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Fodor's Spain 2014
At the heart of the Old City, the cathedral looms above 90 steps and is famous for its nave—at 75 feet, the widest in the world and the epitome of the spatial ideal of Catalan Gothic architects. Since Charlemagne founded the original church in the 8th century, it has been through many fires, changes, and renovations, so you are greeted by a rococo-era facade—"eloquent as organ music" and impressively set off by a spectacular flight of 17th-century stairs, which rises from its own plaça. Inside, three smaller naves were compressed into one gigantic hall by the famed architect Guillermo Bofill in 1416. The change was typical of Catalan Gothic "hall" churches, and it was done to facilitate preaching to crowds. Note the famous silver canopy, or baldaquí (baldachin). The oldest part of the cathedral is the 11th-century Romanesque Torre de Carlemany (Charlemagne Tower).
The cathedral's exquisite 12th-century cloister has an obvious affinity with the cloisters in the Roussillon area of France. Inside the Treasury are a variety of precious objects. They include a 10th-century copy of Beatus's manuscript Commentary on the Apocalypse (illuminated in the dramatically primitive Mozarabic style), the Bible of Emperor Charles V, and the celebrated Tapís de la Creació (Tapestry of the Creation), considered by most experts to be the finest tapestry surviving from the Romanesque era (and, in fact, thought to be the needlework of Saxons working in England). It depicts the seven days of Creation as told in Genesis in the primitive but powerful fashion of early Romanesque art and looks not unlike an Asian mandala. Made of wool, with predominant colors of green, brown, and ocher, the tapestry once hung behind the main altar as a pictorial Bible lesson. The four seasons, stars, winds, months of the year and days of the week, plants, animals, and elements of nature circle around a central figure, likening paradise to the eternal cosmos presided over by Christ. In addition to its intrinsic beauty, the bottom band (which appears to have been added at a later date) contains two iudeis, or Jews, dressed in the round cloaks they were compelled to wear to set them apart from Christians. This scene is thought to be the earliest portrayal of a Jew (other than biblical figures) in Christian art.
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