Barcelona Arenas: From Bullring To Cash Cow

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Arenas Bullring, Barcelona’s iconic structure, once again felt the roar of the crowd and the tremble of footsteps upon its historic sands this year. However, no bull or matador was present. The bullring has been officially reborn as an entertainment complex. Arenas now houses 115 shops, a cinema and Barcelona’s brand new rock museum, Musel del Rock, adding another feather to the city’s already brimming architectural cap.

At a time when a financial black cloud is looming over Spain, the bullring-turned-mall has seen tremendous success largely due to its location near Plaça Espanya, Barcelona’s emblematic thoroughfare that sees the large majority of traffic to and from the airport. Arenas is also close to Montjuïc, the Museo Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, and the Fira de Barcelona, one of Europe’s most important trade conference centers.

The modifications to the original bullring were done by British Architect Richard Rogers, responsible for Paris’s controversial le Centre Pompidou and London´s Millennium Dome. Arenas was completed in March of 2011, and in its first week the complex received more than 300,000 visitors.

“We set out to re-establish Las Arenas as a 21st-century landmark for the city. This involved retaining the entire existing façade as well as re-integrating what had become an isolated traffic island into the city fabric,” explained Rogers.

The history of Las Arenas has always been a stormy one. Completed in 1900 in the Neo-Mudéjar (Moorish Revival) style, it set the style for bullrings all over Spain. However, in an ominous sign, within months of opening, Arenas saw its first death. Matador Domingo Del Campo, known under the fighting pseudonym “Dominguin,” was gored to death. The death went down in history giving legend to Arenas.

In 1914 a new bullring was built in Barcelona only a few miles away. Known locally as “El Sport” and officially titled “Monumental,” the bullring was considered more modern and better equipped. Las Arenas continued to function as a bullring until the Spanish Civil War when it became a republication guard headquarters. Arenas saw its last bullfight in 1977. Afterward, all bullfighting in Barcelona was officially moved to the Monumental Bullring and Arenas was completely abandoned.

During the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, the government tried many times without success to do something with the vacant structure, including a negotiation with the local conference center. No deal was struck and Arenas sat for more than two decades in slow decay, forgotten in a city racing into the 21st century.

But, as Ernest Hemingway once said, “Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter’s honor.” Not only could this be applied to bullfighting but to Arenas itself. In 2010 plans were drawn up for new modernist concept to be given to the bullring as a mall to complement the already thriving Plaça Espanya.

Ironically enough Monumental Bullring is in its last days. Catalonia banned Bullfighting in 2010 and Monument’s increasingly low turnouts mean that it will hold the last of Catalonia’s corridas in 2012, following which it will be turned into a small concert arena and bullfighting museum.

The future of Arenas looks rosy as it thrives with increasing numbers drawn to its “Plaza in the Sky” with 360-degree views over Barcelona and modern shopping experience. In a financially dark climate, Las Arenas is proof that success stories do exist and Barcelona is the city to reinvent them.

By Anthony Bain


About the Author

Anthony’s intrepid writings and accidental ramblings from deepest darkest Barcelona can be found at his blog The Barcelona Review.

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