Barcelona Museums, 29-30.10.10
Posted by Lisa Hill on November 1, 2010
Our last two days in Barcelona were spent in museums, and despite its history of civic arson Barcelona turned out to be a treasure trove of interesting places.
We went to the Rambla (a pedestrianised street) first because everybody does, but I wasn’t very impressed. There are people who get a buzz out of being in places that are very popular and full of crowds but I’m not one of them. (Especially not when a careless tourist cracked my foot – my good one! – with her beastly trolley case, one of those really solid hard metal ones – it turns out that it crushed a nerve, no wonder it’s still hurting *a lot* nearly a week later *sniffle*). No, the best thing about the Rambla was that I found a big bookshop that had some English books, and there amongst the dross was a copy of Washington Irving’s A History of New York. (Did I mention that there was a plaque in the Alhambra recording that he stayed there?)
The first museum we went to – and the one you mustn’t miss if you are interested in ancient history – is the City Museum, (Museo de Historia de la Ciudat). It’s a bit hard to find this place on maps and in guide books because there are also two other museums, the History of Barcelona Museum, and also the History of Catalonia Museum. Opening hours are surprisingly limited: it’s only open from 10.00 till 2.00, so make sure you have the location right before you plan your day: it’s the city museum, the one with the underground Roman ruins. Even when you find it in Plaza Rei, there are two and the one you want is not the one up the steps; it’s the one on the other side of the square at ground level. (BTW the official webpage is all in Catalan so don’t expect to make sense of that even if you speak Spanish.)
Once you’re finally inside it, there’s all the usual introductory stuff you’d expect to find – in Catalan, Spanish (which they call Castellano) and in French. That’s right, not in English – though when it’s 1.30pm and they want the visitors out of there promptly so that they can knock off at 2.00pm, the announcement is in two languages: Catalan and English. There is a video in three languages, but having to sit through the same video twice over in the wrong language was clearly too much for Americans visiting at the same time as us. (And it was too much for me because I’d read 500 pages about Barcelona’s history in Robert Hughes’ book already.)
But once you take the lift and whizz down underground, it’s brilliant. The Roman remains were discovered when some building was being done, and fortunately work was stopped and the archaeologists moved in. What you can see, using a cleverly designed series of pathways, is the remains of streets, houses, a processing plant for making fish sauce and another for making wine. It is the best thing I have seen since Pompeii. But it’s a good thing I can read French, because most of the signage again is in three languages but doesn’t include English – and the audio guide is pitched at the level of an ignoramus who knows nothing about ancient Rome at all. It doesn’t tell you anything about the small items on display. Very, very annoying.
From there, we went to the Picasso Museum. Considering we’re amateur art lovers we’ve seen a good bit of Picasso’s work – a visiting exhibition at home, at the galleries in London, Austria and Italy, at the Louvre and the Picasso Museum in Paris, and at the Prado. So I was not expecting to find anything especially interesting – but it was excellent.
There is a lot of his early work, which Tim was pleased to see showed that Picasso could actually draw and paint! There was some fine portraiture though we weren’t much impressed with his gloomy landscapes. There were also quite a few pictures on what looked like wooden cigarette box lids, like the ones Australian Impressionists of the Heidelberg school used when they were too hard up to buy canvas. I really like these: I like the idea of young artists being so resourceful and so keen to practise their art that they will use whatever comes to hand.
Anyway, we could see examples of Picasso’s blue and rose periods, and the gradual emergence of his modernism. The museum actually has less of these because of course his later works are in all the major museums of the world (we in Melbourne have his Weeping Woman). There are ceramics and sculptures too but I don’t find them quite so interesting.
In the evening we had a most enjoyable evening meeting up for the first time f2f with my Good Reads friend Troy and his lovely wife Anna. We went to a great new restaurant Cal Boter in 62 Carrer Tordera in Gracia which specialises in real Catalan food. We shared sea urchins and local mushrooms in season and prawns for entrée, Tim had duck with a vermouth sauce and I had the local lubino (sea bass) which I have come to love since being here in Spain.
We spent our last morning at the Ceramics Museum complex conveniently close to our hotel, on the Diagonal. The Ceramics museum is sensational – when I have time I will make a little video of the photos I was allowed to take – it begins with old pottery and goes right through to the present day. But the best bits were the Catalan tiles, both dear little individual ones which were used to identify the premises of craftsmen in the days before people could read, and huge mosaics depicting Great Moments in History. If you have to choose just two museums in Barcelona, then this and the City History museum would be my recommendation.
As well as the pottery and tiles in the Ceramics Museum, in the same building (an old palace) there’s also a fascinating Museum of Decorative Arts and a Museum of Textiles – which was more a history of dress, showing how and why the body is decorated. Great stuff, don’t miss it.
So this post ends our journey to Europe 2010 and this series of travels. I’m writing it in our stopover hotel, the Singapore Crowne Plaza, and tomorrow I’ll be home.
Thanks to everyone who took the trouble to comment on this blog…some nights I’ve been almost too tired to do it, but your encouragement made me make the effort and now I’m glad I have a nice record of this wonderful trip.