The Catalan capital has been heralded as one of the leading examples of how to revitalise a city through the Olympics, providing lessons for future cities wishing to host the popular sporting event. The makeover of the city came holistically, with transformations accounting for a new infrastructure and landscape, improvements in the economy and employment, and marking Barcelona as one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations.
Here are six ways in which the 1992 Olympics changed the face of Barcelona forever:
1. One of the most significant alterations to the city was the creation of two miles of beachfront using sand imported from Egypt. The beaches that stretch from Barceloneta going north have become a symbol of the city, reflecting Barcelona’s historic relationship with the sea, and now attract an abundance of tourists to their shores, lined with bars, restaurants and shops. The post-Olympic promenade, Passeig Marítim, further connects the city to the sea, stretching 5km along the coast and attracting everyone from locals, tourists and runners, to rollerbladers, cyclists and more.
2. Poblenou was another coastal neighbourhood rejuvenated by the Olympics, and has gradually transformed from an industrial collection of warehouses and factories into a trendy, modern hub. Once dubbed ‘the Catalan Manchester’, the pre-Olympic Poblenou district was considered one of the least attractive areas of the city. This changed radically due to the development of the Olympic Village and the removal of the train track that previously ran along the coast and divided the district and the sea.
3. Montjuïc is home to the city’s Olympic Stadium and Olympic swimming pools. The outdoor diving pool, designed by Antoni de Moragas in 1992, is located against the backdrop of the city’s landscape, including a spectacular view of Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia, encouraging the likes of Australian singer Kylie Minogue to use the pool as the set of her music video ‘Slow’ in 2003. However, the Olympic stadium was built decades earlier in 1929 as a venue for the 1929 International Exposition of the city. It was later refurbished as the Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys in 1992 and has since been the home for several sporting and music events.
4. The city’s ring roads, known as the Rondas, were specifically designed and implemented during the 1992 Olympics in an effort to reduce congestion in the highway network and facilitate movement through the city. The Ronda de Dalt connects easily to the rest of the city, while the Ronda Litoral crosses the coast. Work on 78km of new roads accounted for 95% of investments created from the Olympics into transport and infrastructure, including improvements on outer Olympic sub-host cities.
5. Things got a lot more green in the lead up to the Olympics, with the city’s array of green spaces dotted around, interspersed with impressive water features. Ponds and fountains were increased by an impressive 268% through investments in the city due to the Olympics, including Barcelona’s most iconic fountain, Font Màgica de Montjuïc (the Magic Fountain). Alongside the overlooking Palau Nacional, the fountain was drastically restored in time for the 1992 Olympics, complete with a live music show that is now classified as one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. The fountain also set the scene for Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballé’s live performance of ‘Barcelona’ in 1988 in celebration of the city being chosen as the host for the coming Olympics.
6. The positioning of Barcelona as one of the world’s leading tourist destinations has created dramatic changes to the city. Prior to the Olympics, there were approximately 1.7 million tourists in 1990, increasing by over six million over the next 14 years. The Olympics are often understood as a catalyst for change for the city, pushing for incentives to make the infrastructure more attentive to larger numbers of people. While tourism has its downsides, the economic boom and important infrastructural changes to cater to larger crowds have seen a transformation beyond recognition, inspiring future cities in need of urban regeneration.