Sunday, November 13, 2011

48 Hour Open House Barcelona - Day 1

Barcelona's known world-wide as being a fairly tourist-friendly city but sometimes, as a local (I can say that now!), it can feel like almost everything here is overrun with tourists. I think that "the powers that be" understand this and they regularly schedule events and other things for the locals. One of the recent ones was the 48 Hour Open House Barcelona (48H).

The Open House Worldwide organization's goal is to make architecture approachable for the general public and it currently holds events in twelve different cities around the world. Barcelona's is in its second year and is an opportunity for the public to get to explore FOR FREE 160 different local landmarks, which include some private buildings that are not open to the public the rest of the year and others that normally charge to get in.

Because of each building having different opening hours some really long lines, it was only possible to visit three or four each day. Although I could have written a complete story for each of the buildings that I ended up visiting, I decided to just do two quickie stories, one for each day.

Saturday was Day 1 and the tour began at Teatro El Molino, which you may remember is right in front of where I'm living now. El Molino is about 110 years old with the facade having more-or-less its current wind-mill-style form for about 80 of those years. The theater has been used for Spanish-influenced French-style cabaret (whatever that is) since 1908.

(On a side note, the Parallel/Poble Sec neighborhood where I live has a whole bunch of live-performance theaters. I keep telling myself that I need to look into them one day and maybe do a story about the whole lot of them.)

At each stop of the 48H the organizers had at least one person to lead the tours and give the history of the building. At El Molino, they had both the architect and the designer who were responsible for the most recent renovations. The only downside (for me) was that all the tours were done in Catalan, which just reinforced for me that it was definitely a for-locals event and that I need to learn more Catalan!

What I did understand, and from what Diana and Vladimir told me (both speak and understand the language), the tours and tour guides were excellent. After the guided part of the tour was over, we hung out for a little while on the terrace that overlooks the building we live in (the pinkish-red one in the back):

The El Molino is a very interesting looking building during the day but it really "shines" at night when its entire facade is turned into a giant video screen that we can see from the apartment. The images change about every 30-60 seconds and this moon-set (or is it a moon-rise?) over water being my favorite:

The second stop for the day was about two blocks from the apartment at the Sant Pau del Camp church. This Romanesque building is the oldest church in Barcelona dating from the 10th century (stuff's old here!). It's in surprisingly good shape with some artistic exterior features from the 13th century, like the carvings over the door, surviving to today:

The interior is fairly plain (simple?) but beautiful nonetheless. Our guide was awesome as he not only shared the history of the church, but also demonstrated some of its acoustics by doing some singing. The sound quality is amazing!

The church has a cloister that is accessible from a chapel off the main worship area. It's not the Alhambra but its 12th-century Moorish architecture is definitely a must-see:

We spent about an hour at each of the first two stops when Diana and I left to meet up with some friends for lunch. Vladimir continued on to some more buildings without us. After our lunch date, Diana and I tried to squeeze in two more stops even though it was getting late in the day.

Our first post-lunch stop was at the Torre D'Aigues (Water Tower) at the Catalan Gas Company's grounds near the waterfront. The tower is unusual not only for its shape but also for the exposed brickwork that gives it the red color. Unfortunately, we arrived about three minutes too late to get to scale the stairs to the top to check out the view. (I'll add it to the must-do list for next year's 48H.)

Just around the corner from the Torre is La Fabrica del Sol, which is the former Catalan Gas Company building. This brick modernist building, which has been renovated into a hands-on sustainable-energy demonstration museum/site, is very interesting looking both inside and out. We checked out the displays and went up to the roof to take in the view right around sunset. On the way out, I managed to get a photo of Miss Colombia who just happened to be hanging outside the building that day. What luck!

I mentioned it above but the folks who organized the 48H event did a great job putting together an exceptionally good website and catalog and making sure that there was an excellent tour guide at each building. If I were to make just one recommendation, it'd be nice if the buildings were open for more hours during the two days as many were only open for a few hours one day or the other, which makes it hard to see more than just a couple. But, it was a lot of fun, very educational, and I can't wait for next year's version!


  1. Darren, now you have to translate the 48 hour website into English! :)

  2. Olganator - Most of the other things they do here are translated into Spanish (from Catalan) at a minimum. I'm thinking that having it in Catalan only keeps it for "locals" only. It's part of the culture...but I'm available if they ask!


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