Tourism spaces (4b)

A tourism experience can be inseparable from a location or reproducible in any place, and this later condition can still imply a relation with space, or more precisely, the way in which it is perceived;  for instance, the roller coasters.

There is a singular example: zorbing,  a sport consisting in going down a slope into a plastic ball. I have no doubt on its special condition, even if it is clearly off the traditional concept of tourism. It appeared in 1994 in Rotorua, on New Zealand’s North Island. The original compound has a length over 100 m, on a natural slope, with three tracks, one straight and the rest curved. It reminds me of some images of sci-fi in the 1970s (the only missing thing is walking on water while inside the sphere). There is also something of Sisyphus, the Greek mythological caracther.

The site of the company that invented the sport and exploits the franchise,, is interesting, and its Chinese derivation (I do not know of any relation between both companies), rather colorful, on

Biblio (41) The Odyssey

Ithaca nowadays, in a Landsat Image. You can see it in , northeast from Kefalonia, south of Corfu (a direct link would be against the spirit of the book). And I'm not sure google maps would be better...

Ithaca nowadays, in a Landsat Image. You can see it in , northeast from Kefalonia, south of Corfu (a direct link would be against the spirit of the book). And I’m not sure google maps would be better… and I am not sure that google maps would be better for what is at stake here.

I have already seen more than forty times how the year changes, I have studied in four universities in three countries, I speak and have read books in several languages; but until now I had never read the Odyssey.

The story of Odysseus, the rich in cunning, the destroyer of cities, surprises me in many ways. By what I had heard or read in an indirect way, I had understood this was the story of a fallen hero subject to the wrath of the gods. But Odysseus (or Ulysses, under his Latin name) is really a cunning and quarrelsome character, not at all exemplary (his behavior would lead him before the justice several times nowadays) and surrounded by a band of drunk profiteers going from island to island, abusing as much as they can those that provide hospitality and suffering sometimes the consequences of such behavior. It is as if a character from the picaresque novels from the golden age of the Spanish literature had become king and writer of his own saga. Or, in more contemporary terms, the picture “The hangover” (2009) as if the main character was a member of a royal family.

This is by no means a deception, but quite the opposite; despite the archaic narrative format, the story finally gets you, even if you know right from the onset how it ends, as the interesting is in things that are not what they seem. Sometimes a whole year is described by just a sentence as “we enjoyed her hospitality, her food and her wine for a year”; the important is not motion, but the experiences, as therein lies the rub.

I assume some of my frequent readers must think I have decided to change the direction of the blog; but no. I just feel there is time to talk tourism again, but from the idea of experience and how it can permeate a landscape, a city, a building or an object.

The Odyssey can be downloaded from

Barcelona (14)

W Hotel

The new W hotel on the southern end of the Barceloneta beach is a new landmark. Even being quite diferent from the seashore tourist compuounds of the 1960’s, it is also a difficult to explain element in a country in which the limitations imposed to new buildings on the shore have been subject to a bitter debate, despite the growing justification given by the climatic projections regarding coastal risks.

Barcelona (13)

Barceloneta from the W hotel

The Barceloneta appears as a neighborhood during the XVIIIth century to relocate the Ribera neighborhood dwellers, displaced by the building of the citadel. It is a planned with a grid layout, with buildings on very small lots. Its sea façade is the mere addition of the side facades of these small five to six stories buildings.

Street in the Barceloneta

Barcelona (12)

Barcelona is the typical case of a city that is said to have « turned its back to the sea ». In fact, as almost always, in the mental map of its inhabitants the sea was a marginal place when related to other more valued spaces.

The old city of Barcelona is constrained by the presence to the South of the Montjuic mountain, whose base is right on the shore; the port operations have historically grown towards that area, and urban extensions would have been unfeasible due to the slopes. On the opposite side, the North coast is quite flat, without noticeable obstacles up to the Besos river.

The northern seashore of Barcelona in 1947 (

The northern seashore of Barcelona in 2012

When Cerdá conceives his ensanche in 1859 on the plains surrounding the old city on the north and west, the northern seashore is integrated. The ensanche takes about a century to cover, but this happens in an unbalanced way; while the trace is quite respected (albeit highly densified) on the area closest to the old city, in the northern areas it is modified and more often industrial than residential. The main lines of the grid can also be seen ther, but the continuity of the pattern is compromised in areas, the plaza de las Glorias does not reach the potential civic center status devised by Cerdá and the beachs are mere marginal areas.

Two events change the situation: the 1992 Olympics deploy in the area the Olympic port and the Olympic village, taking advantage of a previous holistic vision of the city, and the Diagonal finally reaches the seashore by the Besos mouth, dynamised by the forum 2004.

These events allow the creation of a string of beaches with high quality parks on their back; this array of public spaces is separated from a new urban tissue by the ronda litoral, a freeway on a lower level than the streets, with a reasonable pedestrian permeability.

Mar Bella park

The seashore is quite gentrified in the process.

Tourism spaces (3c)

The Cathedral on the Obradoiro Square

Santiago de Compostela is a municipality (pop 95.000 in 2011) which is the capital of Galicia, the northwestern region of Spain.

The burial site of the apostle Saint James is discovered in the IXth century; according to some legends he came to Spain to spread the gospel, but other sources say that his disciples transported his remains from Palestine to Galicia in a boat. The discovery brings pilgrims, and the sanctuary gains political force and urban size. A large part of Spain is occupied by muslims, as well as Jerusalem, and the rise of a relevant shrine in one of the ends of the known land appears as an opportunity to expand the catholic religion.

Saint Peter in Rome (left) and the Cathedral of Santiago and its urban surroundings

The Cathedral becomes with the time one of the biggest in Europe, although far from the size of Saint Peter in Rome. The firs element is a small chapel. Works for a major temple begin in 1075, and in 1211 a Romanesque cathedral is consecrated, becoming the basis of the present building with some later alterations (mainly the baroque façades).

Obradoiro square from the north

The Cathedral from Azabachería square

Stairs on Quintana square


The building sits on a complex ground, with sizeable level changes, and so the Cathedral is surrounded by squares and large stairways. Today it is possible to visit a space that is almost an additional square: the stone roofs of the central building, allowing for good view over the historical center.

View from the stone roofs

The Cathedral and most of the buildings in the old city are in granite; the quite rainy climate and the condition of the stone have it often covered in part by moss, and the effect of pollution is also relevant for conservation. The building is subject to periodical conservation works, and from the 1980s there has been a strong conservation activity in relevant historical buildings and also in more domestic architectures.

Pilgrims mean a communication and innovation current during the middle ages, as well as the emergence of a network of churches and inns in the different parts of the Way of Saint James. The most relevant section is the French Way, that goes through northern Castille, crosses the Pyrenees at Roncesvalles and has in Paris a relevant node, with ramifications towards other parts of Europe.

The Diocese becomes powerful as one of the main actors in the region due to the pilgrim’s gifts, and keeps that power for centuries. The University is established in 1459, being one of the oldest in the world. In the XVIth century a part of the political power is transferred to La Coruña, 60 km to the north. The new quasi-federal regime of today’s Spain means that Santiago becomes the capital of the Galician region in the 1980s, and the old city is inscribed in the World Heritage List in 1985.

Tourism is one of the main sources of revenue in the city, along with its function as regional capital and the University. A part of the tourists still come by the Way of Saint James, be it walking, biking or astride their horses, meaning a low carbon tourism (despite the fact that their trips back home are often in motorized modes). The municipality has less than 10% of the provincial population, but its touristical index (a synthetic indicator calculated by the Anuario Económico de España 2011) shows it concentrates 38% of its tourism activity. There is a wide array of prices and qualities, from the Hostal de los Reyes Católicos as the most emblematic hotel to low cost youth hostels. Tourist arrivals multiply on holy years (those in which the festivity of Saint James is on Sunday).

Some links:


Tourism office: