When tourists book cheap flights to Barcelona, one of the first things they often do is buy a guide book – unaware they are following a tradition established in the mid-1700s, according to an exhibition at the city’s historical archive.
Arxiu Històric de la Ciutat de Barcelona (AHCB) contains invaluable documents, books and research dating back to the 13th century. Among its many treasures is a collection of city guides, dating from the 18th century to the present day. Some of these can be seen at the ‘Barcelona a mà: Guies urbanes’ (Barcelona at hand: city guidebooks) exhibition, giving valuable insight into how the city was portrayed to visitors at various times in history.
The display, in the hall of the beautiful Gothic-Renaissance Archdeacon’s house, shows how guides developed in line with social changes. The earliest were basically manuals, full of useful data for those visiting on business. As time went on, drawings (and later photographs) were added with a focus on historic buildings and ancient monuments. In the late 19th Century, the focus switched to the new modernist architecture of the Eixample district, as Barcelona strove to project the image of a dynamic, modern city. Meanwhile, the Universal Exhibition of 1888 set the trend for including important international events.
During the 20th century, Barcelona grew to prominence as a tourist destination. Guide books were translated into multiple languages, and emphasised the city’s leisure and heritage attractions – in particular, the works of Antoni Gaudi.
The AHCB is in the El Barri Gòtic quarter, at the centre of the Old City district, and cheap flights to Barcelona are available from Jet2.com.