Montjuic: Treasure Mountain
Exploring the cornucopia of attractions on this coastal rise
By Duncan Rhodes
Take the Teleferic up to the castle, wander down to the Olympic Ring, call by an art museum or two, and finish with a performance at the Magic Fountain. It’s all in a day’s exploring of Barcelona’s Montjuic mountain.
A scenic wooded hill in the South West of Barcelona, rising 173m above sea level in between Placa Espanya and the commercial port, Montjuic gets its name from the Catalan meaning ‘Jewish Mountain’, and was once the home of the city’s Jewish community.
Thanks to its raised altitude, the hill was chosen as the site for the Castell de Montjuic fortification, which far from protecting the city in fact bombed it during the 1842 insurrection when Barcelona rose up against the Spanish government in Madrid. The garrison continued to be a sinister symbol on high for the rest of the century and beyond, serving as a political prison and even a place of execution for dissidents such as Catalan nationalist Lluis Companys who was killed there in 1940 by Franco’s men.
Today’s visitor to Montjuic is scarcely likely to feel any of these evil associations as they wonder around the mountain’s cultural treasures, surrounded by woodland, in what has become one of the most attractive areas of Barcelona. In the 1920s the hill was chosen as the site for several exciting new developments in time for the International Fair 1929. Amongst the new markers on Barcelona’s cultural map were the fabulous Palau Nacional, a majestic palace which now hosts the Museum of Catalan Art, the Font Magica (Magic Fountain), an impressive waterworks which spurts to the tune of classical music and still functions today, and Poble Espanyol, a mock-Spanish village designed to showcase the various regional styles of architecture on the peninsula, which has subsequently become one of Barcelona’s most popular tourist attractions. Also built was the Olympic Stadium, designed for the 1936 Games, however Barcelona lost out to Berlin… there were plans to stage an anti-fascist Games in their place but the Spanish Civil War put an end to that.
Thankfully all that brick-lugging was worth it in the end however as Barcelona did finally get there Olympic Games – in 1992. Around this time Montjuic saw a second wave of exciting projects, as many of the constructions built for the 1929 Fair were renovated, such as the Olympic diving pool, and several more were added. Most notably an ‘Anella Olympic’ or Olympic Ring of facilities was constructed, based around the renovated Olympic Stadium, which included the Sant Jordi Palace sports hall, the Picornell Olympic swimming pools (named after a Catalan waterbaby) and the Torre Telefonica Communications Tower, designed by Calatrava to transmit the Games on television.
Montjuic’s attractions don’t end there either. One of Catalonia’s most famous artists, Joan Miro, is celebrated at the Joan Miro Foundation, a vast museum of over 14,000 of his works. There’s also a delightful Botanical Gardens, for exploring Mediterranean fauna, the Pavelló Alemany (German Pavilion) designed by Mies van der Rohe (who designed the Barcelona Chair), the superb Caixa Forum, a factory-turned-exhibition space, and not forgetting the wonderfully romantic Teatre Grec (Greek Theatre), an ancient-style amphitheatre that hosts al fresco performances throughout the year – one of the best places to congregate during the yearly Montjuic de Nit festival (the festival is currently suspended, but we’re really hoping it makes a come back soon!).
Even the best way to reach Montjuic is an attraction in itself – the Teleferic de Montjuic Cable Car will hoist you up the hill in a skiing-style four-person carriage, right up to the Montjuic Castle. From this side of the mountain you can look down on the sprawling port. To access the attractions on the other side (the lion’s share) take the metro to Placa Espanya and approach between the 47m high twin Venetian Towers.
Take Barcelona eBikes “View Tour” and you’ll leave the flat Old Town and power your way effortlessly up the slopes of Montjuic, via the winding paths of the cactus gardens, up to the mirador for panoramic vistas over the port, Mediterranean and entire cityscape! After that you’ll take in some of the mountains other top attractions, like the Caixa Forum and palatial MNAC, all without breaking into a sweat, thanks to eBike’s electric power assisted pedalling! A great way to cover everything Montjuic has to offer in just a few hours.
You can find all of the mountain’s many attractions on a map on this page.
About the Author
Duncan established Barcelona Life in 2009, whilst freelancing for the likes of Conde Nast, The Guardian, Easyjet Magazine, CNN Traveller and many more. From interviews with Ferran Adria to revealing the secrets of the city’s poetry brothels, he knows the city inside out… and shares all his best tips right here.