests were partially cleared, opening space for parklands. The site was selected to host the 1929 International Exposition, a World’s Fair, for which the first large-scale construction on the hill began. The surviving buildings from this effort include the grand Palau Nacional, the Olympic stadium, the Magic Fountains, and a grand staircase leading up from the foot of Montjuïc at the south end of the Avinguda de la Reina Maria Cristina to the Palau Nacional. The Poble Espanyol, a “Spanish village” of different buildings built in different styles of Spanish architecture, also survives, located on the western side of the hill.

Also completed in 1929, the Olympic stadium was intended to host an anti-fascist alternative Olympics in 1936, in opposition to the 1936 Berlin Olympics. These plans were cancelled due to the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. The stadium served as the home for football team Espanyol, until the club left for a new stadium in Cornellà/El Prat upon its completion in 2008.

The roads in the slopes facing the city were once the Montjuïc circuit Formula One race track, hosting the Spanish Grand Prix on four occasions. However, a terrible accident in the 1975 race saw Rolf Stommelen’s car crash into the stands, killing four people; as a result the Spanish Grand Prix never returned to Montjuïc circuit. You need to walk up these roads in order to reach the summit and when you do you will realise what an insane idea it is to hold F1 events up there! The roads are very windey with sheers drops off the sides of some of them it’s a miracle more people didn’t die in previous races.

Montjuïc was selected as the site for several of the venues of the 1992 Summer Olympics, centred on the Olympic stadium. Extensively refurbished and renamed the Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys, the 65,000-seat stadium saw the opening and closing ceremonies and hosted the athletic events. Around it the “Olympic Ring” of sporting venues was built, including the Palau Sant Jordi indoor arena, the Institut Nacional d’Educació Física de Catalunya, a centre of sports science; the Piscines Bernat Picornell and the Piscina Municipal de Montjuïc, the venues for swimming and diving events respectively.

When you do decide to take a walk up Montjuïc, and I highly recommend that you do at some point on your trip, do stop in the pool on the way down. It is 6 euros entry and the view is so spectacular it is a great way to cool down after you hike!