The historic Catalan city of Figueres, aka Figueras in Spanish, is most notable as the birthplace of surrealist artist Salvador Dali and as well as boasting one of the most visited museums in Spain, Figueres is also home to an impressive historic Old Town district, imposing castle and intriguing landmarks. Close to the French border, Figueres is more laidback than nearby Barcelona although the beaches, cafe culture and museums are just as interesting!
Dali Theatre and Museum
One of Spain’s best loved artists, Salvador Dali is best known around the world for his surrealism and modernism paintings, sculptures and movies. And it’s in Figueres that Dali was born, worked and died, so it’s fitting that the theatre and museum that honours Dali’s life and works is here. In fact, 2014 is the 25th Anniversary of Salvador Dali’s death. Cue the impressive Dali Theatre and Museum, which is one of the most visited in the country. Dali himself commissioned the impressive building in 1960, whose exterior is clad in red with yellow studs and the roof is topped with giant egg-like sculptures! Inside Port Alguer (1924), La panera del pa (1945) and Crist de la Tramuntana (1968), amongst others, intrigue fine art lovers from around the world.
There are also dedicated Salvador Dali Museums in St Petersburg in Florida (Figueres is twinned with St Petersburg) and the Dali Universe in Venice in Italy.
Sant Ferran Castle
The most impressive landmark in Catalonia is the expansive Sant Ferran Castell, aka San Fernando Castle, which was built in 1753. The fortress was constructed during the reign of Ferdinand VI of Spain and at its peak, more than 6,000 soldiers were based here. Sant Ferran then served as a prison before opening to the public in 1997. Today visitors can take in the elevated view and walk the pentagonal perimeter which spans some 5.6 km (3.5 miles).
Museu del Joguet, aka Toy Museum
For a fascinating trip down memory lane, stop off at the Toy Museum, which houses more than 4,500 toys, some of which date back centuries. There are sections dedicated to robots, dolls and bears and many famous Spanish people have donated their old toys, including Salvador Dali. One of the perfect things to do in Figueres for both kids and adults alike.
Annual Festivals in Figueres
The Catalonia region is privy to some spectacular annual festivals; some traditional, some religious and some downright weird! The annual calendar kicks off with lively fireworks to welcome in the New Year, then Easter brings with it Carnival season – each end of February/beginning of March sees towns and cities across Catalonia come to life with parades, street parties and much merriment! Its followed by Sant Jordi, aka St George's Day on 23 April, the National Day of Catalonia on 11 September, and then of course lively Christmas celebrations. At all Catalonian festivals “correfocs”, aka fire-runs, make an appearance – literally where locals dressed as devils taunt the bewitched crowds with fire displays.
Figueres in particular celebrates the annual Festa Major de la Santa Creu (Festival of the Holy Cross) each year on 3 May, the Festa de Sant Baldiri each 20 May and the Festa Major de Sant Pere each year on 29 of June. And music fans will appreciate the Festival Acústica, aka acoustic, which attracts both locals and international artists who perform each August at various outdoor locations dotted around Figueres.
Iglesia de San Pedro
Stop by the impressive Church of St. Peter which is resplendent in Gothic style. This site is deep rooted in history – two Roman towns fused together and by the 10th century the settlement had really established itself. Figueres was granted Royal Town status in 1267 and the addition of the Sant Ferran Castle (above) saw it rise in importance.
Genuinely interesting art and archaeology come to life at the comprehensive Museum of the Empordà which has a special focus on Catalan art from the 19th and 20th centuries. Works from Martí Alsina, Santos Torroella Angels and of course, Salvador Dali, all feature.
Enjoy the Quirks
For a city that’s built its reputation on the superb art and even more famous artists it’s produced, you’d expect a few quirky works of art dotted around. And Figueres doesn’t disappoint – check out the surrealist tribute to the great Salvador Dali on the city’s Rambla. Stop for a coffee and people watch – catch other travellers transfixed by the innovative art.
Image credits; 1; Bertrand GRONDIN, CC ASA 3.0, 2; Laia CC A 2.0, 3; Luidger CC ASA 3.0