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Barcelona is quite simply one of the most exciting and vibrant cities in the world.

It's both medieval and thoroughly modern. Barcelona is without doubt one of the trendiest places on the planet whilst steadfastly clinging to its age-old traditions. And it's breathtakingly beautiful despite being one of Spain's most important industrial centres.

The credit for much of Barcelona's extraordinary beauty lies with Antoni Gaudi who must surely rank as one of the most thought provoking architects of all time. His influence can be seen all over the city in works of the most awesome architecture which attract visitors from across the globe.

The Gaudi magic alone would be enough to make Barcelona one of the great cities of Europe. But there's so much more to the capital of Catalunya which offers everything from funfairs and famous fountains to priceless Picasso collections and streets streaming with living theatre.

The Culture of Barcelona

Barcelona is a major cultural centre which boasts more than 50 museums devoted to every conceivable subject - from the history of funeral carriages to the works of Pablo Picasso who spent his formative years in the city studying at La Llotja School of Fine Arts. The Picasso Museum's (Below) permanent exhibition consists of more than 3,500 works including lithographs, prints and ceramics.

Picasso never set foot on Spanish soil again after the dictator Franco took power in the aftermath of the bloody Spanish Civil War (1936-39). During Franco's repressive regime, both the language of Catalunya and its famous dance, the Sardana, were banned. Both were reinstated with a vengeance after the dictator's death in 1975 and are much in evidence throughout Barcelona and wider Catalunya.

The Catalan Language

Catalan is the official language of the region and one of the most famous picture postcard images of Barcelona depicts the Sardana dance statue, on Montjuic hill which overlooks the city centre. The statue consists of a group of people dancing in a circle with their hands joined. You can see the real thing on summer evenings in and around the city's Gothic Quarter (Barri Gotic) when locals perform the dance to the strains of a flute like instrument – the circular movements represent unity and brotherhood and anyone is allowed to join in regardless of nationality or expertise.

Montjuic is also home to the city's much loved 'Magic Fountain', originally created for the 1929 Universal Exhibition and restored to world acclaim during the 1992 Olympic Games. The spectacular displays of water, music and light here on summer evenings have become one of the city's top tourist attractions. Montjuic can be reached by cable car and funicular railway and there's also a cable car up to the castle which crowns the hill and gives magnificent views of the city and the Mediterranean.

Las Ramblas

A stroll along La Rambla, one of the world's most famous walkways, is an absolute must for first time visitors to Barcelona. It's actually a network of five streets connecting Placa Catalunya and the Christopher Columbus monument. This largely pedestrianised area (called Les Rambles in Catalan) buzzes with life by day and night – a colourful concoction of street cafes, flower stalls, live entertainers (and pickpockets preying on unwary tourists!).

The city's other countless attractions include the Olympic Village and Olympic Harbour and Barcelona Zoo which is home to one of the finest animal collections in Spain. The zoo has a dolphinarium and a star turn called Snowflake – the world's only captive albino gorilla. Sadly, Snowflake died on November 24, 2003, from cancer.

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