{Spain} Museu Olímpic i de l’Esport

July 27, 2012


The Summer Olympic Games kick off in London today, so what better museum to introduce to you than the Museu Olímpic i de l’Esport in Barcelona (or the Olympic and Sport Museum in English), which bills itself as “a window on the universe of sport”. Of all the museums I visited during my visit to Barcelona, this was my favourite, and that despite not having a particular interest in sport. For me, it had the right balance of objects, images, textual information, and interactives.

Olympic and Sport Museum Barcelona Spain

Introduction hall with costumes from the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics


The museum is divided into seven sections, starting with an Introduction to Sport. As comprehensive and colourful as it is, I was actually initially disappointed because I thought this was the whole museum – then I discovered the rest. D’oh! But the same thing happened to some other MuseumNext friends I sent there, so perhaps they just need to work on their signage. Anyway, the introduction gives you an overview of Olympic Games in the modern era, from their reestablishment to the 21st century, including a more detailed focus on the each of the most recent Summer, Winter and Youth Olympics. Then there are sections on sport and peace, sport and the environment, and the development from recreational activities to adventure sports. The introduction is rounded off by highlighting great accomplishments, including historical challenges – first trek to the North and South Pole, first round the world trip by sea etc – as well as outstanding athletes, both of worldwide and Catalan fame.

Olympic and Sport Museum Barcelona Spain

Mascots from the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics

Your visit then continues down a large ramp, which spirals down to the floor below. Here you learn in more detail about the history of the Olympic Games, from their birth in 776 BC and their suspension in the 4th century AD, right through to their official restoration in 1896 and their development up until the present day. The ramp also tells the history of sport in general, introducing each sport one by one with its key dates, facts and sporting equipment, and highlighting key events from sporting history such as the first female Olympic champion,  the first Tour de France and Grand Prix, the first successful climb up Mount Everest, or the first time the Olympic Games were televised.  Half way down the ramp there is a space off to the side that highlights key dates and famous athletes from Spain, and the ramp finishes its history of sport with a look at mental sport such as chess, sport as a social phenomenon, school sport, sport and nutrition and sport and doping.

Olympic and Sport Museum Barcelona Spain

Mercedes McLaren F1 car to illustrate the first Grand Prix 1906

The ramp opens out into the Hall of Fame, with a large screen film footage compilation as well as five smaller touch screens that allow you to delve into a database of sporting legends which includes photo and video material. You can search by summer games, winter games, by year, type of sport or athletes names. The Hall of Fame also includes displays on the Olympic symbols, i.e. the flag and rings, torch and flame, and olive branch, as well as the oath, motto (“Citius, Altus, Forticus” – “Faster, Higher, Stronger”), and hymn. And there are over 20 former Olympic torches on display, including from the Berlin summer games in 1936 and the Vancouver winter games in 2010.

Olympic and Sport Museum Barcelona Spain

The Hall of Fame with the history of sports ramp above it

Barcelona has, of course, also hosted the Olympic Games, in the summer of 1992, so it’s no surprise that the museum has one section dedicated entirely to this. Other museums I’d visited, such as the Motor Museum and the Shoe Museum, had already made it clear that Catalonia is very proud of it’s history and heritage, and here again it shines right through. The display includes everything from a written document by King Juan Carlos I supporting Barcelona’s candidature and film footage of the opening ceremony and torch lighting, to posters, medals, mascots and souvenirs. Most impressive are the amazing costumes from the opening ceremony.

Olympic and Sport Museum Barcelona Spain

Costume from the opening ceremony in Barcelona 1992

The section on Art an Culture in Sports presents sculptures, paintings, artwork, trophies and medals that aim to reflect Olympic sporting spirit. The collection was donated by Joan Antoni Samaranch, who was president of the International Olympic Committee from 1980 to 2001, and a key person in bringing the Olympic Games to Barcelona. The section also includes a gallery of Olympic posters from throughout the years, as well as an stamp collection with Olympic Games special editions.

Olympic and Sport Museum Barcelona Spain

Olympic Games poster gallery

The last section, on the Dynamics of Sport, gives visitors the chance to compare themselves with the champions, which was huge fun. I don’t know how good or bad a score of 56 in 60 seconds on the reaction game is, but I did pretty badly on the high jumping – only 16.1cm. The record is 71cm! Actually, when I say the last section, there is also an 11 minute audio visual projection to watch at the end called ‘The Sport Show’ but there was a private function on so it was closed. There was, however, a small display leading up to it on sports and the media – radio, TV, cinema, printed press, caricature – that the gallery attendant let me see even though it was already in the closed off bit.

I spent a good two hours at the museum, and felt that at only 4.50 Euro it was well worth value for money. As well as the games in the Dynamics of Sport section, there are lots of multimedia interactive stations throughout the museum with audio, film, additional photographs and information, on both screens and touch screens. There’s even some TV footage from the 1940s shown on a TV screen from that time! The museum is open April to September from Tuesday to Saturday 10am until 8pm, and October to March it’s only open until 6pm but is also open on Sundays until 2.30pm. So, next time you’re in Barcelona, don’t just visit all the famous art galleries, check out the Olympic and Sport Museum too. Did I mention you get to ride a funicular railway to get there?

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