The balconies of Barcelona
Barcelona. It’s hot. Muggy. Rain is forecast – it feels like it’s been building for days.
I’ve rented an apartment just off La Rambla. I’m here for a week.
This is a city that always feels a bit chaotic, almost as if anything could happen at any minute. This seems particularly the case in relation to its architecture.
Gaudí is the obvious point of reference – the work is stunning. But it’s the chaos of everyday life that catches my attention.
I’ve been spending a lot of time out on the balcony of my apartment – trying to catch even the faintest breeze. Everyone around me seems to be doing the same.
Amidst the convoluted streets of the Gothic Quarter, everyone’s balconies overlook each other.
Although seemingly built on top of each other, every building is different – there’s no uniformity. Nothing feels modern – everything has a weathered look. This is a neighbourhood that is lived in.
Out here, on the balconies of La Rambla, cigarettes are smoked, conversations are had, washing is dried.
The young guy directly across from me cuts hair on his balcony. I’m tempted to shout across to him to book an appointment, but I’m not sure how I’d get to his apartment – he looks to be about two streets away.
Below me, down at ground-level, is the courtyard of a restaurant. Conversations drift up through the still air. The food looks good. I think the entrance is on my street – I’m planning to try it one night.
Next door, a teenage boy sits alongside his grandmother. They don’t speak to each other, but they seem content to share the silence and the hope of a cool breeze.
I’m keeping an eye on one of the balconies across and to the left a bit. There’s an attractive guy that lives there – he often appears just wearing his briefs.
Barcelona. It feels as if anything could happen, at any minute.
My schoolboy Spanish is quickly confused by Catalan words and pronunciation – it’s one of the city’s official languages.
Support for independence remains high. In the 2021 regional election, pro-independence parties won over 50% of the popular vote for the first time – increasing their representation in the parliament from 70 to 74 seats.
Catalonia is a big chunk of the northeast of the Iberian peninsula. Those in favour of independence want to secede from Spain.
It’s not a new argument. The Principality of Catalonia emerged in the Middle Ages. Throughout the ebbs and flows of war and peace through the centuries, Catalonia retained its governance structures, its language, and culture.
Most relevant to the current conversation is the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s. The victory of the nationalist forces brought General Franco to power. This resulted in Catalan autonomy and culture being crushed – the public use of the Catalan language was banned.
After Franco’s death in 1975, democracy returned to Spain. Catalonia became one of Spain’s autonomous regions. But tensions remain. There have been contested votes, suspensions of autonomy, and extended periods of protest.
There was a massive protest in Barcelona on the Saturday before I arrived – thousands marched through the streets demanding Catalan independence. Police estimated that 100,000 people were marching, organisers put the figure closer to 400,000.
Jordi Cuixart was one of the protest leaders who addressed the crowd. In his address, he said:
“Those who ask us to turn the page and do not want us to fight for self-determination – what is Spain’s plan for Catalonia? None. Only repression and more repression.”
That simmering tension feels like a different world to the balconies of La Rambla.
The conversations drift up from the restaurant downstairs as we all sit and smoke and hope for a cooling breeze.