Category Archives: Barcelona

Church Vandalism in Spain: Credit Where It’s Due

Who would have thought that, in the 21st century, one would be able to regularly blog about or even tweet regarding acts of church vandalism in Spain? From Madrid to Barcelona and beyond, it seems that every week there is a new story of uncivilized, sometimes politically motivated, acts of violence against the fabric of the Church. As appalling as these events are however, it is extremely important to stress that cooler heads must prevail when reporting on these events. Not every physical attack on a church building comes about as a result of political action.

Recently for example, I learnt of a new act of vandalism in the historically important city of Burgos, located in central Spain. Two 13th century statues on the main entrance portal of the church of San Esteban (i.e. St. Stephen) were decapitated sometime late on Holy Thursday or early in the morning of Good Friday by an unknown person or persons. San Esteban was built between the 13th and 14th centuries, and is considered by some architectural historians to be the most important example of Gothic church architecture in the city after the Cathedral of Santa Maria La Mayor. It was declared a National Monument of Spain in 1931, and at the present time it serves as the Altarpiece Museum for the Archdiocese of Burgos.

This morning Spanish authorities announced the capture and charging of an individual in connection with the case. The heads of the statues of St. Peter and St. Lawrence were recovered by the National Police from the individual, and these have been returned to the church for restoration. The defendant is a local man, who had been arrested and charged recently with antiquities theft in another matter, but was out on bond at the time of the San Esteban incident.

From the beginning the Archdiocese of Burgos has been very careful not to jump to the conclusion that this was an anticlerical act, and expressed its belief that this was probably an act of theft. Vandalism of ancient churches to feed the black market in looted antiquities is a problem throughout Europe, and Spain is no exception. When the incident was first reported, a spokesman for the Archdiocese noted the important detail that the heads were taken away, rather than left at the scene, as would normally be expected from leftist vandals. Nor was there any accompanying graffiti or other indications to suggest that the vandalism was a politically motivated act.

A similar, commendable restraint was shown by the Archdiocese of Barcelona and local authorities last week, when the sacristy of the Basilica of the Sagrada Familia was torched by a mentally ill man. Neither the Archdiocese nor the police alleged that there was any connection between the individual and leftist anti-Catholic actions. By taking this cautionary approach in Burgos, Barcelona, and elsewhere, the Church is doing exactly what it needs to do, even if authorities are often powerless to prevent vandalism – politically motivated or not – against its property.

There is a trait in the Spanish character at all points along the socio-political spectrum to jump to conclusions about the cause or motivations behind an act, which at the moment the Church appears to be avoiding institutionally, unless there is undeniable proof of an anti-Catholic motivation. Perhaps the most famous example in recent years of the Spanish tendency to form an opinion with insufficient evidence occurred on March 11, 2004, when the Madrid subway system was bombed three days before national elections were scheduled. The conservative government and some elements of the media immediately blamed ETA, the Basque separatist group, which denied all involvement – and admittedly the charge against them seemed rather bizarre to outside observers at the time, including this writer, since attacks like these are not the usual m.o. for ETA.

Through subsequent investigation it quickly came to light that the Madrid subway attacks were carried out not by Basque separatists, but rather by Muslim terrorists. The public reaction against the conservatives for making ETA the scapegoat for 3/11, as the subway bombing has come to be known, was harsh and swift; the small lead which the conservatives had enjoyed as the election was drawing to a close completely evaporated. This catapulted Mr. Rodriguez Zapatero and the Spanish Socialist Party into office, where they remain at the present time.

There is without question a rising sentiment of anticlerical fervor in Spain, and this needs to be addressed both through engaging those who seek to harm the Church, and by insisting that civil authorities do their job to maintain law and order. However, the bishops, the media, and the laity need to act with restraint when assigning blame to acts of Church vandalism. Tarring with too a wide brush will only hurt the perception of the Church in the court of public opinion, creating a “boy who cried wolf” situation. And it is among the members of the law-abiding public, Catholic or not, where the real power to combat deliberate acts of anticlericalism resides.

The 13th century statues of St. Peter (L) and St. Lawrence (R)
on the entrance portal of San Esteban in Burgos, prior to last week’s vandalism

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Filed under anti-Catholicism, Barcelona, Burgos, Catholic, Church, Madrid, Sagrada Familia, Spain, vandalism

Put Some Clothes On

As The New York Times reported yesterday, the city of Barcelona intends to crack down on public nudity, taking a u-turn from a position which the government of that city adopted several years ago. Back in 2004, the city council issued a document encouraging citizens to consider “Expressing Yourself in Nudity”, and pointing out that there was no law on the books to prevent them from going naked in public. This followed a massive nude-in organized by photographer Spencer Tunick, in which thousands of people stripped off around Barcelona’s Plaça d’Espanya.

Although there has not been a rush to undress on the streets of the Catalan capital, in the years since the issuance of this publication celebrating immodesty Barcelona has experienced a significant increase in loutish behavior, which is having a devastating impact on its historic sites and tourist attractions. The open use of drugs is becoming common, as has publicly relieving oneself. The explosion in tagging and other graffiti on historic buildings and museums to shops, businesses, government offices and homes throughout the city is nothing short of epidemic. Despite its status as one of the world’s most beautiful cities, on street level Barcelona has, over the past decade of socialist leadership, come to look more like a war zone and less like a desirable place to live or visit.

This is the result of a rather anarchic way of thinking: a literalism which is subjectively adopted by the left when it suits its purpose. If public nudity is not statutorily prohibited, (presumably because previous generations of city leaders thought it self-evident that this practice was undesirable) then it must be implicitly permissible. Yet to follow this line of reasoning to its logical conclusion, there must be other lewd or destructive activities not expressly forbidden which the citizenry of Barcelona could pursue. What those activities may be I will not dare to suggest, for fear that someone may adopt them.

Realizing that as a result of relativistic, laissez-faire policies on public decency their city today looks more like a rubbish tip than the jewel of the Mediterranean, Barcelona is beginning to rein in such behavior. Banning public nudity is a start, though no doubt there will be those who seek to challenge such bans in the courts as a violation their human rights. While we can agree that everyone has the fundamental right to be a functional idiot, if that is the best level of mental acuity they can achieve, one would hope that when such a case comes before the courts – as it surely will – rational heads will prevail, even if solely on the basis of public hygiene.

To take the anarchic line of reasoning into our own hands however, if the courts decide that the citizenry and visitors to Barcelona have the right to go about starkers, then someone needs to assert their own fundamental human right not to be forced to look at something offensive. One can avoid a museum or film dealing with unpleasant subject matter: a gallery exhibition of blasphemous art can be sidestepped just as easily as a big-budget slasher flick. No one is forced to look at such things, and this is why they are generally found to be permissible by Western legal systems. In the public square however, such as in a commercial exchange or when seeking government services, these interactions cannot be avoided.

Therefore my proposal is that public nudity, if a fundamental right, be regulated through a quarterly permit process. Residents and tourists alike who wish to go about in the altogether in Barcelona will have to be inspected by a panel of aesthetic experts, chosen from the worlds of art and design, media, and health, to determine whether or not they are sufficiently aesthetically pleasing so as to be seen naked. If approved, the applicant will be charged a fee for a 90-day nudity permit. At the conclusion of each quarter, they will be required to return to the panel in order to undergo inspection once again, to determine whether they are still eligible for permitting.

This policy would have several highly beneficial effects on a naked Barcelona. It would deal with the increasing problem of obesity and bad eating habits, by encouraging physical fitness and proper diet. It would add revenue to the local government through the initial permitting and subsequent mandatory quarterly review process. It would increase commerce through multiple sectors of the economy, from the fitness and health industries to the organic and health food sectors, and would also lead to increased tourism and associated revenues from those who not only want to see good-looking naked folk, but also among those whose narcissism would lead them to seek official government recognition of their being attractive. This in turn would yield increased revenues in the form of taxation to city coffers, which would then be redistributed in the form of improved city services.

St. Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians addressed some of the hedonistic practices of the community at Corinth, which were not uncommon in the pagan world of his day – a world to which we in the West are rapidly returning. He noted that the libertine attitude adopted by some of his flock was going to end up doing them and others harm:

‘Everything is lawful,’ but not everything is beneficial.
‘Everything is lawful,’ but not everything builds up.

1 Corinthians 10:23

Taking your clothes off in public is the ultimate way to draw attention to yourself by flouting common decency, and this is why those who engage in such behavior do so: it has nothing to do with being “natural”, and everything to do with being selfish. In the West, there is no natural reason for us to go about naked – particularly in a large, wealthy city like Barcelona. I hope that the good people of my favorite city will use this opportunity to continue the effort to take back their streets from the purveyors of relativism, whose way of thinking has quite literally sullied them.

“The Goddess” by Josep Clarà (1928)
Plaça Catalunya, Barcelona

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Catalan Independence: Come Together, Now

Over the weekend a non-binding referendum held in the Catalan capital of Barcelona resulted in almost 90% of those participating supporting the idea that Catalonia declare independence from Spain. The results of this poll are essentially the same as polls taken in the other counties of Catalonia over the last two years, in which over 90% of participants also voted in favor of Catalan independence. While a full declaration of independence or secession is nowhere near a reality, there are some very significant developments in this area which ought to give naysayers some pause. Before we can get to that, however, some disclosures are necessary.

The regular reader of these pages is in no doubt as regards my general political leanings – though I put the tenets of my Catholic faith first, ahead of any political considerations. Thus although my posts often have a certain point of view, I do not in general blog at any length on overtly political issues. In this case, being half-Catalan, I need to make an exception.

With regard to the issue of bias, I freely admit that I am very much in favor of Catalonia regaining its independence from Spain, or at the very least engaging in the creation of a federal system within Spain similar to that which we enjoy in the United States, or that of Germany. If independence proves impossible but the latter path of federalism could be equitably applied, it would allow the individual states to retain a significant amount of control over their own finances, public policies, and so on. It would concentrate the power to govern in local hands, in order to better address local issues, while demarcating the powers of a national, centralized government to address large issues, such as defense, which are better-handled collectively.

Apart from the suspicious leanings of The Courtier in the eyes of some on the issue of Catalan independence we must also, when considering the poll result, drill down into the numbers of the poll results themselves; percentages only tell us part of the story. The number of voters in yesterday’s referendum was a bit north of a quarter of a million people. This figure represents a little over 21% of the estimated population of the city of Barcelona.

While I believe this does not detract from the fact that there are a large number of people in favor of Catalan independence – nearly one out of every five eligible Catalans and Catalanistas in Barcelona and throughout Catalonia voted in favor of it, after all – I think it reasonable to assume that those who went out to vote in this non-binding poll were the “true believers”, for lack of a better term. They are people who took the opportunity to make sure their voices were heard, even though they knew that there would be no direct result; the rest either were indifferent and thought the poll was not worth their time, or were opposed to the poll even taking place.

All that being said, what is significant about this most recent polling is that, unlike on previous occasions, the Catalan Center-Right participated more actively in the discussion. The current President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, is a member of the largest Catalan conservative party, and voted in favor of independence, as did Jordi Pujol, the previous Catalan conservative head of government in the 1990′s. The strongest voices for Catalan independence have, in recent years, been those on the far Left, but the fact that the middle-class party is taking the question more seriously than it has in years is an indicator that perceptions may be shifting, given the disastrous governing of Spain’s present Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

Because of its association with the Left during the 1930′s, many commentators outside of Catalonia and even many Catalans themselves forget that the rebirth of a desire for independence in Catalonia began in the mid-19th century, with the “gent de be”, i.e. the Catalan version of the UHB or “Urban Haute-Bourgeoisie” [with apologies to Whit Stillman.] This powerful group of aristocrats, gentry, industrialists, professionals and intellectuals, were proud of their Catalan heritage, outward looking at what the rest of Europe and the world had to offer, and yet remained deeply devout Catholics. They fundamentally changed not only the look of Barcelona, commissioning the work of legendary architects such as Gaudi, but also altered the future of Catalonia. Through their efforts, Catalonia emerged from being a cultural and economic backwater in the 17th and 18th centuries, after years of repeatedly being stomped on by Madrid and losing their empire, which once stretched from Barcelona to Palermo to Athens.

That we have a situation today, not seen since the transition after the death of Franco, in which both the Left and the Right among the Catalanist parties are willing to talk to each other but also to find common ground, is a very remarkable state of affairs. Even a low level of participation, but participation nonetheless among Catalan conservatives is noteworthy, and it should give pause to members of both the national conservative party, the Partido Popular (“PP”), and the national Socialist Party (“PSOE”). For ironically enough, Catalan independence is an issue which both the national Left and the national Right in Spain will put down their weapons over, and link up arm-in-arm to prevent from happening.

The press seems to focus on what the PP has to do and say because it is, in the eyes of many journalists, too Right-wing. This is because most Spanish journalists worship the philosophical quicksand that Mr. Zapatero walks on. Be that as it may, Catalan independence is, for the PP, first and foremost a philosophical issue. They do not see the Catalans as a nation-within-a-nation, even though the majority of Catalans see themselves that way – including those who would not vote for full independence from Spain for political or practical reasons.

Yet for all the press about the Right, the Socialists as currently headed by Mr. Zapatero, could not govern Spain if the Catalans were to leave. The national Left has always needed Catalan money and political support in order to remain in power. During the Civil War, when they were chased out of Madrid, Barcelona became the capital of Spain for the Leftist, Republican side. Today as then, take Catalonia out of the equation and Spain as a whole not only becomes significantly poorer, but also significantly more conservative politically. Thus, both the national Left and the national Right in Spain can, in fact, agree on one thing: that it is in neither of their interests for Catalonia to declare independence.

The idea of full independence through secession, or simply a larger degree of de-centralization, is one which gets knocked around in this country from time to time (e.g. in Texas and Hawaii), but which rarely gets any practical traction. In Europe however, there have been many examples in recent years of groups gaining either full independence or increased separation from the centralized state which had historically came to dominate it, often as a result of the absolute monarchies and empire builders of the 18th and 19th centuries. Critics call this “Balkanization”, based on how poorly this process was handled in the former Yugoslavia.

Yet as terrible as that was there are other examples – Scotland, Slovakia, etc. – where it was not necessary to shed blood in order to either gain greater autonomy or separate completely. In disintegrating Belgium over the last several months we have been witnessing the birth pains of what is probably going to be at least two new countries. Catalonia, if it eventually chooses to go its own way, does not have to be the next Kosovo or Bosnia.

This afternoon I will be attending a conference on the evils Mr. Zapatero and the Socialists have wrought in Spain over the past few years. The speaker will, I am sure, not favor Catalan independence, and so there is little point in my raising the issue with him. However, my hope is that the Catalans themselves will continue to actively engage in this issue, and not simply relegate it to the bar, cafe, or living room following yesterday’s referendum. Those are the places where this discussion needs to take place, of course, for it was in the homes and clubs, over a good coffee or brandy, that such talk began back in the 19th century among Barcelona’s UHB. Yet those discussions will need to move beyond the comfy chair or the tottering stool if they are ever going to be seriously considered by the Catalan people as a whole.

Giant Catalan flag unfurled at the legendary
Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona

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Idle Hands: Leftist Failures and Anti-Catholicism in Spain

In the overnight hours of March 22nd-23rd, a group of radical feminists set fire to the historic 18th century church of Saint Vincent in Sarrià, a place which I know well and have written about on my other blog, Catholic Barcelona. The formerly independent village of Sarrià is a pretty, well-to-do neighborhood in the north end of Barcelona, somewhat reminiscent of Georgetown here in DC. Why those responsible chose this particular parish we do not know, though its pastor, Father Manel Valls, is well-known both in Barcelona and throughout Catalonia for being the celebrant of the televised Sunday Mass on TV2, one of the main Catalan television stations.

The anonymous group which claimed responsibility for this act intended to do not only as much damage as possible to the church building, but also to wound the hearts and minds of Catholics everywhere, not just local parishioners. Mocking the part of the mass known as the Presentation of the Gifts, during which lay members of the congregation process with bread and wine to the altar and then present these gifts to the priest to be used for the Consecration of Jesus’ Body and Blood, the unnamed group sneered on their website that “by this action, we present our unique offering to the Church and its values: 3 liters of gasoline, which burned to illuminate the darkness of the night.” Fortunately for the parish, the group only succeeded in burning part of the main portal and door of the church, as shown below: next time, the parish may not be so lucky.

Direct attacks by leftists on Catholic houses of worship have been increasing across Spain in recent weeks. From a student chapel at Madrid’s most important university, to parish churches in Segovia, Tenerife, and elsewhere, anti-Catholic violence has been undergoing a real resurgence. However this particular action in Barcelona is a significant stepping up of the level of violence seen so far. Until this recent attempt at church burning, the current rash of break-ins and protests have involved offensive graffiti and signs, or demonstrations which devolved into laughable acts of hysteria and crowd frenzy. They could be dismissed as disgusting, but to some extent predictable, elements of life in a free society.

Yet the more disturbing aspect of this has been the appearance of signage and chanting, calling not only for the deliberate burning of the churches, but also the killing of the members of the clergy and religious orders, actions last undertaken during the rule of the Left before and during the Spanish Civil War. My fear is, it can only be a matter of time before the targets of assault and even destruction cease to be structures, and start to be people. It would not be the first time in Spanish history that such evils took place.

Despite pleas from Church officials and the laity that these matters be taken seriously before they are allowed to go too far, these classic, tell-tale signs of trouble seem to be taking many by surprise. It was thought in many quarters, from the media and academia to politicians and bureaucrats, both within Spain and internationally, that in this day and age there was no real physical threat either to the property of the Church or to either its leaders/adherents. Not only is this an utterly ignorant position, for anyone who knows a little about the history of Spain and its tendency to repeat itself, but it also betrays a subconscious attitude on the part of many that by not “keeping up with the times” with respect to its social teachings on abortion, contraception, or on the ordination of women, the Catholic Church in some way deserves what it gets.

The reason for this increasing radicalization is said by many to be unclear, but I attribute it to three, key points. First and foremost, we must take into account the precarious state of the Spanish economy, which has been circling the drain for some time, with market watchers worrying over the state of the country’s savings banks, increasing interest rates, and slashed growth forecasts. Overall unemployment currently stands at 20% of the population, but youth unemployment for those in the 18-35 age bracket is stuck at a shocking 40%. If idle hands are the Devil’s workshop, there is nothing like a young, unemployed Spanish leftist to do his handiwork.

Secondly, blame must be laid at the doorstep of Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who recently announced that he will not be seeking a third term as President of the Spanish Government. Not only have “the Shoemaker’s” policies since 2004 led his country to the point of economic collapse, but his thinly-veiled loathing of both conservatives and the Catholic Church have been expressed through the radical social policies he has pushed through parliament, to rapturous adulation from those on the left. All the while, he has been giving the Spanish people circuses rather than bread; now they have realized that they are hungry, and by standing down for the next general election he has clearly indicated that he does not want to be thrown to them for food.

And finally we must consider what I believe to be the third cause for the increase in anti-Catholicism in Spain which, ironically enough, is the success of the faithful within Spain to stand up for themselves with the visible support of their Pontiff. The Papal Visits to Santiago de Compostela and Barcelona last year drew enormous crowds – not of the elderly, though of course they were there also, but more significantly of the young. Watching streaming media coverage of the consecration of the Basilica of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, the clearly audible and visible shock of the jaded newscasters at the presence of enormous numbers of youth overjoyed to see this elderly German priest made me smile rather broadly. And of course this summer, the celebration of the Holy Father of World Youth Day in Madrid – which will, in fact, go on for much longer than a day – is going to throw the supposedly sophisticated Spanish leftist for an even bigger loop.

The idle hands which I mentioned earlier have to up the ante if they are going to prevent the Church in Spain from having any kind of a future, and this is why those hands are putting down their placards and picking up cans of gasoline. For the left cannot claim that these young people – who have no memory at all of General Franco and the repressive aspects of his regime – are being forced to practice Catholicism or to admire the pope. The under 40′s in Spain have grown into their teens and adulthood knowing that virtually every libertine path is open to them, and yet a surprisingly large number have chosen to reject social engineering, radical feminism, and bioethics standards taken from the collected works of Josef Mengele, and instead freely and willingly choose to follow the path of Christ. The fact that a Spaniard born into modern, democratic Spain would exercise their free will to be a Catholic sends your average Spanish leftist into a screeching hissy fit.

The latest chapter in the history of anti-Catholicism in Spain is being written before our eyes; we are living under the curse of that Chinese proverb, “May you live in interesting times.” How much more violent that anti-Catholicism becomes – and I fear it will inevitably become even more violent – will depend on the willingness of those in authority to protect not only the property of the Church, but also the safety of those who work for and worship within it. Those of us who care can do our part by not only following the news about what is going on in Spain, but also by blogging, tweeting, e-mailing, and talking about it with those in our circle. And in the meantime, let us hope and pray that these attacks will stop soon, before something far more grave occurs.

The entrance portal to the church of St. Vincent in Barcelona,
after being attacked by leftists last month.

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>Barcelona’s Bull Market

>Today, residents of Barcelona who have the good sense not to attend this play will have the opportunity to be among the first to visit a brand-new shopping center, built over ground soaked with the bodily fluids of countless dead animals (and a few humans.) The Las Arenas commercial center is a joint effort between the famous British architect Sir Richard Rogers and rising-star Catalan architect Lluis Alonso to convert the old Las Arenas (“The Sands”) bullfighting ring into a mixed-use facility featuring retail and office space, a domed courtyard for special events, a multiplex cinema, sport and health facilities, and a museum dedicated to the history of local rock music. The project has taken years and faced a number of setbacks and infighting among the two architectural firms, as well as requiring a rather spectacular engineering feat of removing the surrounding roadway and supporting the old building on curved steel braces. According to today’s press reports, the building has been leased to nearly full capacity: quite a feat given the economic woes from which the Iberian Peninsula as a whole presently suffers.

In the effort to preserve old structures and convert them to new uses, once they no longer serve their original purpose, architects, city planners, and engineers need to work together to solve the problems that can arise when one is unable to start from scratch. Just getting people to agree on what to do with a vacant or unsuitable old building can be a challenge. I wrote earlier this week about the possibility of converting the Federal Trade Commission headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue here in Washington into a third wing for the National Gallery of Art, a project spearheaded by Congressman John Mica (R-Fla.) Sometimes the result of such conversions is uneven or even unpleasant, as in the conversion of the chapel of the Dominican Priory in Maastricht into a bookstore, although at least the historic fabric does not disappear behind the wrecking ball and will probably be renovated again.

The effort to convert Las Arenas into newly useful space was an important one given the sheer size of the building and the prominence of its location, but took a great deal of time and effort to bring off. The original architect of the structure, Augusto Font y Carreras, had designed the arena in 1898 in a traditional Moorish style, the look preferred throughout Spain but which is somewhat foreign to Catalonia’s architectural vocabulary. The end result, after it was completed in 1900, is a building which, though large, is neither very original nor very attractive. Perhaps appropriately, as it turned out, it was built adjacent to what is now the Plaça d’Espanya, but which at the time was the location for public hangings.

The Plaça d’Espanya is perhaps the one place in Barcelona where the visitor is overwhelmed by a host of generally uninteresting, but enormous buildings and public spaces which lack any sense of the visitor being specifically in Catalonia. Rather much of the area looks like a generic pastiche of Euro-Mediterranean architecture that could be found anywhere from California to Calabria. Around this massive square all seems very grand and stately from a distance, when the structures and landscaping are looked at as a grouping, but when examined more closely virtually everything is flawed or purely derivative. There are no works of genius other than Mies van der Rohe’s tremendously significant but comparatively small Barcelona Pavilion of 1929, which is tucked away in a corner at the far end of the broad promenade leading from the square to the National Museum of Catalan Art.

Unlike Barcelona’s “Monumental” bullring built in 1914, there is nothing about Las Arenas which speaks of Barcelona’s flowering of Art Nouveau in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Even the Monumental, while displaying the preferred Moorish influence, has some of the weird mixture of swooping curves and industrial design characteristic of early 20th century Catalan architecture, a strangeness which gives anyone who strolls through Barcelona such a great deal of visual pleasure. The somewhat dark, dour-looking structure at Las Arenas has none of this; it would look more at home in the provinces of Andalucia or Extremadura, where bullfighting is far more popular an activity.

Bullfighting has of course, never been hugely popular in Catalonia, although the claims of both animal rights campaigners and nationalists that it was somehow forced upon the Catalans by the Spaniards is an assertion of dubious merit. One need only look across the border into the parts of southern France where bullfighting still takes place, and which either used to be part of Catalonia or were under a heavy Catalan influence, to realize that there is a cultural affinity for the activity that is Mediterranean, rather than specifically Castilian, in origin. In nearly every town of any importance around the rim of the Mare Nostrum, Roman ruins attest to the popularity in ancient times of feats of daring combined with blood-letting.

That being said, Las Arenas actually stopped hosting bullfights as long ago as 1977, and eventually went to ruin despite its hugely prominent location. Indeed, with the precipitous decline in the popularity of bullfighting over the past thirty years in Barcelona, and the passage by the Catalan Parliament of a law banning bullfighting by 2012, new uses will have to be found for all of the old bullrings throughout Catalonia. The Monumental, currently the sole remaining bullfighting venue in Barcelona itself, will be turned into a concert arena when it ceases operations. This is a natural development of course, for the building was specifically designed for temporary entertainment.

Whether the conversion of Las Arenas from an entertainment venue into a place to buy Calvin Klein underwear will be successful remains to be seen. It does strike me as somewhat odd that, with the general trend in architectural and urban planning away from building enclosed shopping centers that Barcelona would take this particular path toward the rehabilitation of the old arena. Frankly, it has little architectural significance or merit whatsoever, and really ought to have been torn down. As a city celebrated and studied throughout the world over the last 20-odd years for its architectural, engineering and planning innovations, turning a bullring into a shopping mall seems a rather too-safe, petit-bourgeois choice.

Building the dome over the old
Las Arenas bullfighting ring in Barcelona

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Filed under architecture, Barcelona, bullfighting, Catalonia, engineering, urban planning