Barcelona, the Great Enchantress
Robert Hughes has been going to Barcelona regularly since the 1960s and was married in its Gothic city hall last year. Although in his new book Hughes is compelling and engaging in describing Barcelona's remarkable culture and history, his first subject is his 40-year love affair with the city. Thus it is a much more personal book than his earlier Barcelona. Since publication of that book in 1992, Barcelona has become one of the most vibrant and popular cities in Europe; Hughes describes the pre- and post-Olympics reconstruction that sparked the tremendous revival.Hughes begins the book with the decision to marry in Barcelona, "Where to get hitched? It ought not to be in Manhattan, where I lived. Neither Doris nor I is a particularly social animal. Neither of us wanted a fearsomely expensive wedding, and in my post-divorce financial blues almost anything from a New York caterer beyond a sausage on a stick and a can of beer seemed extravagant.But there was a solution. It was Barcelona. Doris didn't have strong feelings about Barcelona-not yet-but I most emphatically did. I had been going there at intervals, to work and to disport myself, for more than 30 years. I had written a biography of the city, some ten years before: not a travel guide nor really a formal history, but something like an attempt to evoke the genius loci of this great queen city of Catalunya-and to tell the story of its development through its formidably rich deposit of buildings and artworks." Hughes goes on to describe the wedding, "Not only in Barcelona, but in the Town Halland by Joan, in his capacity as alcalde [mayor]. And not only by him and in the adjutament, but in its most splendid and history-laden ceremonial room, the Salo de Cent," and the party that followed in an ancient farmhouse. "I thought about a lot of things during that party, though with increasing muzziness as the evening lengthened. Mainly about Doris, about happiness, and about the very circuitous route which had led both of us to Barcelona. When I first spent a mildly riotous and sentimental evening at Xavier's [farmhouse], it was easier to imagine being dead than being over 60, and I had no more idea of Barcelona than I did of Atlantis. But if my grasp of Barcelona 40 years ago was lame and slight, so was that of most Europeans and Americans. Not just slight-embarrassingly so. The 1500 years of the city's existence had produced only five names that came readily to mind. There was Gaudi, of course, and the century's greatest cellist, Pablo Casals. There were the painters Salvador Dali, Joan Miro, and Pablo Picasso." Thus begins Hughes's lively and engrossing account of the history, the art, and especially the architecture of "La gran encisera," the name Catalonia's great 19th-century poet, Maragall, gave to his native city-"the great enchantress." He tells how at the end of the 14th century-when Madrid was hardly more than a cluster of huts-Barcelona commanded a trading empire as wide as the Mediterranean. Barcelona was always what a recent mayor called "the north of the south," the part of Spain closest in contact with Europe, technologically advanced, proactive in trade, passionately democratic. Its wealth made it one of the great Gothic cities, filled with architectural treasures of the 13th-15th centuries. Its language, Catalan, was the medium of an enormously vital literature. Crushed and colonized by the Bourbons in Madrid in the 19th century, Barcelona nevertheless entered a period of prodigious industrial and architectural growth (rebuilt by, among others, the genius Gaudi). Repressed by Franco, who hated the Catalans, it has blossomed anew since 1975 and especially in the last decade.At the end of the book Hughes and his wife return to Barcelona for a one-person exhibit of her watercolors. "Once again I was off to my favorite city in Europe, or the world. For the twentieth time? The thirtieth? Long ago, I lost count. You are lucky if not too late in life, you discover a second city other than your place of birth which becomes a true home townSome forty years ago I had that marvelous stroke of luck: Barcelona."
What people are saying - Write a review
Barcelona the Great EnchantressUser Review - Not Available - Book Verdict
In this pared-down version of his acclaimed Barcelona (1992), art critic Hughes traces Barcelona's progress from a burgeoning port city to the booming Catalan capital that roughly 1.5 million people ... Read full review
Other editions - View all
Ajuntament Antoni Gaudi Aragon arches architecture artist Barcelona Boqueria Bourbon brick building in Barcelona built Cabet Carrer Casa Batllo Casa Mila Catalan architects Catalanists Catalunya Cathedral Catholic Cerda church Clave color columns Consell Consell de Cent culture dome Domenech Doris Eixample enormous facade fourteenth fourteenth-century Gaudf Gaudi Giiell Gothic grid Hospital huge Icaria Ictineo imagine Jacint Verdaguer Jaume Joan Maragall Joan Miro Josep king known Laietani lcttneo Liceu Llotja look Madrid Maria del Mar medieval Mendizabal modern Montjui'c Monturiol Musica Catalana Narcis Monturiol never nineteenth century Old City opera Oriol painting Palau Passeig de Gracia patriotic Peter the Ceremonious poet political Puig Pyrenees Ramblas Ramon Renaixenca rich Roman roof Sagrada Familia Salo de Cent Salo del Tinell Santa Maria sculpture seemed socialist Spain Spanish stone street structure tion Torras i Bages vaulted Visigoths walls wanted Wilfred the Hairy Xavier Corbero