The Olympic Side of Barcelona

pastgames-barcelona1992

A few months ago, after my first visit to London, I wrote about the Olympic Side of London and what can you do and see in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Now, it is time to guide you through the Olympic side of Barcelona and the memories from Barcelona 1992.

I have mentioned before that I am a huge fan of the Olympic movement, it is in my genes since my whole family has strong ties to sports. The thing is that, even if you don’t normally watch sports, you should care about this event because is huge…one of the most broadcasted sport competitions in the world, which usually has a tremendous impact on the cities or countries elected to host it. And Barcelona is one of those who mostly benefited from it.

A bit of history

The 1992 Summer Olympic Games were the first games in 30 years to take place boycott-free and this happened due to the recent political changes:

  • the fall of the Berlin Wall and reunification of West and East Germany in 1989
  • the dissolving of the Soviet Union and birth of 15 separate countries in 1991
  • the official abolition of the Apartheid laws (racial segregation between white, black, colored and indian people) in South Africa, which allowed the country to compete for the first time since 1960
  • due to the military wars against Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, Yugoslavia was banned for taking part in any team sports but individual Yugoslav athletes were allowed to participate as independent
  • Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia-Herzegovina competed as separate nations for the first time
  • Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia sent their first independent teams since the 1920s-1930s, whereas the other 12 former Soviet countries participated as the ‘Unified Team’

As for Barcelona as a city, the hosting of these Olympic Games was used as a tool for urban renewal. Under General Franco’s rule, Barcelona acted mainly as an industrial city and its population doubled in size during the 1960s and early 1970s. It was a period of rural-urban migration that took a chaotic form. Only after the fall of Franco’s authoritarian regime in 1975 and the change to democracy, the authorities became concerned about improving the quality of life of the population and investing in urban planning. The urban regeneration project started shortly after, but the nomination to host the Summer Olympic Games offered them the perfect excuse to make a complete change of the city.

  • the industrial area of Poblenou was turned into the Olympic Village
  • the seafront was remodeled, beaches were rehabilitated and the Olympic Port with the twin towers Arts Hotel and Mapfre Tower was built
  • in Montjuic area, the Olympic Stadium, the Sports Palace and Santiago Calatrava’s Communications Tower (also known as Torre Telefonica) were built, and the swimming facilities already in place were refurbished, and in Diagonal and Vall d’Hebron areas modern sport centres were created
  • the infrastructure of the city was improved: highways, streets, airport, parks and open spaces, commercial, office and recreation spaces, hotels
Memorable moments from the 1992 Summer Olympic Games

At the opening ceremony – dancers dressed in white danced the Sardana, Catalonia’s traditional circular dance; Jose Carreras and Montserrat Caballe performed ‘Barcelona’, a single released by her and Freddy Mercury in 1987 and also the anthem of these Olympic Games, as a reminder of Queen’s vocalist recent death; Antonio Rebollo, a Paralympic archer, lit the Olympic flame by firing a lighted arrow over the heads of the crowd.

During the competition:

  • The victory tour hand-in-hand by the white South African runner Elana Meyer and the black Ethiopian athlete Derartu Tulu, the second won the 10.000 meters event.
  • British Derek Redmond tore a hamstring during a 400-meter semi-final heat, after which his father entered the track without credentials and helped him complete the race, to a standing ovation from the crowd.
  • Chinese diver Fu Mingxia became the youngest Olympic gold medalist of all times at only 13 years old.
  • American Evelyn Ashford won her fourth career Olympic gold medal in 4×100 m relay at the age of 35 – one of only four women to achieve this in the Olympic history.
  • The ‘Dream Team’ of the USA, formed by basketball professional players and NBA stars Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Patrick Ewing and Charles Barkley, who took gold in the basketball competition.

At the closing ceremony – Stars, planets, demons and fantastical creatures created a magical stage about the origin of the world conceived as an ode to fire, the moon and the sun, the great painter of the Mediterranean. Plus fireworks and concerts.

It was a key moment for everyone, that is why these games are so cherished worlwide 🙂

Visiting the Olympic area of Barcelona

There are several areas in the city that host the former Olympic venues and athlete’s village, the most important being Montjuic, Diagonal, Vall d’Hebron, Poblenou and Barceloneta. In some you are able to enter by paying a fee or by participating in an event, others can only be seen from outside. Anyhow, it is best to check the conditions of each venue on their respective websites.

Below, you have a list of the ones that I consider most interesting.

The Anella Olimpica or the main Olympic Park, located in Montjuic area, contains the Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys (opening/closing ceremonies and athletics), Palau Sant Jordi sports hall (gymnastics, voleyball and handball), Telefonica Tower designed by Santiago Calatrava (for television coverage during the games), Piscina Municipal de Montjuic (diving and water polo), Piscines Bernat Picornell (swimming, synchronized swimming, water polo), Institut National d’Educacio Fisica de Catalunya (wrestling).

The Joan Antoni Samaranch Olympic and Sports Museum, located in Montjuic near the Olympic Park, was opened in 2007 and renamed in 2010 to honor the former president of the International Olympic Committee for 21 years and also a key person during the 1992 Olympic Games. It displays competitive and recreational sports, a hall of fame with outstanding athletes, major sports events, sports in different civilizations and other interactive installations. It’s awesome, trust me!

La Villa Olimpica de Poblenou, located in both Sant Marti and Barceloneta districts, used to host the former Olympic Village which became residential after the end of the Games. Besides the beautiful apartment buildings facing the sea, it also contains the Port Olimpic (sailing), Parc del Port Olimpic, the 154 m high towers Hotel Arts (used to house athletes, now a 5* hotel) and Torre Mapfre (used to house athletes, now an office building), Peix d’Or (goldfish metal structure designed by Frank Gehry near the Olympic port).

In the Diagonal area, we have the famous Camp Nou, current home of the FC Barcelona football team, which hosted the football competition, and the nearby Palau Blaugrana, home of the basketball, handball, roller hockey and futsal divisions of FC Barcelona, which used to host the judo competition and some demonstrations of roller hockey and taekwondo.

Pavello de la Vall d’Hebron (volleyball, now training venue for several indoor sports), Tennis Vall d’Hebron (tennis, now a municipal center for tennis and padel) and Velodrom d’Horta (track cycling, still the city’s main site for these events) are all located in the Vall d’Hebron area, in the northern part of the Horta-Guinardo district of Barcelona.

*Important!

There are guided tours offered at the Olympic and Sports Museum, which includes the interior of the museum and the Anella Olimpica, guided walking tours in the Gothic Quarter, which usually include the Villa Olimpica and Port Olimpic, or you can create your own tour following the information from the Contemporary Route on Barcelona Turisme official website.

If I sparkled your interest about the Olympic legacy in Barcelona, you can also read: project Barcelona Olimpica, a collaboration between the UAB university and Fundacio Barcelona Olimpica, some content published with the support of the same Olympic Foundation or the Barcelona 1992 page of the International Olympic Committee, where you can also see photos and videos, plus find other editions of the Olympic Games.


Enjoy the Olympic side of Barcelona! I visited most of the areas several times while living in Barcelona and also during my countless visits to the city. Feel free to comment below and send me any questions. 🙂

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