Not only did the 1992 Summer Olympics bring Barcelona to the centre of the world stage, but they also gave this historical city a new lease of life. As with many cities that have been given such a prestigious and monumental event, cash was injected to give visitors a good impression, and the numbers of these visitors increased dramatically. Tourism soared, and has continued to do so ever since.
However, the benefits to Barcelona went further than this. Barcelona is the capital city of Cataluna, one of the seventeen autonomous regions of Spain, and the Games brought the Catalan culture into the eyes of the rest of the world.
A survey carried out by the Games organizers had demonstrated that Spain was largely associated with sun, siestas and sangria, and also bullfighting, castañets and flamenco. The Catalan culture was virtually unheard of outside of Western Europe, and in keeping with the objectives of most other modern Olympic Games, the challenge was how to fairly and accurately project the culture and people of Spain while maintaining the essence of this part of the country.
Barcelona had applied for these Games three times previously without success, and it was particularly appropriate that the city should be awarded the 1992 Olympic Games because it was exactly 500 years after Christopher Columbus discovered America for Spain.
The city was transformed in preparation for the event, not only in terms of the new sporting complexes constructed but also with the refurbishment and renovation of the El Prat Airport and the Olympic Port in Poble Nou. Better known as Port Olimpic, this area is close to the Villa Olimpica, and famous for its fabulous restaurants and its unique clubs and bars.
However, the most important consequence of the Barcelona Olympic Games of 1992, other than the sporting spectacle itself and what it did for tourism in Spain and Barcelona in particular, was in the promotion of the Catalan culture. In 1992 Catalonia, as Cataluña is generally know outside Spain, was not generally recognized abroad as a distinctly separate area of Spain, and its culture was likewise unknown to all but those with an interest in the country.
These Olympics changed all that, and Barcelona and its Catalan culture hit the map and has been prominent in the geography, culture and cuisine of Spain ever since. Many tourists visit Barcelona only because of that. However, that was not the only aspect of Spain and Barcelona that was brought into the public eye. The architecture of Gaudi and the art of masters such as Goya became known to ordinary visitors, not just to those educated in these facets of Spanish culture. The great Pablo Picasso has a museum in Barcelona.
In terms of advertising Barcelona as a cultural centre and a ‘must’ on many people’s lists of places to visit, the Olympic Games of 1992 achieved in a few short weeks what it would otherwise have taken decades to achieve. It was not just the construction of Port Olímpic and Villa Olímpica, but also the sports facilities in Montjuic, Vall d’Hebron and Diagonal that are lasting reminders of the benefits that Barcelona won when they also won the Olympics.
Unlike most games sites, those in Barcelona have been put to use after the games, and many are still well-used sports facilities while others offer high-class luxury apartments for business and tourism. The Olympic Village (aforementioned Villa Olímpica) is one such area that now offers luxury apartments, many for short-term let.
The Olympic pool in Montjuic is still in use by the public, and not only facilities such as these, but also the significant increase in tourism since 1992, has rendered Barcelona a very popular destination for vacations and business shows and conferences. Over the 10 years from 1990 to 2000, the city experienced a 110% increase in tourism, and between 1992 and 2002, 105 more hotels have been opened.
Barcelona is now amongst the top 4 most visited cities in Europe, the others being London, Rome and Paris. The people of Barcelona are rightly proud of what have been described as the ‘model Olympics’ because of the sustained benefits to the city that that they brought. It is that word ‘sustained’ that is so important, because the ephemeral results of most other cities that hosted the Summer Olympic Games soon disappeared – but not so with Barcelona.
It is a source of pride, not only to the organizing committee, but also the people of Barcelona, that they can look at the benefits that this great city is still enjoying. In the words of the New York Times of August 1992, the athletes “could never dominate these Summer Games. The city won the Games. The people of Catalonia won the Games.”
Never were truer words written or spoken.