Seated at a café terraza in one of Barcelona’s octagon-shaped intersections, I savored what we Californian’s call earthquake weather: not cloudy, but not entirely sunny, and rather warm but not crazy hot, all with a sprinkle of mugginess. It was a perfectly odd day, I thought, as I poured a steaming-hot espresso over ice cubes that crackled and swished uncomfortably under the hot liquid.
Not a sip in, and my company arrived: Isabel (travel blogger at Diario de a Bordo) and her husband Xavi. They would be my gracious hosts for the day, showing me a side of Barcelona I had not yet seen before. She jumped right in, explaining to me that it was the Catholic holiday Corpus Christi and that, as a part of the celebration, we were going to walk around the city checking out eggs suspended in the air as they splashed and flopped in spouts of fountain water. I nodded and smiled, thinking surely something had been lost in translation, but eager to see what we might have in store.
Finishing my final sip of espresso, our little trek around town began. The first stop was in Plaça Vila de Madrid – just a regular, unassuming square that was apartment-lined, grandpa-filled, and buzzing with the usual Barcelona hustle and bustle. There weren’t any eggs, but instead graves dashed across the underbelly of the plaza floor, giving the impression that I was observing some sort of archeological x-ray. Dating back to the 1st-3rd centuries AD, the tombs line what used to be a Roman road leading into the old city – now Barcelona’s Barri Gòtic. With the ruins unearthed and preserved, the concealed path appears to carry on under the city like an ancient metro line.
A short walk away, it seemed like my spy-vision into the city’s innards would continue as we snuck inside a secluded patio. “Perhaps I’ll find the eggs here,” I mused, “maybe they’re extra-hidden, like on Easter.” Instead I discovered weather-beaten root-top-high stone columns, doing their own Roman-grave-style disappearing act into building walls.
While constructed in the late first century BC, from about the 15th century on, this site and its peculiar location apparently prompted many predictions as to what it was: an old aqueduct? A monument? Funky patio decor? (OK, I was just speculating on that last one.) In the mid-19th century, however, they finally proved that it was indeed a Roman temple for worship – Barcino Temple, to be exact — which over the years became engulfed by other structures. Temple, shemple — I’m still giving it rad-patio status.
Between the underground Roman road and the secret temple patio, the concept of an egg dancing around in fountain water was starting to seem entirely reasonable. Sure enough, meandering deeper into Barcelona’s gothic quarter, we found one. It bobbed and danced on a foot-high spout of water atop a courtyard fountain swallowed in fresh-cut flowers. Indeed nothing had been lost in translation; the sight was just as odd as it sounded. And the tradition odd too, as it dates back to 1637, with very little known of its origin (creative Easter egg hunt tactic perhaps?).
After my day full of underground ancient roads, rad Roman temple patios, and water-suspended eggs, I finally bid adios to my Catalan friends and my perfectly odd day in Barcelona. I wonder what I’ll uncover the next time I return.