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Barcelona is dynamic, restlessly creative, constantly changing, always looking beyond Spain -- into Europe or even across the Atlantic -- for inspiration, yet for centuries it was scantly regarded.

Then came two unconnected events that together reversed the outside world's perception of the city. The first occurred in 1975 when General Francisco Franco -- who had systematically and often brutally tried to eradicate the treasured Catalan language and culture for 4 long decades -- died, and the city and province started to live and breathe independently again. The second came with the 1992 Summer Olympics, which brought a fever of renovation work that radically transformed Barcelona from a drab, gray industrial city to a gleaming new metropolis.

The medieval facades of the Barri Gòtic, which for centuries had been coated in a thick layer of grime, were sandblasted, cleaned, and restored to their pristine glory. The city swung with intoxicating speed from being ignored to being awesomely revered. Word had spread and suddenly Barcelona was "in." The media baptized Barcelona the coolest rendezvous in Europe, saying that the city boasted some of the most inventive restaurants, bars, shops, and hotels on the continent. Such is the city's fame that today no fewer than eight million visitors arrive annually to explore its delights. And such is the Catalans' pride and ambition that they are preparing it for an even greater role: As capital of a separate nation, independent of Spain.

How Tibidabo Got Its Name -- Only in author Dan Brown's wildest imagination would Jesus Christ and the Devil have found themselves chatting to each other on top of the great hill behind the city. But locals love to tell you it was here that the Devil tried to tempt Christ by offering him all he could see -- in this case, the lovely coastline all the way north toward the Costa Brava and (on a clear day) the Pyrénées mountains -- if he would renounce God's ways and follow him. Ti dabo means "I give to you" in Latin and represents the Devil making his offer. The story may be an unlikely myth, but try telling that to the Catalans.

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