When a city is awarded the distinguished honor of hosting the Olympic Games, you can imagine the billions that go into preparation for holding and housing such a grand event where the world’s eyes are watching. But what happens to the city and all buildings after the games come to an end and the world changes the channel? It’s hard to believe but some actually turn into ghost towns.
But not for Barcelona! When the announcement came that Barcelona would be host to the 1992 Olympics, like any other Olympic host, the transformation began and its coastline was given a face-lift. And after the 1992 Games, the areas grew into wonderful repurposed neighborhoods. Two neighborhoods that benefited from the games were the old fishing village of La Barceloneta and Vila Olímpica, whose sole purpose was to serve as an accommodation facility during the Olympics.
Once and old fishing village, La Barceloneta has managed to keep its identity, but with a twist. Now, a unique blend of high end restaurants, traditional tapas and its seafaring past, it has become a hotspot in the summer with its chiringuitos (beach bars) with music, dining and fun until the wee hours of early morning.
Its history is still evident as you walk through its narrow, salty paved streets, and come upon the baroque style Sant Miquel del Port Church and the fountain near Carrer Sant Carles, built in tribute to Carmen Amaya, a famous flamenco dancer born in the town.
You can choose to tour by land or sea, but the boat tour will only show the coastline, while the walking tour gives you a definite feel for the village. The Catalonia History Museum is a good place to learn about the region’s history from prehistoric time to present day. From there, you can visit the Clock Tower. Built in 1772 as a lighthouse, it has been recycled, along with the region, and now features a clock. Around 5pm, when the fishing boats return to the port, you can witness a traditional fish auction.
And if you take the footbridge, you can get to Port Vell, a sea-lined stretch that offers shopping and dining options, along with and IMAX theater and Europe’s largest Aquarium.
The Vila Olímpica (The Olympic Village), built as an accommodation facility for the Olympic athletes, is now a residential community. Built as a neighborhood, the area includes the Hotel Arts, a luxury hotel overlooking the sea and Mapfre Tower, office space occupied by a variety of companies, and host to a shopping center on the bottom floor. Both these skyscrapers measure 1535 meters, and are the tallest buildings in Spain.
The neighborhood, with its many buildings, is equally balanced by its green zones, such as the Altanta Gardens, Parc dels Ponts, and Placa de los Campions (Champions Square), which contains the 257 medals won during the 1992 Olympic Games.
And last but not least is Port Olímpic, with its many yachts and vessels docking at its marina. Along its promenade are bars, restaurants and nightclubs and it has become a popular hangout for late-night revelers. So if you are a night owl or an early bird, luckily, you can have fun in Barcelona at any time of day!
So, whether you’re an Olympic history enthusiast or a fan of quaint villages with lots to see and do, Barcelona’s La Barceloneta and Vila Olímpica are great places to visit. Let’s hope that our future Olympic hosts learn from these villages and build with a purpose and a repurpose in mind!