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218 pages / / 9780860913535

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Barcelona, the exuberant capital of Catalonia and host of the 1992 Olympics, is here explored and exposed by its greatest contemporary author

Manuel Vazquez Montalban’s anecdotal history takes us on an imaginary tour of the city, from its most secret corners to its most famous monuments. An erudite and impassioned guide, Montalban finds a controversy in every building, a story in every street, illuminating the city’s rich history and turbulent politics, its art, gastronomy and football. There are many Barcelonas, and Montalban knows them all: the lavish art-nouveau houses in Vallvidrera where he himself lives; the labyrinthine squalor of the Barri Xino, setting for Genet’s Thief’s Journal; the Barri Gotic where the independent Catalan Kingdom between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries created a nationalist consciousness which has endured for half a millennium; the oneiric Parc Guell, designed by the city’s most celebrated architect, Antoni Gaudi.

But this definitive survey is one unlikely to be endorsed by the Oficina de Turismo. For Montalban is fiercely critical of the values of the new ‘Olympic’ Barcelona: the misery of the inner-city slums where one person dies every second day from a heroin overdose; the speculation which has compounded overcrowding in a metropolis with the highest population density in Europe; the ravaging of working-class suburbs to make way for an aseptic international centre. Once Europe’s most utopian city, Barcelona, he argues, ‘has become a market, and everything is up for sale’.

For visitors, Barcelonas will prove a stimulating, indispensable companion. And for everyone interested in art and architecture, politics and sport, it will provide an enthralling introduction to the great European city.


“If a city has a distinct character, will and destiny, then it can be personified by the novelist. Montalban wisely insists that there are several Barcelonas—some pragmatic and whorish, others long-suffering and brilliantly creative. His personification of this, the most dynamic bourgeois city in Europe, poised at the moment of Olympic judgement, is by turns defiant, sad, trenchant, funny and always to the point. Even where you disagree with an opinion, he forces you to reflect on who this city is and where she is going.”

“No one knows more about food, sex and politics in Barcelona than Manuel Vazquez Montalban. He is the dream guide to the hidden city.”

“The best introduction to the cultural, social and historical complexity of Barcelona, by the most popular and scathingly ironic of today’s Spanish writers.”

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