Ring around the mountain
The Anella Olímpica, or Olympic Ring, holds the principal venues of the 1992 games. The centrepiece of course is the Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys, a relic of the 1929 fair, recently renamed after the president of Catalonia who was executed nearby in 1940.
Barcelona had bid to host the 1936 games here, but lost out to Hitler’s Berlin. Defiantly it decided to hold a non-fascist ‘People’s Olympics’, only the party was spoiled by another fascist—named Franco, whose revolt began the Civil War the day before the games were to open.
Major surgery was required to bring the stadium up to modern Olympic standards. The interior was rebuilt to hold 70,000, while preserving the original façade and its bronzes by Pau Gargallo, a feat accomplished by digging down and lowering the playing field by 36ft.
Besides many of the track and field events, the stadium saw the extraordinary, breathtaking opening ceremonies, beginning with Montserrat Caballé and Josep Carrera accompanied by a massive dancing of the sardana by white clad dancers, followed by El Mar Mediterráneo, a spectacle dedicated to the history of the Mediterranean and the remarkable lighting of the torch with a flaming arrow.
After the flame in the torch was extinguished—movingly to the voice of Victoria de los Angeles singing El cant dels Ocells, accompanied by a cello—the stadium has gone on to host major sporting events and concerts by the Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson, David Bowie etc.
The adjacent covered arena, the Palau Sant Jordi by Japanese architect Arata Isozaki was one of the marvels of the 1992 games. Even its construction was spectacular: the enormous space-frame roof was constructed on the ground and then hoisted into place using hydraulic jacks; even now it seems to hover, undulating over the surrounding portico like a sleeping dragon, according to the locals. On the esplanade in front are concrete pillars linked by strings of stainless steel, added by Isozaki’s wife, Aiko Mijawaki.
The striking and strangely beautiful 394ft white needle in a loop is the Torre de Telefònica (1991), designed by Santiago Calatrava, who was already famous in Barcelona for his bridge before receiving the commission at the last moment after another of his projects in the city was cancelled. High over Barcelona, it seems to be engaging in lofty chitchat with the city's other designer tower, Sir Norman Foster’s Torre de Collserola. Calatrava aligned the mast with the earth’s axis so it can also be used as a sundial after the next solar flare knocks out electronic civilization. The trencadi-clad base is in homage to Gaudí.
Opposite the Torre is the Piscines Bernat Picornell, another survivor from 1929, converted for the Olympics and the finest swimming pool in Barcelona. The adjacent Plaça de Europa is built over a massive water tank. A local architect, Ricardo Bofill got a say as well, a typical neo- neoclassical National Institute of Physical Education, on Av. de l'Estadi.
For more on the history of the Barcelona's Olympics and other sports, visit the Anella's Museu Olimpic i de l'Esport.