Parc de la Ciutadella
Parc de la Ciutadella
Parc de la Ciutadella
If you’re looking for somewhere to stop, breathe and be at one with nature in the heart of Barcelona, head straight to the Parc de la Ciutadella. Playgrounds, water features and Gaudí’s handiwork await! And the park often provides the setting for low-key festivals and other events with music, performances and drinks.
The huge waterfall – designed in part by a young Gaudí – is incredible! And families will find that the park is the perfect place for the kids to let off steam and burn off some of that excess energy! You can thank me later ;-)
Pickpockets and dodgy dealers may make it slightly more difficult to relax around here...
Don’t forget to pack your picnic blanket! The perfect spot for lunch could be just around the corner!
Last Modified: 19.09.2022 | Céline
Parc de la Ciutadella
at a glance
What is there
You could say that the Parc de la Ciutadella is the beating green heart of the city. After all, there aren’t that many parks in Barcelona – especially not right in the centre. The two most famous ones – Park Güell and Parc del Laberint d’Horta – are on the outskirts. That explains why the Parc de la Ciutadella is a big hit with people who are keen to get some fresh air after spending hours on end inside at museums and other attractions.
Trust me – the youngest members of the family are bound to appreciate the chance to run around outside. And there’s plenty of space to do just that given that the park spans 17.42 hectares. Without even including the bit taken up by Barcelona Zoo.
But what is there to do around here? So much to see, so much to enjoy!
TOP TIP 1:
The fountain – called Gran cascada or Cascada monumental in Spanish – is tucked up in the northern corner of the park. But there’s not much chance of missing it! Standing tall on two levels, it is covered with sculptures, water features and steps.
It was built by José Fontseré between 1875 and 1888. But not many people realise that Antoni Gaudí was involved in the design too, contributing the hydraulic solution that keeps the water flowing.
The ornate sculptures and chariot on top are the work of several Catalan artists who aren’t quite so famous. I’ll tell you who they are when we get to that bit of the fountain.
Starting with the structure…
The fountain is built around a triumphal arch designed to reflect the one used as the gateway to the 1888 Barcelona Universal Exposition – the very occasion the park and fountain were created for in the first place.
You can head up the steps leading to pavilions on either side of the triumphal arch.
The iron sculpture called La Quadriga de la Aurora by Rossend Nobas stands proudly on top of the triumphal arch. Underneath, you can see Venus by Francisco Pagés Serratosa on the tympanum. The goddess of beauty and love who was born in the sea is lying rather grotesquely on a fish and is surrounded by five cherubs and shells.
And Venus appears again further down – standing up in a giant shell right in the middle of the fountain. In fact, Botticelli’s famous painting in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence suggests that this sculpture is depicting the birth of Venus. It was designed by Venancio y Agapito Vallmitjana and brought to life by Eduard Alentorn.
This Venus is standing in the shell with her arms raised and grabbing her hair. With two nymphs by her feet. The shell is resting on a rocky surface, which is the first place water comes out from. Four sea horses stand underneath. While they may resemble regular horses at first glance, they actually have strange little fins and tails like fish.
Amphitrite (ruler of the sea) is sitting to the left of the rocks and Neptune (god of the sea) is on the right.
Then you come to the first pool of water. And you should be able to spot four dragon-like mythological creatures on the edge, looking over onto the second pool of water. Those are griffins, which have a mixture of body parts belonging to more than one animal. They usually have a lion’s body and a bird’s head, but there are different variants. These ones are basically half-lion and half-eagle. Look closely, though, and you’ll see that some have bat wings and others have scales like a dragon… . That’s right, they each have their own unique features. But what they do all have in common is the fact that water comes out of their mouths. These water fountains were designed by Rafael Atché.
There are several chambers round the back of the waterfall and underneath it is a man-made cave system that used to lead to the aquarium. And that was also where the water tank supplying the waterfall was located.
If you’re keen to spot some Gaudí magic, keep your eyes peeled as you head up the stairs. You’ll be able to spot two lizard medallions level with the aquarium area. Do you recognise his naturalist style? You may well be reminded of his other work and the lizards at Park Güell in particular.
The aquarium remained open until the 1930s, when its collections were transferred to the zoo. At the time, it was the only permanent display of living fish in Barcelona. But we have the Aquàrium de Barcelona now.
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Last time I visited the park, the lake was being cleaned out. The water had all been drained away and excavators stood in its place. So, in case you were wondering, it’s an artificial lake.
When there is actually water in the lake, you can take a rowing boat out for a spin. This is a brilliant activity for families with kids and for couples too. It’s surprisingly romantic around here, with lots of hearts and declarations of love written all over the trees, benches and ground…
At least, I hope they didn’t get rid of them while they were cleaning out the lake!
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The bandstand isn’t far from the fountain. This is where the local band plays – just in case you were wondering why it was called a bandstand! It was built by Maria Gallissà in 1884.
The round base has eight pillars holding up the roof made from wood and iron.
In 2013, the bandstand was renamed as Glorieta de la Transsexual Sonia. Why? A trans woman called Sonia Rescalvo was murdered by a group of neo-Nazis at the bandstand in 1991. Unsurprisingly, it has become the venue for an annual event in honour and defence of the LGBTQ+ community.
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THE CASTELL DELS TRES DRAGONS
The Castle of the Three Dragons is located in the south-west of the park, making it one of the first things you come across if you enter the park through the Arc de Triomf gateway. The ‘castle’ was built in the modernista style of Lluis Domènech i Montaner – also for the 1888 Barcelona Universal Exposition. Domènech is the architect also responsible for the Palau de la Musica Catalana, Hospital de Sant Pau and Fundació Tapies.
The brick building is broken up with iron and ceramic decorative elements. And four massive towers stand tall in the corners of the building. The brick battlements at the top all the way around the building and towers create the air of a castle.
But did you know that this was never designed to be a castle? The building was actually home to the café and restaurant when the Universal Exposition was running. And afterwards? It served as a workshop for Domènech and then became the Zoological Museum for preserved mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish and birds.
What about now? It has been closed to the public for a long time. But the plan is to turn it into a culture centre for families one day, with the aim of promoting children’s and young adult literature.
So why is the building named after three dragons? This is a very good question… There are three white lizard-like sculptures in front of the building, but they definitely don’t date back to 1888. So your guess is as good as mine this time!
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THE LEISURE ACTIVITIES
There’s always something going on in this park. During the summer months especially, people flock here to relax in the shade, eat picnics and even practice their trapeze acts. Does anyone else find it surprisingly soothing to watch these artists at work?
Your kids won’t be bored around here either. The little ones will have hours of fun at the playground, while older children are bound to enjoy exploring the lake. You can also set them the challenge of being the first to spot the mammoth!
Don’t forget that the zoo is just around the corner from here too.
Things can get a bit too busy here at times – especially when there’s live music or theatre productions on. The main event is the annual La Mercé festival, when you can expect bars and light shows too!
Just make sure you keep an eye on your valuables at all times. The pickpockets tend to follow the crowds…
TOP TIP 6:
The park is packed with sculptures and some of them really have something special about them. I’m going to describe just three in detail here for you.
Memorial to Victims of the Third Reich
Now, you might not have been expecting to come across this particular memorial in this particular park. And that’s because not everyone realises that Spaniards suffered directly at the hands of the Nazis too. But, yes, there were indeed Spanish victims of the Third Reich. During the 1980s, the city council responded to calls to dedicate a memorial to the people of Barcelona who were murdered by the Nazis at the Mauthausen concentration camp during the Second World War. Artist André Fauteux designed this memorial in iron and stone in 1987.
A los voluntarios catalanes
Another important war-related sculpture, A los voluntarios catalanes is the work of Josep Clarà. Dating back to 1936, it’s dedicated to the 14,000 Catalan volunteers who fought alongside France in the First World War. A naked man with his arms in the air is holding a laurel branch as a symbol of freedom. Under Franco’s regime, the memorial was altered and the man’s private parts were covered up with a fig leaf. In 1986, after Franco had died, the decision was made to extend the scope of the original memorial to both world wars.
Let’s move on to something a bit more light-hearted. Because a life-sized mammoth is lurking in the Parc de la Ciutadella too. Yes, seriously. It’s not completely random since it was created in 1907 by Catalan geologist and caver Norberto Font y Sagué and sculptor Miquel Dalmau. And the Geology Museum is right here in the park too.
Parc de la Ciutadella
A bit of History
The Parc de la Ciutadella (or Citadel Park) was named after the citadel that was once built on the grounds.
The citadel was destroyed back in 1868. But why? What happened?
It was a small fortress where soldiers could shelter from danger in the event that the city was stormed. Basically the last defence in an attack situation.
The history of Barcelona and Catalonia more widely is extremely complex and way too long to cover here. We’d have to go all out and explain the difficult relationship with Spain. All you really need to know is that the people of Barcelona didn’t care for the citadel because it represented everything they hated about the central government in Madrid. They’d started to tear it down in 1841, but didn’t manage to destroy it completely until 1868 (during the Spanish succession conflict of 1868–1870).
Josep Fontserè i Mestre wasted no time in designing a new park inspired by the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris, with plans already getting underway in 1870. The park was officially opened in 1881 and used as the setting for the 1888 Barcelona Universal Exposition.
If you’re interested in finding out more about Barcelona’s complex past, the citadel and the Born district demolished to make way for that very citadel, swing by the Mercat del Born market and check out the archaeological site there.
Text and image rights: © Céline Mülich, 2022