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3.83  ·  Rating details ·  1,342 ratings  ·  160 reviews
Barcelona is Robert Hughes's monumentally informed and irresistibly opinionated guide to the most un-Spanish city in Spain. Hughes scrolls through Barcelona's often violent history; tells the stories of its kings, poets, magnates, and revolutionaries; and ushers readers through municipal landmarks that range from Antoni Gaudi's sublimely surreal cathedral to a postmodern r ...more
Paperback, 592 pages
Published March 9th 1993 by Vintage (first published February 18th 1992)
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Average rating 3.83  · 
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 ·  1,342 ratings  ·  160 reviews

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Roy Lotz
You know, when gazing fork in hand upon a butifarra—the fresh pork sausage of Catalunya—with its attendant white beans, that you are looking at the Truth and, better yet, on the point of cutting into its blistered and slightly blackened skin, that you are about to taste the Truth of sausagehood, too.

In just a couple weeks, I’ll be taking my first trip to Barcelona. I’m excited to go. Barcelona is often talked about here as a kind of anti-Madrid. While Madrid is central and conservative, Barc
Jun 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It’s hard to imagine a better guide to a city than this. Hughes’s account spans nearly two thousand years, “from the emergence of Barcelona as a tiny Augustan colony in the first century A.D. to the death of [Antonio] Gaudí in 1926.” The book is divided into two large sections: Part I: The Old City, which tells the story of Barcelona from prehistory through Roman settlement, the arrival of Christianity, the Arab conquest, the reconquest, the union of the kingdoms of Aragon and Catalunya that ena ...more
Sharon Barrow Wilfong
I was reading other interviews on Amazon and it seems the major complaint was that the book should have been more concise and covered less information about the history of Catalonia. One person was irate that there was no mention of the soccer team.

As for me, I did not think it was too long, I liked the extensive track through history starting with the earliest records, the different kingdoms, rise and fall of kings, queens, aristocracy and such.

By reading Hughes fluid writing, one discovers ho
Feb 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Barcelona is a great city and I have been several times including spending 2 months there in 2006 on sabbatical. Hughes loves the city and even learned the language, Catalan. Hughes' text centers on the building of the city and how it developed. It was a planned city in a similar vein as Washington DC. Of course the world knows the great architect Gaudi, but not the other great architects. Gaudi was considered something of a "crackpot" during his lifetime, and has no equal. He was both a radical ...more
Dec 19, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Robert Hughes is a cantacertous art critic who has produced some fine
retrospectives on American and Modern Art. He describes himself primarily a writer who writes about art, which will make sense
after reading Barcelona. This is wonderful combination economic/cultural history of a place that is its own nation. Respectful
but not reverential Hughes examines the economic success of Catalonia and the cultural supportors it spawned. Another important factor for
defining the Catalonia identity is that i
Mar 25, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a fine little book, a pared down version of Hughes’s bigger volume, Barcelona. For those who do not require a blow-by-blow account of Catalan history, this smaller book is just the thing.

Hughes loves Barcelona and knows it well. That he often means “Catalunya” when he says “Barcelona” is not too important if you’re not reading this for academic reasons. Yet it surprised me to read some other errors and inaccuracies.

The worst of them was his use of Castilian for several Catalan place nam
Jun 23, 2010 rated it really liked it
Hughes is a great writer and insightful critic who has penned the ultimate biography of a city that harks back to Roman times and has been completely reinvented itself since the death of Franco, who attempted to crush Catalan culture, language and soul.

That said, his subject is little parochial unless you:

1) Plan to visit Barcelona or know the city well
2) Are a fan of art and architecture criticism

In addition to those two subjects, Hughes' survey is exhaustive, covering literature, agriculture,
Aug 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I happened on this book by accident a few years back and relished it. An ode to the city and to love, and is maybe more accessible to readers who found the earlier and fatter 'Barcelona' fabulous but hard work. Next time you visit, leave TimeOut and LPlanet behind (way too ponderous and beaten track in any case) and instead take this lovely work with you. I'm re-reading it now and reflecting how much we miss Bob Hughes: his prose, his acerbic originality and intellect, simply knowing he was ther ...more
Mar 29, 2009 rated it really liked it
My father is from Barcelona, and most of the family still lives there. I've been multiple times and find the city both utterly absorbing due to its architecture, food, fashion, nightlife, futbol as well as utterly frustrating due to its peoples obsession with the Catalan language and snob-ness because they are from Barca.

This book goes all the way in explaining where the Catalan nationalist sentiment comes from - From it's affinity to republican movements in Northern Europe rather than catholic
Jul 28, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: urban-studies
I have to confess to a gruding respect for Hughes, for his learnedness, his cantankerousness, and his sensitivity to the complexity of aesthetic environments. This is an extremely good outsider's story of Barcelona - a haunting, complex, contradictory city with its history of radical politics (potent anachist and communist histories here), its deepseated reactionary cultural nationalist (there was little 'progressive' about Gaudi), its distinctive architecture, its vibrant districts, and its unc ...more
Mary & Tom
Sep 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, architecture
Robert Hughes' research and writing are wonderful. It took me a long time to read this. What sparked my interest in Barcelona was La Familia Sagrada. Hughes' book covers an entire history of the city including economic, political, and artistic realms.

Gaudi and his architecture are saved for the last chapter. Hughes does not hold back on his opinion that the continued work on the church since Gaudi's death and the loss of Gaudi's models and plans during the Spanish Civil War has resulted in kits
Paula Jorgensen
Aug 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I just wanted to know a bit more about this city -- and well, now I do. The book reminded me three important things:
1) How much I learned from reading The Fatal Shore before I came to Australia,
2) Why Australians hate their own Robert Hughes (you are too grand and confident a thinker for this flat island, Mate! )
3) This level of information is the difference between a pop song on an ipod and a symphony orchestra

Jun 20, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013, spain
This book could use an editor. Unfortunately it got one, and the result, Barcelona: the Great Enchantress, could use beefing up. I'm like Goldilocks with this thing. But seriously, dude bangs on for page after page about buttresses on some church or whatever, jeez. ...more
Apr 22, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spanish-lit
One of the places I would love to see, Hughes not only gives a great view and love of the city, he gives some tidbits for travelers to seek out.
Aug 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
Interesting history of Barcelona from Roman times up til just before the 1992 Olympics. The most interesting parts of the book are the end where he talks about the Barcelona Art Nouveau and Guadi and the milieu from which they emerged. (Basically there was both a left- and right-wing modernism allied with socialism/anarchism and Catalan nationalism/Catholicsm, respectively, with Gaudi coming from an ultraconservative Catholicism.) I wish it had more illustrations. There were many intriguing work ...more
Jan 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Look, this book is outrageously good. I picked it up in Barcelona for local color and it was just so interesting that I kept reading state-side. Unfortunate that he ends on Gaudi, as I thought that was not his strongest note, but I understand the need to organize it that way. I would love to see this updated after the Olympics and the formation of the EU.

If you are travelling to Barcelona and are a reader -- this is the one. Start before you leave.
Wendy Feltham
Oct 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
This very complete history of Barcelona is frequently fun to read because of Hughes's irreverent Australian attitude, and sometimes a bit tedious due to all the details about obscure people's lives. Overall Hughes tells a fascinating story of beautiful Barcelona, with lots of information about the life of Gaudí and other architects. I skimmed through several sections about clerics and others that weren't of much interest to me. I wish this book could be updated to include current events. ...more
Dec 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Despite his admission that this is a "non-scholarly" reading of the city's history, I found it to be exhaustively researched and very comprehensive. This is a terrific starting point for those interested in how Barcelona has evolved into the mysterious and layered city that it is today...or at least in 2000, the last time I was there... ...more
Jun 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
I bought this after seeing the Woody Allen film Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona. Robert Hughes' writing is always clear, crisp and personal; this book is no exception. It may be a little dense for an overview of the city, but it's a great basis for understanding the historic underpinnings of Catalunya. ...more
May 11, 2011 rated it really liked it
fantastic bio of a thrilling city. Hughes is a sympathetic, knowledgeable, fun, and good writer and at almost 600 pages you get enough, i do believe. Author Hughes wrote a re-worked version of this in 2004 for a series called "national geographic directions" which is much more manageable for the armchair historian/art/architecture eggheads at 170 pages. ...more
Thomas Fortenberry
Apr 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is one of my favorite travel books ever. Can't exactly pinpoint why, but this is a wonderful read and one of the most detailed portraits of a city I have ever read. A great mix of now and history -- the art and culture and architecture and people all come alive in these pages. ...more
Jul 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I give this one a 5 because I love the subject of this book. However, be ready to be bombarded with more architectural detail that the average layperson can handle in one sitting. I read this book before, during, and after my visit to this city and enjoyed it thoroughly.
Oct 07, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was told by a guide in Barcelona who took us to the Dali Museum and who is also a writer/photographer/art historian that this book and the longer version from 1993 is probably the best biographical information about Gaudi available ( and for some reason, there is not much available).
Feb 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating, well-written book that explains Barcelona from the very early Roman years to Gaudí's impossible projects. Must-read for anyone who is interested in Barcelona and/or Catalonia. ...more
Dec 15, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: own
3,5 stars

Some parts were very interesting while other were rather boring. I did learn a lot of things about this city and I am so happy that I read it during my stay here in Barcelona.
Jun 07, 2021 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
It gets boring after the first 20%.

The first 20% is about the author's third marriage, where the wedding was held in the old Barcelona City Hall. The author cheated on his second wife for six years with the third wife, who was 26 when he was 51.

The author is a professional art critic, and his tone is a smug critical one. He comes across as self-important, and it made me take with a huge grain of salt his strong opinions about art and Barcelona.
Apr 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
A colossal work filled with countless details. Many parts are exceptionally interesting, while some are exhaustingly boring. Regardless, "Barcelona," like the city itself, is a grand achievement worthy of both the temporary pain and endless passion of exploring it in detail. ...more
Erik Wirfs-Brock
Aug 06, 2013 rated it liked it
Erudite and wide ranging, but a bit of a slog to get through. My previous experience with Robert Hughes was his super awesome history of Prisoner Transportation in Australia, and while I didn't expect that level of craziness in a history focused on art and architecture, I also didn't expect to come away thinking that most of the history of Barcelona is pretty dull. I will certainly take it with me if/when I ever visit Barcelona however, as even though it is twenty years old I am sure it is a ver ...more
Jun 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
Pretty much a seminal work for anyone who wants to know about/is travelling to Barcelona. By turns history & travelogue it's a great way to prepare for a trip armed with knowledge and context before the wheels of the plane hit the ground. Since it came out in '93, if you want more background on more recent history about Spain's current economic issues and the current state of the Catalunya independence movement, you need to find it elsewhere. But that's hardly Hughes' fault for writing the book ...more
Jun 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
A very well written book. I have learned a great deal about Barcelona and it's artists and architects. I am disappointed that the book ended in the 1930's and did not continue into the 1990's. The book also took a great deal of time on Guadi and in fact ends with his death. While Gaudi is important I would have rather had more information on other artists like Picasso and Salvador Dali and just more general history. ...more
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Robert Studley Forrest Hughes, AO was an Australian art critic, writer and television documentary maker who has resided in New York since 1970. He was educated at St Ignatius' College, Riverview before going on to study arts and then architecture at the University of Sydney. At university, Hughes associated with the Sydney "Push" – a group of artists, writers, intellectuals and drinkers. Among the ...more

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“Barcelona has always been more a city of capital and labor than of nobility and commoners; its democratic roots are old and run very deep. Its medieval charter of citizens’ rights, the Usatges, grew from a nucleus which antedated the Magna Carta by more than a hundred years. Its government, the Consell de Cent (Council of One Hundred), had been the oldest protodemocratic political body in Spain.” 1 likes
“What little I knew of the city was that three decades before, in the name of the Spanish Republic, it had resisted General Franco (1892-1975) and paid a heavy, bitter price for it; that George Orwell, one of my literary heroes, had written a book about it called Homage to Catalonia; that in that book he had got most things right, but had been spectacularly wrong in dissing the admittedly very peculiar Antoni Gaudí, claimed by the French surrealists, who had designed that enormous penitential church seemingly made of melted candle wax and chicken guts.” 1 likes
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