Animals form part of many cultures and pagan rituals involve many animals both fictional and non-fictional. Although Spain is a Catholic country, Barcelona in particular is not a particularly religious Christian community, and has a proud heritage. Many of the city’s festivals and traditional processions involve animals - or rather models of giant animals, such as dragons, Eagles, horses, and unrecognisable beasts, too.
Of course, perhaps the most famous beast in Catalonia’s history is the dragon. Saint George is the Patron saint of Catalonia, and is paid homage in many different ways throughout the city – not least the UNESCO world Heritage site of Antonin Gaudi’s Casa Battlò, in downtown Passeig de Gracia Street. This building has a curved tiled back, representing the scales of the dragon’s back. This image is repeated in Gaudi’s Park Güell, with the ornate entrance to the park housing a magnificent dragon fountain which is reproduced all over the city on postcards, shop fronts, and even bakers’ windows.
Another medieval animal to figure predominantly in processions and Barcelona folklore is the bat. Yes, the nocturnal winged creatures have a long history in Barcelona traditions as a sign of strength. This can be seen in a few select areas – for example the magnificent Palau Güell in Barcelona’s old town (also another UNESCO World Heritage Site, designed by Gaudi), the rooftop has a collection of chimneys which usually grab the most attention, but the weather vane atop the building is that of a bat. And of course one of the most famous bats is that of the Rum Bacardi – whose founders were born in nearby Sitges, and moved to Cuba in the 1830s.
A selection of these Barcelona animals can be seen in the Institute of Culture Building on Las Ramblas - Barcelona’s famous boulevard, dissecting the old town. Inside, the models are on permanent display, and only taken out for special celebrations such as Corpus Christi, and the patron of Barcelona, Our Lady of Mercy’s celebration in late September, La Merçe. In here the Eagle model plays a predominant role, seated at the front of the display, and as the official information explains; “The Barcelona Eagle is mentioned in documents as far back as 1399 and was part of the municipal cortège, it was subject to strict protocol and was indispensable at all solemn city celebrations and on the aldermen’s journeys.
The Eagle lived its golden age in the 17th century when it was the subject of a number of dances and tunes. It disappeared in the first third of the last century and was recovered in 1989. The Eagle is part of the historic bestiary of Barcelona, together with the Lion, the Big Mule, the Bull, the Viper, the Dragon, the Monster and the little horses”. There are plenty of real animals and beasts to see in the city zoo or aquarium, but those with history and culture get my vote!