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Barcelona – a jewel of the Mediterranean

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Barcelona's Sinagoga Mayor in the city's Gothic quarter. ANITA SZABADI-GOTTESMAN PHOTO

Pack the most comfortable shoes you own and lots of light clothing when heading to Barcelona, Spain. Visitors should be prepared to hit the ground running as there is so much to see and do in this port city, truly a jewel of the Mediterranean.

Located in northeastern Spain, part of the Iberian Peninsula flanked by the Pyrenees mountain range bordering France, the cityscape is a vista of old and new with the backdrop of the azure Mediterranean Sea. A bustling metropolis with a population of approximately 1.6 million people, old meshes seamlessly with new, coming together as the economic engine of the region of Catalonia. As Spain’s second largest city, Catalonians speak their own language alongside Spanish, historically cultivating their cultural influences from the Moors and native Spaniards.

Catalan gastronomy is world renowned featuring fish and seafood freshly caught just offshore, cured meats and locally influenced tapas, along with classic paella rice dishes. Fresh fruit abounds as do assorted sweets such as the local favourite Crema Catalana chocolate-based desserts replete with assorted nuts. Sugared, doughy churros serve as a fitting end to every meal or wine and tapas snack.

READ: EVERYTHING YOU’VE ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT MEDITERRANEAN FOOD

Siesta, with many shops closing, is still a time-honoured tradition. The city comes alive at night when the strong Spanish sun has set. Babies and toddlers sit beside their parents and grandparents enjoying 11 p.m. dinners, and strolling along the many major avenues until past midnight.

 The unique architechture by native son Antoni Gaudi dot the cityscape. PIXABAY.COM PHOTO
Unique architecture by native son Antoni Gaudi dots the cityscape. PIXABAY.COM PHOTO

A hop-on-hop-off bus tour is the way to begin exploring Barcelona, catching a glimpse of the many sights and sounds of what the city has to offer. The architectural wonders of native son and famed architect Antoni Gaudi are the best place to start. Visitors will see the many local buildings he designed, and the still unfinished wonder, the Basilica de Sagrada Familia. Gaudi has left an unmatched legacy on the city.

Park Güell, located on Carmel Hill, highlights his genius with its whimsical buildings and winding walking paths taking the visitor away from the grind of this working city. Gaudi’s mosaic salamander and other unique mosaic works are featured at every turn. Park Güell is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Jewish Barcelona has a long-storied history dating back several centuries before the major expulsion of the Jews in 1492. Some historians report that the bustling community once made up one-third of the citizens of Barcelona. Montjuic Mountain or the Mountain of the Jews, as it is still known today, sits proudly overlooking the city. At one time, this was the city’s Jewish cemetery.  Today the Olympic Stadium from the 1992 Olympics and other attractions are located there but the area retains its reference to the Jews of old.

READ: THE JEWISH FIGHTERS OF THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR

The modern Jewish community of Barcelona is made up of approximately 4,000 Jews serviced by several synagogues including one Orthodox, one Reform and two Chabad houses.

The oldest synagogue in Spain and thought to be the oldest in Europe, is the Sinagoga Mayor located close to the bustling La Rambla corridor in the city’s Gothic sector. Most likely dating to the early 13th century, the Sinagoga Mayor is a must see. Visitors enter through a small downward staircase leading to two small rooms filled with found artifacts. A glass floor highlights the ruins of the synagogue below. Information sessions in both English and Hebrew are given throughout the day by educated guides.  Taking a short walk amongst the adjacent streets and centuries-old apartment buildings reveals etchings in the stone doors where mezuzahs were once placed.