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Plaza to plaza in Barcelona.

Plaza to plaza in Barcelona

A Mediterranean appreciation for the high drama of daily life makes Barcelona a city of plazas. It's there that Barcelonans become most themselves, gossiping, cuddling babies, and coaching the babies' older siblings in the proper methods of booting a soccer ball.

Barcelona is also a city of exuberant art and architecture--a city half-drunk on visual pleasures, you might think, as you eye the undulating walls of a Gaudi apartment house or the brilliant surface color of a Miro sculpture.

It's fitting, then, that the two passions-- for society and for art--have come together. In 1979, Barcelona's city government embarked on a program of creating new public spaces. It invited world-famous artists, from Roy Lichtenstein to Salvador Dali, to shape the results.

The new plazas (or placas, as this Catalan-speaking city calls them) amuse and intrigue. Like the red pepper that spices zarzuela, Barcelona's famous shellfish stew, they're small but vital ingredients in a piquant mix.

Our first tour focuses on Barcelona's main train station, Estacio de Sants.

1. La Placa dels Paisos Catalans. In front of the station, a steel canopy rises forbiddingly from a granite base.

2. La Placa de Sants. West from the station, this heavily trafficked intersection holds in its center Jorge Castillo's charming Cyclist, who seems intent, as you may be, on getting across the street in one piece.

3. El Parc de l'Espanya Industrial. Directly south of the station lies one of the wittiest public parks we've ever seen. It was in Catalonia that Spain's industrial revolution was born; this park both honors and parodies the native work ethic, with futuristic towers and a rusted dragon that might have been forged in the bowels of a steel mill.

The wit is saved from grimness by lawns and terraced ponds. (You can float the ponds on boats rented for about 80 cents per person for a half-hour.)

4. El Parc de l'Escorxador. Walk south from the station on Carrer de Tarragona to reach this park, which has a lush palm garden. There's a striking sculpture by Barcelona native Joan Miro, Dona amb ocell (Lady with Bird), pictured at upper left on the preceding page.

Plazas on our second route lie in popular tourist areas. You walk from the harbor into La Ciutat Vella (the old city) and the Barri Gotic to the Parc de la Ciutadella.

5. Moll de Bosch i Alsina. This palmy harborside mall is reached by red pedestrian drawbridges. At its west end sprawls a sculpture that resembles an X chromosome. Nearby are the maritime museum and harbor cruises, fine attractions.

6. La Placa de la Merce. Cross Passeig de Colom and walk through the Placa del Duc de Medinaceli to this small, very urban plaza dominated by a statue of Neptune. From here, you can walk north and east to the Barri Gotic, the Picasso Museum, and Barcelona Cathedral.

7. El Passeig de Picasso. Antoni Tapies' Homage to Picasso stands on the street that forms the western border of the Parc de la Ciutadella, home to the Barcelona zoo. Encased in a plastic cube are bundles of Victorian furniture strapped together in a slapdash way that makes you think of Laurel and Hardy's The Music Box.

The final plaza on our tour lies off by itself, near a must-stop for Barcelona tourists, Antonio Gaudi's La Sagrada Familia. The southwest end of L'Avinguda de Gauddi has been made into a charming mall defined by a steel trellis and lamppost monuments to the Catalan architect.

There are other new plazas. Some of the most interesting, with works by Lichtenstein, Richard Serra, and Beverly Pepper, lie far from normal tourist routes. For a free guide to some of Barcelona's other pleasures, write to National Tourist Office of Spain, 8383 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 960, Beverly Hills, Calif. 90211.

Photo: Enthusiasm for form makes public spaces a visual delight. Above, Miro's madcap Lady With Bird shimmers in pond; right, L'Avinguda de Gaudi steers the eye to La Sagrada Familia; below, heroic towers of Parc de l'Espana Industrial bristle over boaters

Photo: First tour of plazas centers on main train station, Estacio de Sants. Total distance is less than 2 miles

Photo: Second tour goes from harbor to park and Gothic quarter in less than 1 1/2 miles

Photo: A furniture mover's nightmare? Antoni Tapies' plexiglass assemblage, Homage to Picasso, stands near Parc de la Ciutadella
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Date:Dec 1, 1987
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