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When tourist reinvention spins out of control

Barcelona’s success in turning itself from a little-known industrial port to an international mecca is beginning to backfire, writes Robert Pimm

Financial Times, April 29 2006

The narrow alleyways of the Gothic quarter lie at the heart of Barcelona’s old city. As the afternoon sun begins to sink, shutters rise, noise levels pick up and enticing smells waft between the ancient buildings.

But not everyone is here to soak up Catalan culture. Outside a brace of Irish pubs in the Carrer de Ferran, signs advertise “Live Premier League Action”. Round the corner in the picturesque Carrer de la Boqueria, boards outside the Travel Bar promise “More drunken adventures at 9.30: 4 Bars & one club” and “Tonight: 2 pints or 2 cocktails €6, extra sexy bar staff”.

The Sacrada Familia – a world-class reason to visit Barcelona – Photo RP

The trouble with Barcelona is that it offers too much for too many people. In the 1980s, the city was synonymous with sophisticated urban living and Mediterranean flair. The 1992 Olympics brought a rash of mixed-quality regeneration and a PR bonanza. Now the budget airlines boom has made Barcelona accessible to a global pool of potential visitors. The question is how many tourists a city of 1.5m can absorb before the culture that people come for is diluted beyond recognition.


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