Sunday, July 21, 2013

Lost and Found in Barcelona

Somewhere beyond this hilltop...lies the mysterious
 Jardí Botànic.

My parents and I visited the Catalonian city of Barcelona during the first two weeks of May. We were excited to see the Jardí Botànic de Barcelona (Botanical Garden of Barcelona) but we did not yet understand that Barcelona also possesses another botanical garden known as the Jardí Botànic Històric. Because Barcelona funds and manages these gardens, along with their museums, as part of their municipality, things get confusing for the foreigner who speaks no Catalan, the regional language. And even more confusing are the guidebooks and street signs that point the visitor to many gardens labeled Jardí Botànic.

Jardí Botànic Històric.

A restive spot for dog-walking.

View from the elevated promenade. 

Workers discuss pruning a monolithic cedar.

A sturdy, conical trug holds clippings and weeds.

Fortunately, we had almost two full weeks in Barcelona, plenty of time to tour the city. On route to Jardí Botànic we discovered some of the city's most beautiful spots.

Placa de Sant Just, Gothic Quarter

 Friends gather to say hello, while local vendors sell their flowers for pots and window boxes.

Placa de Sant Just, located in the Gothic Quarter, is one of the highlights of Barcelona. It possesses a magnetic charm that sets it apart from the rest of the city, which was modernized during the 19th century. We found ourselves returning again and again to this medieval neighborhood to walk the narrow streets and dine in the good cafés. Our favorite place for nourishment was the aptly named Bliss, where we drank chilled Catalan cava with our tapas...why not? 

Making beautiful racket.
One afternoon we were swept into a convergence of a hundred high school drummers marching from the hidden streets into Placa de Sant Just. The drummers were led by teams of enthusiastic whistle-blowers. It was electrifying! If you'd like to watch & listen, see my YouTube video.

A potted palm glows in the courtyard light of the
Picasso Museum

Parc Güell

The winding gardens of Parc Güell.

Around 1900, the brilliant architect Antoni Gaudí designed a Utopian, commercial housing development on the outskirts of Barcelona. Parc Güell failed to catch on but it is now open to the public. Gaudí's house was turned into a museum.

Gaudí's stone columns lean like massive tree trunks. Who wouldn't have wanted this in their backyard?

An exterior wall of Gaudí's private residence.

A view from Parc Güell


Girona's famous Onyar river.

Girona, 62 miles northeast of Barcelona, is a dream-like place dating back more than 1,000 years. We took the high-speed train (a massive installation of these trains is currently underway in Spain; I am envious) and spent the afternoon soaking in the culture. 

Girona residents prepare for the Festival of Flowers by hanging straw baskets from overhead wires.

A man takes a contemplative stroll down ancient stone steps. Girona was first settled by the Iberians and later became a Roman citadel.
The Romanesque church Santa Maria de Girona.

After the Romans left, the Visigoths took over until the Moors stormed in. Charlemagne reconquered Girona in 785. Wilfred the Hairy officially made Girona part of Barcelona's countships in 1878.  Alfonso I of Aragón declared Girona to be a city in the 11th century.


Finding the "right" Jardí Botànic nearly became our foil. I began to feel like the maniacal British surveyor Percy Harrison Fawcett, searching for the Lost City of Z. Again and again, we were stymied by mysterious signs, vague guide books, curving streets that doubled back on themselves, endless stairs, and a taxi driver who dropped us off miles away from where we wanted to be (I had even circled Jardí Botànic on a map for him, albeit fruitlessly). 

Hillside stairs in the Montjuic neighborhood.

More hillside stairs.

A cat siestas on the hillside near the Greek Theatre.
We so wanted to join him.

Sr gat va triar un lloc pintoresc per fer la migdiada.
(Mr. cat chose a scenic spot to nap.)

Until we had walked, and walked, and walked, it finally occurred to us that the trail had gone cold once more. Stranded on a quiet street at the rear side of the Olympic stadium (Barcelona was preparing for X Games at the time, bulldozers and backhoes roaring away) a friendly security officer called us a cab. He congratulated us for stopping to ask, for we had ended up in the one spot in Barcelona where taxis rarely tread. By now it appeared that Montjuic, where Jardí Botànic allegedly exists, was proving to be an inexorable and very large hill.

This sign for Jardí Botànic pointed directly at the public entrance to the Olympic stadium, only a few yards behind me.

Another sign! We we so close...
but still managed to get lost that day.

But which Botanic Garden? Turns out this is another part of the "Historic" Jardín.  The sign reads (my translation) "Garden House by the Atlantic."

Artichoke spills onto the terra cotta tiles.

My parents take a bench break in the Historic Gardens. The Palau Nacional sits in the background.

We walked so high onto Montjuic that day that we were too exhausted to hike back down. We took the funicular instead and went directly to a tapas bar for Pan con Tomate and Patatas Bravas, two of Barcelona's classic, and our most favorite, tapas. And of course we drank Estrella Damm, a popular pilsner brewed in Barcelona since 1876.

Descending from the top of Montjuic.

Jardí Botànic

Then, in a small park, I noticed boys in bright orange jerseys boisterously playing soccer (futbol). Oh, why didn't I take a photo? They stood out like Mediterranean flowers against the green backdrop. I took this as a welcoming sign: we had arrived.

At last we find the Jardí Botànic!

Jardí Botànic is twenty years old, young for a botanical garden (whereas Jardí Botànic Històric was originally founded in 1930) and is laid out according to a bold modern design completely free of the sort of romantic ornamentation that dominated most public and private horticulture gardens well into the 20th century. There are no allegorical references here, no Roman statues of goddesses, no grottoes.

Jardí Botànic houses a fascinating collection of Mediterranean plant material, grouped according to region such as South Africa, California, Canary Islands, etc. The wide, recessed walking paths severely slash the landscape; concrete and oxidized metal berms literally hold back the voracious plants, thrusting aside the vegetation for the curious pedestrian as he makes his way through the impressive collection.

Plants of Sud (South) Africa

My dad leans against a rustic wattle fence.
Behind him is a glimpse of the city.

The sloping walkways and high berms create canyons within the vegetation.

A glimpse of prehistoric earth...?

Here, a minor sculptural element literally interacts with a spreading vine, allowing it to crest the wall and breach the walking space.

Absolutely stunning. Look closely and you'll see a bumblebee hovering in the flowers.

Exotic evergreens with tightly compressed foliage.

I was too lazy that day to take notes on what I photographed, but I know that this is a type of bottle brush.

A small tree in the legume family. Just look at those rosy pink seed pods!

Xile (Chile).

A colorful bed of perennials. (However if you live in the northern hemisphere they're called annuals.)

A beautifully designed habitat for wild, solitary bees. I want one!

Notice the harmonious colors of the flowers and the toothy-looking succulent in the lower right corner.

A cluster of aloes, waving their tentacles.

No skateboards allowed!

Institut Botanical.

The structure barely rises from the hilltop.

Currently on exhibit at the Institute Botanical are the photographs of Paul den Hollander. In the building's lower galleries, Hollander's work is divided into three areas: Voyage botany, Metamorphosis, and The Luminous Garden, where he captures the haunting electromagnetic fields that emanate from living plants.

A burst of green and red, like fireworks in the sky.

My most favorite collection at Jardí Botànic: plants of the Illes Canàries (Canary Islands).

A stand of majestic Pinus canariensis, Canary Island Pines.

Palms and evergreens grow side by side.

The towering jungle.

Spines and spikes.

Mediterranean plants have evolved to conserve moisture in their stems and leaves.

A splash of bright orange.

An arresting combination of purple, silver, green.

A refreshing water scape bids you comiat as you exit the gardens.

Shane VanOosterhout is The Passionate Gardener.  
For more garden inspiration, you can follow him on Facebook


Kayhosta said...

Loved the blog. Makes me want to visit Barcelona. My daughter's in-laws have a villa in Spain. I don't know how close it is to Barcelona, but I vow to find out. I have been invited to the villa.

I also would like the sculpture for the masonry bees.


Anonymous said...

THANK YOU FOR SHARING! I feel as though I've just spend an hour touring the gardens of Barcelona ... quite an unexpected treat this morning :)

Sherry Mitchell said...

Exceptional Shane, thank you for a surreal trip to Barcelona via you! Sherry Mitchell

Sherry Mitchell said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Deborah Ellis said...

so wonderful!!!! thanks!!!!