Unless you are lucky enough to hire an Airbnb with a huge terrace during your stay in the city you have two main options to top up your tan. You can head down to the beach and soak up the rays there. Or you can head to a park. For a good sized city one thing Barcelona really lacks are lots of parks. You can find many smaller ones but if you are looking for a Central Park such as they have in New York or a Hyde Park such as the one in London you are not going to find one of that magnitude. Parc Ciutadella is the main and biggest one in the city, located between the El Born and Poblenou neighbourhoods it has a lot to offer in terms of beauty and variety.
The history of the park itself is very interesting. It wasn’t simply an open space where they decided to plant trees and build a park. In fact the clue of the park’s history is in the name.
In 1736 King Rafael of Spain invaded Barcelona because he wanted to defeat the Catalans, so he laid siege to the city for 13 months. When the city finally fell he built a huge Citadel on the site where the park is now. It was a fortress, at the time it was the biggest fortress in Europe. He had defeated the Catalans before but they had rebelled so he built the fortress as a way of controlling them. Hundreds and hundreds of Catalans were enslaved for 3 years while the rest of the city paid for it in taxes.
About 100 years later times had changed and politics had changed and so the Barcelona citizens voted to get rid of it, it was hugely unpopular, their ancestors were enslaved to build it. The man in charge of the demolition was General Emprazara. Now the General could have blown it up with dynamite, he could have knocked it down with hammers but he didn’t. He decided to bomb it from another fortress on the other side of Barcelona on Mont Juic. He literally fired cannon balls across the whole of the city to knock this fortress down it is such a ridiculously insane idea. Ciutadella Park is a 70 acre site so hitting the middle would not have been too much of a problem but there was a lot of collateral damage to houses around the edges as you can imagine! After the fortress was destroyed and the rubble was cleared they built the park in its place.
Barcelona Zoo now takes up roughly half of the park. There are 7000 animals in it including lions, hippopotamus, pink flamingos, gorillas etc etc. It is not the biggest of zoos so if you have been one of the larger ones you may be a little disappointed but it is definitely worth a stroll around there one afternoon. Ticket prices are 21 euros for adults you can get discounts if you book in advance online. At the entrance make sure you catch the Walt Disney tribute statue which is lots of prancing deers. The zoo is probably most famous for Snowflake, the only known albino gorilla lived in the zoo his whole life until 2005.
The houses of the Catalan Parliament are in this park as well as the beautiful little lake right in the centre where you can hire a boat and paddle around. One of the most striking things is the park is the huge fountain. It is called Cascada which means waterfall and was designed by Joseph Fontesere and it was unveiled in 1881. Unfortunately Mr Fontesere had no imagination what so ever and all there was was an archway it was very boring and it was really slated in the press. So from 1882 til 1888 they revamped the whole thing and added all the statues and water features. It really is the most beautiful fountain I highly recommend you go and have a look at it when you are in the city. The fountain itself is wonderful but the sculptures done in white, and stone and gold are simply stunning. There is a statue of Aurora with her 4 gold horses up at the top. Below her there is Venus standing in her shell, you have Poseidon down to her left with his trident so this was unveiled for the Exposition Universal de Barcelona in 1888. It was a huge showcasing of the city which really put Barcelona on the map at the end of the 19th century. Many things around the city were built specifically for it including the statue of Christopher Columbus at the bottom of La Rambla and this park was also revamped for the Exposition. All the world leaders, the foreign dignitaries and polititians who were brought to Barcelona to see the city were bought to the other side of the Arc de Triumph which is just to the west of the park, they were walked through it, down the walkway in front of the arc, they walked into the park and were brought in front of the Cascada fountain. This was Barcelona’s way of saying ‘look how beautiful our city is, look what we can build.’
There are many beautiful areas to relax in in the park. If you use the entrance from the Arc de Triumph there are big areas of grass to lie in. Exploring further in you will find plenty of entertainers such jugglers and slack liners who are not there busking but just practicing for fun. There are many beers seller who walk around there as well offering you cans of Estrella if you are too lazy/hungover to get them from the shops. The park does have a very nice vibe to it, especially in the late afternoon it can be a very social place with groups mingling and chatting about plans for the evening.
So during your stay do make sure you swing by Barcelona’s biggest park and have a look for yourself you won’t be disappointed!