Trekking the La Rambla, Barcelona’s political footpath

Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, often simply referred to as La Boqueria, is a large public market in La Rambla. PHOTOS | ANDREW KAGGWA.

What you need to know:

  • Amazing. Barcelona is one of the world’s biggest cultural hubs. With about 100 theatres, cinemas and gallaries, it is not surprisinmg it is Spain’s tourism hub. They love their football as well, thanks to the successful football club, Barcelona, but besides the fanfare and art, there is La Rambla, the melting pot of the city’s diversity and tourism, writes Andrew Kaggwa.

There is only one thing that comes to mind when people mention Barcelona, the football club.

Most people don’t even notice that the football team is named after a city, a capital of Catalonia, a region.

Barcelona as a football club represents a certain type of football but above it all, is one of the most successful clubs in world football, alongside Real Madrid, it is the only other Spanish club to ever win a Champions’ League and of recent, they pride in giving the world one of the greatest footballers ever, Lionel Messi.

To the people in Barcelona, both the city  and the successful football club represent something different, a culture and independence.

For Catalonia, the football club is a direct answer to Real Madrid, another influential football club from the Spanish capital Madrid while the city serves as Catalonia’s capital. 

Catalonia is part of Spain, though very many people in the region don’t feel the same; Catalonians have their own language, culture and history that differs from the rest of Spain. They identify themselves as Catalonians, not Spaniards.

Catalonia or Spain

In fact, travelling through Barcelona, it is easy to come across an immigrant flag from Argentina, Mexico, Chile, Ecuador and surprisingly, Senegal but not the Spanish flag.

Most of the iconic buildings, churches and people’s windows all have two types Catalonian flags, the Sanyera, a flag consisting of four red stripes on a yellow field and the Estelada, it is typically a Sanyera with a white five-pointed star on a blue chevron.

The Estelada is popular among Catalan independence supporters, in fact during the 2017-2018 Spanish constitution crisis, the separatists were using the two flags co-currently.

It is not surprising that even in 2022, Barcelona is still littered with Estelada and Sanyera than they are with the Spanish one.

“The Spanish flag represents the oppressors, I don’t want to associate with that,” says one person.

I was particularly in Barcelona for the international congress of theatre spectators held in October. It was the first congress of its kind and brought together theatre practitioners and writers from all over the world.

I was representing Silent Voices Uganda, a theatre and film production company that produces and while at it, teaching future theatre producers.

In between the congress though, it was always a chance to visit and enjoy one of Europe’s biggest cultural cities.

Big on Culture

Barcelona is big on culture, art and heritage boosting of 100 theatres of all sizes. Some accommodate as low as 20 people while they also have classical theatres of about 3000 people.

The congress was among many things trying to find solutions for possible problems theatre may face in future. For instance, in case of another pandemic, how does theatre find a way back.

Most of the theatres and art spaces are strategically located at the La Rambla, a pedestrian-only thoroughfare in the heart of Barcelona. It’s a tree-lined pedestrian boulevard that runs for 1.2 kilometers.  

Buildings on La Rambla were mostly built between 1401 and 1920s thus they come with lots of stories, their authenticity has made them a favourite for people trying to shoot historical dramas.

For instance, the Old Hospital de la Santa Creu was built in 1401 and was one of the first hospitals in Europe. Besides being a location for films, it also serves as Catalonia’s main library.

The La Rambla alone has more than five theatres, a cinema, restaurants, food market, gift shops and art galleries. La Rambla is a major tourist spot that is always filled with people from all walks of life.

La Rambla

Walking through the La Rambla, there are chances you will find shops selling merchandise about the city, most of the memorabilia is basically Barcelona football kits and those of RCD Espanyol, another football club based in Barcelona, also in the Spanish La Liga though not as celebrated as the latter. Not even the World Cup fever made Spanish national team kits popular, at least by the beginning of November.

For a boulevard, there is a lot happening on the La Rambla, there are posh hotels, restaurants, yet even those that may not be in position to afford a fancy meal still have a place in the La Boqueria, a famous food market where items are affordable.

During my stay, the La Rambla stayed active and congested during the day, night and late or early in the morning. For instance, on a Wednesday when Barcelona was hosting German football club Bayern Munich, some people left Camp Nou after the game for dinner. Not even losing that game would stop them from starting another faze of the night which included clubs and theatres whose productions start at about 11pm or a few minutes into midnight.

La Rambla is the face of diversity in an already very diverse Barcelona.

But it is also expensive.

For most of my visit, Laura Blanch, a theatre curator was my guide, she says there are places where things are cheaper but are not easy for a Barcelona first timer.

But for the fun of it, there is more Barcelona offers beyond the Camp Nou, which is actually a distance from the heart of Barcelona and sites such as the Barcelo Raval, the cathedral and most of the art spaces.

A round trip around the city aided by the city’s tour operators is about $150 an estimate of Shs550,000, but it depends on the company one ends up working with.

Perfect time

October, November, December, January and February.

Summer is officially over but October is a great time to visit Barcelona because the city sees pleasant weather making evenings and late nights a lot more fun.

October makes for a great time to remain outdoors so you can plan a guided tour on foot to discover local heritage hotspots in the city.