At first the chants were quiet. One or two people shouting out amid a crowd of thousands. But the lone voices soon multiplied, echoing around buildings surrounding Barcelona’s central Plaça de Catalunya, as a minute-long silent tribute turned into a colourful display of defiance on Friday. “Viva! Espana,” they said. “No tinc por,” or in English “I am not afraid”.
Just yards away, growing numbers of flowers, cards and stuffed toys lay in tribute to those killed in Thursday’s horror van attack on Las Ramblas, which claimed 13 lives and injured more than 100.
The energy on display typified the strength of a city that didn’t expect to become yet another place exposed to an increasingly common brand of terror. “It is a super peaceful city,” one resident told HuffPost UK.
Yet Spain has, sadly, been familiar with terrorism in the not-too distant past. The 2004 Madrid train bombings remain among the deadliest incidents in Europe, and attacks by the Basque separatist group ETA have killed five people over the past decade, not to mention the hundreds in decades prior.
Now a whole region has been rocked by attacks. A second vehicle was driven at pedestrians in Cambrils, 97km south of Barcelona, killing one person late on Thursday. Five suspected terrorists were shot dead by police. The incident is now thought to be connected with Las Ramblas.
“Unfortunately, Spaniards know the absurd and irrational pain that terrorism causes. We have received blows like this in recent years, but we also know that terrorists can be beaten,” Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said.
But it’s the spectacle of thousands uniting on Friday that many of those caught up in the previous day’s events say they won’t forget. “This is a way to show we are confronting this attack,” Estelle, a Barca native, told HuffPost as she waiting in a long line on the Plaza ahead of the event.
“There must have been a huge amount of people in that square, I do feel better to have witnessed this,” one nervous British visitor, David Kivell, said after Friday’s ceremony. “I think now I’m going to stay”.
“When we came back this morning, seeing the way that people had united, the chanting ‘we are not afraid’ has probably been the most touching part of the whole situation,” Tennessee tourist Kat Cantu told HuffPost, standing near the spot where the attacks took place just hours earlier.
“We all were very shocked, concerned, and sad for sure, but also kind of like angry,” said Diana Daniels, an American living in the city who saw the immediate aftermath of the attack from her lofty city centre office. “But we need to stand up and continue, today is a new day, these people want us to live in fear but we are not afraid.”
And while it was clear Friday’s thronging crowd was drawing strength from each other, there were also some moments of nervousness. Loud bangs, from a fallen suitcase or passing vehicle, prompted sudden movements from many, their eyes widening as though searching for danger.
Others at the lunchtime tribute, attended by Spain’s King Felipe IV, PM Rajoy and other leaders, had their attempts to inject politics into proceedings firmly rebuffed. A man waving a Spanish flag was escorted away from the Plaza during the ceremony amid chants from some implying ‘now is not the time for politics’.
The state of Catalonia, of which Barcelona is capital, has a growing and popular separatist movement which wants independence from Madrid.
And it’s not to say there isn’t reflection - or mourning - here. Emotional tributes mounted at the exact spot the van came to a halt on Las Ramblas.
But conversation here, among locals in bars and taxi drivers at least, is of moving on. And there are millions of reasons to do so. Some 11 million tourists flocked to the seaside city last year. Its beaches drawing in younger Spaniards and foreigners, while its cruise port attracts huge groups of older visitors each day.
Matt Formosa, a 28-year-old Australian, told HuffPost he’d noticed only the smallest of differences since the attack. “I’ve been here a week and I’d say it was a little quieter this morning,” he said sat on a bike in Barceloneta. “I’m not going to let that stop me. If you did, you wouldn’t do anything.”
Those waiting to board the first flight to the city’s El Prat airport from London openly read newspapers emblazoned with reports and images from the attack. “It won’t put me off,” one passenger said stoically.
And Barcelona’s unique brand of defiance was clear to see in those for whom tourism is a livelihood. Some of the shopkeepers in stalls damaged by the attack on the busy Las Ramblas, were open as usual. “We opened, yes, of course,” one stall attendant, who declined to be named, told HuffPost. “But we close early at 3pm.”
As Friday draws to a close, shops, restaurants, bars and hotels do roaring trade. Things are, at once both quickly and slowly, returning to normal. “Of course we have to get on,” Daniels said succinctly. “Because if we don’t they win.”