Barcelona's Arc de Triomf – Not a Triumphal Arch

Barcelona’s Arc Was Built as a Gateway to the 1888 Universal Exhibition:

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Arc de Triomf - Photo by Bajajvikram

Barcelona’s Arc de Triomf carries the same name as its French cousin, but that is where the similarity ends as the Barcelona Arc is quite different, both architecturally and historically.

The famous Arc de Triomphe in Paris (though France actually has several that go by that name) was initiated by Napoleon to commemorate his battle victories whereas the Barcelona Arc de Triomf was erected for the 1888 Universal Exposition held at the Parc de la Ciutadella, where it served as the main gateway to the event.

It is equally different in appearance. Though it shares the same large scale and general ‘arch with horizontal lintel and vertical posts’ look, the Barcelona Arc is a bright orange brick that gives it a much less sombre facade. The style is similar to Moorish designs, known as Mudejar, not surprising since the Moors dominated Spain for centuries.

The decorations around the structure vary widely too from Napoleon’s triumphal arch. The exterior is adorned with stone carvings, including a frieze executed by the sculptor Josep Reynés. The delightful work symbolizes the welcoming of visitors to Barcelona. On the opposite side, a stone carving called Recompense executed by Josep Llimona decorates the wall.

Along the horizontal sections above the arc there are twelve statues of women representing various aspects of the city. It is accompanied by decorative elements symbolizing all the other provinces of Spain. At the top above the central figure there is a superbly crafted Coat of Arms, the official logo of Barcelona. Alongside the shield are two impressive looking lions. Those elements show an interesting mix and a deviation from Moorish influence, since Islamic art is decorative but contains no human or animal figures.

But the Moorish influence continues in the small minaret-style caps that adorn each of the integrated pillars on each side. Those are difficult to see from street level. But careful observation will reveal outstanding carving around each small dome, capped by a stellar carved ball at the very top.

Located between Passeig de Lluís Companys and Passeig de Sant Joan, the Arc de Triomf is easy to find. Many popular hotels are located within a kilometer of the entrance to Ciutadella Park where the Arc is located. It can be seen easily at the end of the wide promenade running in front of them.

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