Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia. I say again, Catalonia. Spain is an old place. The Romans set up shop here a long time ago and, still, they were late to the party. Spain has archeological sites 800,000 years old... People have been in Spain for a long time. And in that time, certain areas have had time to get stuck in their ways. The modern era of nation-states with its paltry three or four hundred years of wisdom hasn't really managed to budge the Basque people who have been around at least 1500 years and it the Catalonians aren't buying in to the new fangled situation either.
So I say again, Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia which is a semi-autonomous region of Spain which has a wonderful feisty and vivacious love for their ancient culture. The awful story of Franco and his fascism is still fresh in the memory of this city. Franco wanted to force uniformity on his people and so he banned the cultural expressions of Catalonia and the Basque region. This is the same sort of thing the Brits did to the Irish and the Scottish at various moments in history and, like the Irish and the Scottish, the people held on to their ancestral heritage all the more tightly. Catalonia is a proud and wonderful part of Spain which is really discovering itself again since Franco's demise in 1975.
The major name everyone associates with Barcelona is Antoni Gaudí. He is the architect responsible for that melting ice cream, vaguely Dr. Seuss looking architecture which is best epitomized by the Sagrada Familia.
What makes Barcelona so appealing is the frenetic energy of the place. Some cities ooze culture; others exude peace. Barcelona gets the blood pumping and makes the hairs on the arms stand up. There's an electricity to the city that can't really be defined or explained.
The Basilica of Sagrada Familia (the Holy Family) is still under construction. It's been under construction since 1882... You read that right. The Basilica is a must-see. To be honest, I don't love it. As a Church, I think it fails by every measure. It's much more pagan than Catholic in it's architecture. BUT - it is a wonder to behold all the same.
The Cathedral is located in the old, medieval part of the city and is also lovely. The first time I came here, I stumbled upon a group of dancers who had just left Mass. They came out with the priest and congregation and just started a huge folk dance. It was clearly unplanned - the only people who expected it were the dancers themselves. There was no festival or advertisement. The priest was surprised. But the dancers told me (when the dance had ended) that it was a pretty day, so why not dance?