Well, it was a bullring; now it's a mall -- with Europe's first rock and roll museum in it!
After nearly eight years of work and an investment of 200 million euros (281 million dollars), a lovely nineteenth century structure originally known as the Plaza de Toros las Arenas (the Sands Bullring) has been transformed into a stunning shopping and entertainment complex called 'Arenas de Barcelona.'
The historic bullring was originally designed by Catalan architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner and built in 1898. The arena fell into disuse in the 1990s due to the declining popularity of bull fighting in Catalonia, and sat gathering dust for more than a decade until plans were announced in 2003 to reinvent it as a business, retail and leisure facility.
The conservation of the original facade was an architectural challenge of the first order for the firm of Alonso Balaguer y Arquitectos Asociados -- but a challenge that was met successfully. The result of all this time, effort and money is a beautiful building that retains its traditional neo-mudejar appearance, but is now crowned with a futuristic looking dome.
Strategically located at the foot of Montjuic hill and a circular intersection of several of the city's major arteries, the shopping center is also a stone's throw away from the convention center, 'Fira Barcelona.' In addition to a supermarket, a multiplex cinema, and hundreds of shops, the building also has an outdoor jogging trail circumscribing the fourth floor. The great white dome covering the fifth floor houses restaurants with panoramic views of the city. A huge outdoor terrace open to the public can also be found on this level.
(Let me mention here that what is referred to as the first floor in the USA is called the ground floor in Spain, so that what a Spaniard calls the first floor we Americans consider the second floor, etc. All of which is to say that the this domed fifth floor would be thought of as the sixth floor in the USA.)
Arenas de Barcelona has another very unique attraction: the Museum of Rock, which claims to be the first major museum in Europe dedicated to rock 'n roll. Set to open on March 31st, this facility will have areas covering different epochs of the genre, rooms dedicated to musical legends (such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, as well as various Spanish stars), a temporary exhibition hall and a small concert venue with a capacity for 200 people.
It will also boast something called 'On Stage,' a karaoke type space where music fans will be able to simulate a rock performance by reading the lyrics of a selected song on a screen, playing instruments with friends if they like, all the while surrounded by the typical cloud of smoke and colored lights of a rock concert. For a fee, rockers will even be able to take home a DVD of their performance as a souvenir.
And just like any self-respecting museum there will also be a git shop and a restaurant. I doubt, however, that any other museum's restaurant can boast a table that was originally a bath-tub used by Elton John as a stage prop.
I went to the Las Arenas today, and it is a pretty impressive place, which I am sure will become one of Barcelona's must see tourist stops. I hope I am equally impressed by the Museum of Rock when it opens next week. I think the chances are excellent that I will be -- not only because of the quality of what I saw today, but because of reports that for the museum the architects took inspiration from the world's two principal repositories of rock memorabilia: the Experience Music Project of Seattle, designed by Frank Gehry, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, the work of I.M. Pei. Sounds encouraging!
P.S. Here's a link to a news article with a video, which includes an interview with the architect Luis Alonso. (In Spanish)