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Europe Friday, 31 July, 1998, 15:27 GMT 16:27 UK
Barcelona's buzzing...
Panorama of Plaza Catalan in Barcelona
The Plaza Catalan in the heart of Barcelona

Listen to the programme in full

Crossing Continents visits one of Europe's most vibrant and stylish cities - Barcelona - and finds out how its rich cultural life is becoming even richer. From the exuberant celebrations of the Feast of Saint John on the 'liveliest street in Spain', the Ramblas, to the leafy intellectual oasis of the Ateneu club, the programme examines some of the issues currently being debated in the city.

Barcelona's Jewish comunity is rediscovering its past
Perhaps the most unexpected element in Barcelona's cultural mosaic is the flourishing revival of its once-underground Jewish community. In 1492, the Spanish King Ferdinand and Queen Isabela expelled all Jews from Spain, instigated the Inquisition and forced any remaining Jewish families to convert to Christianity. Now, for the first time, after five centuries of persecution, fear and social stigma, Jews in Barcelona and across Spain are delving deep into their family trees, reviving their culture and trying the once-unthinkable idea of being Spanish and Jewish at the same time. Presenter Meriel Beattie visits the people and the centres of this reborn community and teases out the joys and the pains of being Jewish in Spain today.

Sardana (Catalan dance) sculpture in Barcelona
A sculpture depicts the Catalan national dance, the sardana
Although outsiders tend to see it simply as a Spanish city, Barcelona is in fact the capital of the region of Catalunya, and its native tongue is Catalan - a language closely related to, but very different from, Castilian Spanish and French. Banned from official use by General Franco's regime for over 40 years, it's now enjoying a tremendous revival, and even legal backing. Local laws passed earlier this year require all public signs, loudspeaker announcements, shop displays and TV programmes to be in Catalan as well as Spanish.

Catalans are fiercely proud of their heritage, and the law was designed to make sure the language would never die out, but there are those who feel that now people who want to speak Spanish are being marginalised. Crossing Continents speaks to two teachers, who despite both being of Catalan descent and fluent in the language, disagree violently over how the language should be promoted.

Catalan acrobats in human castle
Building a castellier is a tricky process
There are also more physical demonstrations of Catalan identity: most notably in local music, the distinctive traditional dance, the sardana, and the phenomenon of the Castellier - the human castle. These enormous balancing acts are put together by squads of enthusiasts who train each week, vying to build the biggest and tallest castle they can. Meriel witnesses the nerve-wracking building of what she calls 'a sort of human wedding cake' and waits with bated breath as a little boy tries to complete the endeavour by shinning to the top and raising his hand...

Plus, Barcelona journalist Luis Amiguet discusses the Spanish obsession with gossip, and the incontrovertible fact that magazines detailing the goings-on of the rich and famous are a boom industry in Spain.

Ramblas accordion music in 1998
Listen to the buskers on the Ramblas...
Luis Amiguet and Meriel on gossip rags
on gossip: "What you have in the Sun, we have in Hola!"
Links to more Europe stories are at the foot of the page.

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