Notes from Barcelona: Tibidabo

The highest point in the City of Barcelona, Tibidabo, hosts both a church and an amusement park. They are found in remarkable proximity – close enough that a roller coaster passes the foundation of the church.

The most famous church in Barcelona is Gaudi’s masterpiece Sagrada Família. It’s a marvel of ambition, design, and the longest-running construction project in the city.

Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona with construction crane in the background

The second most famous is Sagrat Cor, situated at the top of Tibidabo, the highest point in the City of Barcelona. Not nearly as many tourists visit Sagrat Cor as Sagrada Familia, both because the interior is quite modest and it takes some effort to get there (it’s literally on top of the tallest hill in the city).

Sagrat Cor church atop Tibidabo in Barcelona

Sagrat Cor also seems like the greatest zoning failure of all time. That’s because an amusement park practically overlaps the church. Here’s a broader shot so that you can see what I mean:

Broad view of Tibidabo in Barcelona showing Sagrat Cor church in remarkable proximity to Tibidabo Amusement ParkCC BY-SA 4.0, Link

There’s a roller coaster which runs along the base of the church, but remarkably, the roller coaster came first. The timeline is roughly:

1886-8: Hermitage built atop Tibidabo

1899: Amusement Park construction begins

1903-11: Crypt of Sagrat Cor built

1905: Tibidabo Amusement Park opens

1915-1951: Main Church of Sagrat Cor built

1952: Sagrat Cor consecrated

It seems that the church was willing to accept the proximity of the amusement park in exchange for building on the highest point in the city.

PS  The word for “roller coaster” in Spanish is montaña rusa, which translates literally as “Russian mountain.” This is because our modern roller coasters originated as sleds on specially-constructed ice slides in St. Petersburg back in the 17th century.

Notes from Barcelona: Roscón de Reyes

I used to think that the Twelve Days of Christmas (as in the famous carol) were the lead-up to the 25th. Turns out, they’re Christmas Day through January 5th (also known as Twelfth Night or Epiphany Eve). The lead-up is Advent, as in the calendars.

On Twelfth Night, the Three Kings (also known as the Three Wise Men or Magi) are said to have brought gifts (frankincense, gold, and myrrh) to the newly-born Baby Jesus. 

Here in Barcelona, and in other Spanish-speaking countries, there is a specific pastry to celebrate the occasion. It’s called a Roscón de Reyes, and it looks like this:

Paper crown, explanatory paper, and Roscón de Reyes cake

The one pictured above has candied fruit with marzipan on the interior, and I can tell you firsthand that it’s delicious!

The tradition here in Barcelona is that there are figurines representing the Three Kings inside the cake, as well as a dried bean. Finding a figurine is good luck. Whomever gets the bean with their piece is obliged to pay for the cake (bad luck?).

In Mexico, there are figurines of the Baby Jesus hidden in the cake, and whomever finds them is blessed.

Tonight in Barcelona, there are Parades of Kings (Cabalgata de Reyes) in neighborhoods throughout the city, as well as a grand main parade. At these parades, the Three Kings toss sweets to the onlookers, among other festivities.

Update #1: Found the Bean

Plate showing green ceramic "bean" with smiley face and marzipan residue

Update #2: Found the King

Plate showing ceramic "king" with marzipan residue