There are bats everywhere in Barcelona. You can see hundreds of them at dusk, particularly if you’re lucky enough to have a rooftop apartment. Not all the city’s bats are real, however because it is also used as one of the historic symbols of Barcelona.
You can see bats on street lamps:
As well as above the city’s famous market, the Boqueria:
The use of the bat as a symbol dates back to Medieval times, and it is believed that it actually substituted an earlier heraldic device, the wyvern, a legendary two-legged dragon. By the Middle Ages, the bat had became the symbol of the House of Aragon, the ancestral monarchs of the lands that included Barcelona.
It all happened during the Reconquista, when the Spanish fought a lengthy war to reclaim the Iberian peninsular from their Moorish overlords. Whilst camped outside the city of Valencia on the morning of October 9 1238, King Jaume I was sleeping soundly when a bat entered his tent and woke him up, thus enabling the King to launch the decisive attack in retaking the city.
Other legends say the bat woke one of his troops who was supposed to be on guard duty, just preventing a Moorish sneak attack. One other tale claims that a bat landed on the King’s standard before the battle, which he took to be a good omen.
Whatever the reason, Jaume I took the bat as his symbol and it appears in heraldic devices across his realms (he wasn’t known as James the Conquerer for nothing) and you can see it today in Mallorca as well as across Valencia and Barcelona.
The bat is still the symbol of Valencia football club, provoking a bizarre row last year. When Valencia decided to change the badge on their shirt in 2013, they got into a bit of a flap, leading to a visit from the caped crusader. DC Comics complained that the new badge was too similar to their Batman emblem, and as a result, Valencia backed down. They still have the bat on their tops but use the traditional design, which dates from 1922 (17 years before the first appearance of Gotham City’s finest).
Elsewhere in Barcelona, the local authorities are doing what they can to protect the city’s bat population. In my local park, Guinardo, they have installed little boxes where the bats can rear their young, and even though these batboxes are small, they can provide a safe habitat for up to 30 animals at a time. Even better, the local council in the nearby town of Hospitalet have started taken groups of kids to the parks to build these boxes for the animals.
It’s projects like that that give me hope for the future. The younger generation need to believe that they can do something to stop the onslaught of environmental devastation, and making bat boxes has a more immediate reward than just recycling bottles and cans.
As always, revivifying the local wildlife is not just a cosmetic exercise. Bats eat flying insects, including mosquitoes, which can be a real pest here in summer.
Perhaps a growth in bats can also halt the spread of one of the Mediterranean’s most annoying invasive species: the tiger mosquito, which arrived here from Asia and has been slowly moving up the coast towards the city. When these mosquitoes bite you, they leave a big red bump on your skin that would put even a vampire bat to shame.