Barcelona's Best Kept Secret
It’s funny how memory can sometimes be deceptive, and things that once seemed one way, turn out to be very different.
As a child born and raised in the middle of a city as hectic as Barcelona, weekends were the perfect excuse to get away from the hustle and bustle. An all-time favourite place to go for my sister and I was a hedge maze hidden in a Neoclassic and Romantic garden called Parc del Laberint d'Horta (Park of the Labyrinth of Horta). It was located in the northern district of the neighbourhood called Horta, not far from our home, but very big and green. To us, it felt as if we had left the city behind, and not only travelled to a different country but also a different time.
Besides the labyrinth and gardens, there were pavilions, temples worshipping Greek gods, a pond, fountains and fountain jets, a waterfall, springs, a fake cemetery. I loved spending time with my family there, wandering about. There were always new spots to discover and stories to learn.
As a little girl, I found the labyrinth a bit scary and sinister, with its tall hedges made of cypress trees. I used to stand at the entrance and look up, feeling so small in such a big, mysterious place. Luckily, we always brought our walkie-talkies with us (saying Copy and Out made me feel super cool). My sister and I felt safer getting lost inside the labyrinth with a walkie talkie in hand, knowing our parents could see us from a pavilion that was overlooking the hedge maze. Whenever we got lost, we called them, and they would tell us the way. Some people might call it cheating, but to me it was just reassurance.
In the middle of the maze, there was a little square with a sculpture of Eros, Greek God of Love, and some benches surrounding it. We always took a break there, and pretended to discuss which path to take next. It was all an act: we knew exactly where to go, as we had been to the labyrinth many, many times.
As I grew up, I started to forget about the Park of the Labyrinth. I still have many beautiful memories from the place, but I stopped going. There were always other things to do or people to meet with. It wasn’t until three years ago that I went back to the park, and was very surprised by what I saw. It was so different from the place I remembered! Especially the labyrinth, which looked so small and easy to decipher, far from the huge and scary place it once seemed to me.
Visiting the park as a little girl, it was running around the gardens and smelling the flowers that I enjoyed the most. As a grown up, it wasn’t the gardens but the mythological references that really caught my attention. How great is it to walk amongst Gods and nymphs!
One of my favourite sights is the cave of Echo and Narcissus. The legend says that Zeus, God of the Sky and Thunder and king of the Gods, enjoyed “playing” with the nymphs, even though he was married to Hera, Goddess of Marriage and Birth. Zeus ordered Echo, a beautiful nymph, to keep an eye on Hera and avoid her finding out about his infidelities. When Hera found out, she got furious and cursed Echo to only be able to speak as a reply, as an echo.
One day, Echo came upon Narcissus, a very beautiful young man, and fell in love with him. But he was heartless and completely rejected her. She was heartbroken until the end of her days. Narcissus fate wasn’t any better: he saw a reflection of himself in the clear water of a river, and fell in love with himself. He drowned. In the cave, you can find a sculpture of Echo, looking distressed. Narcissus is symbolically present in the little pond. There’s also a sad inscription: “From an ardent frenzy, Echo and Narcissus embraced, they die in love; her of him and him of himself”.
There’s another mythological reference in the bas-relief marble at the entrance of the hedge maze. It reads: “Come in, you fill find your way out, the labyrinth is simple, there’s no need for the ball of thread that Ariadne gave to Theseus”. In ancient Greek mythology, Theseus was a king and hero who saved the city of Athens from the Minotaur, a half-bull, half-man monster that lived inside a labyrinth. Theseus had won Ariadne, the king’s daughter’s heart. She didn’t want him to die in the labyrinth, as many men before him had, and she gave him a ball of thread so that he could find his way back after fighting the beast.
These are just examples, but the park is full of many more things to discover. It’s the oldest conserved garden in Barcelona, and one of the city’s best kept secrets. If you ever have the chance to go, it will surely not disappoint. Yes, memory can be deceptive. Returning to places you frequented as a child may cause you to see them differently. You have changed and the place might have changed as well. It might not be as you remember it, but that mixed feeling between the familiar and the unknown increases the sense of adventure. And it’s great to rediscover something and fall in love with it all over again. If I ever go off the grid and disappear leaving no trace, there’s a big chance you’ll find me wandering in one of the gardens in the Park of the Labyrinth.
Special note from the author: It is strongly recommended reading this article while enjoying a cup of Barcelona Breeze.