- Old Barcelona
As has already been stated , the old part of the city is divided
into three parts. The central part, between La Rambla and the
Via Laietana, is known as "Barcelona
Antigua" or "Barrio Gotico" (Gothic Quarter). The popularly named
Ribera district lies between the Via Laietana and El Comerç streets,
and the district of El Raval (Arrabal) is located between La Rambla and Las
de Sant Antoni and Sant Pau.
The centre of Barcelona Antigua is the Plaça de Sant Jaume. Here stood
the Roman square or "forum" of the colony called Faventia Julia Augusta
Paterna, founded in the 2C. B.C. It was in this square that the colony's two
main streets crossed. These were El Cardó (now formed by streets of
El Bisbe and La Ciutat) and El Decumanus (today the streets of La Llibreteria
and El Call). In the 4C the small town was surrounded by walls in view of the
danger of an invasion by barbarians. These were oval in shape and the walk
around them can be made quite easily today via the Avinguda de la Catedral,
Plaça Nova, the streets of La Palla, Banys Nous, Avinyo, Gignas, Correu
Vell, El Sots-tinent Navarro, the squares of El Angel and Berenguer and the
street of La Tapineria. The Best sections of wall can be seen in those streets
and squares whose names appear in bold print, and there is a gate flanked by
two towers in the wall itself inside the Plaça Nova.
In the Middle Ages the Roman square became the Plaça de Sant Jaume,
and the two palaces, standing opposite each other, were built. One is the Palace
of the Government of Catalunya, or "Generalitat", which controlled
the whole independent kingdom of Catalunya and Aragon, along with their possessions
in the Mediterranean, and the other is the Palace of the City Council. They
are both in the Gothic style although their façades and halls belong
to later eras. In the Palace of La Generalitat one should visit the "Pati
dels Tarongers" (Patio of the Orange trees) and the Chapel of Sant Jordi,
and in the Place of the City Council the magnificent "Salo de Cent" where
the hundred representatives of the city's states used to meet, as well as several
other halls and staircases to see the many works of art.
The Plaça de Sant Jaume is the scene of many political and public ceremonies,
popular spectacles and festivities, as well as demonstrations. Close-by is
the small street of Paradís where the Centre Excursionista de Catalunya
(a building of both social and scientific importance) stands. On the ground
in front of the entrance there is a millstone which indicates the highest point
of the small hill known as El Taber. This hill was occupied before the Romans
by the Iberian tribe of the "layetanos" who built their village here.
The Romans, after their conquest, set up the aforementioned colony, and later
it was occupied by the Visigoths, then the Arabs and then the Franks, to become,
in the end, the capital of a new country called Catalunya.
To understand better this chain of events, it is a good idea to pay a visit
to the History Museum, situated in the nearby square called Plaça del
Rei. The remains and monuments of all those peoples and civilizations can be
found in the sub soil of this square. This same square, with the Reial Mayor
Palace, the Church of Santa Agata, the beautiful "Salo del Tinell" and
the Palace of the Archive of the Crown of Aragon, is one of the most important
places for finding the true flavour of Old Barcelona. From here we are within
easy reach of the cathedral.
This Gothic structure is of great interest with its fine cloister and arcades.
The façade dates from the end of the 19C, but, on either side, there
are some equally interesting medieval palaces such as the Palaces Els Cononjes
(House of the Canons), Pia Almoina and Ardiaca. All these places should be
visited at a leisurely pace, as should the streets and squares around the palaces
and old houses. This whole district - also known as the Gothic quarter even
though it contains constructions pertaining to several different styles - is
to Barcelona what Greece and Rome are to Europe: it's origin and reference
The area between the "Barrio Gotico" and the Rambla (that is to
say, between the city walls dating from the 4C and 13C, of which there are
practically no remains) is made up of a series of small districts which have
a very typical flavour. Examples include the Santa Anna district (with its
beautiful church, near the Plaça de Catalunya), and the district of
El Pi (with its fine church bearing the same name).
These districts contain houses from the 18C and 19C under which stand very
traditional shops, some more than 100 years old. It is always a delight to
visit the shops in the streets of Palla, Banys Nous, Call, Baqueria, Portaferrissa,
El Pi, Canuda, and Santa Anna, because it is here that one can find the true
deep-rooted business spirit of the people of Barcelona, as well as their individualistic
and tense character between tradition and renewal. One interesting aspect of
this area is that cultural centres (be they of art, science or religion) do
not differ from the other aspects of life. They are in fact, totally integrated
in it as something perfectly natural and necessary. This can be seen in such
a typical and well-kept district as that known as Petritxol, where art, books,
pastry shops and cafes serving drinking chocolate blend together harmoniously.
The same is true of the streets of El Pi and Cardenal Casañas.
The so-called "Barrio de la Ribera", between the Via Laietana and
the Passeig Picasso, is, in fact, formed by several districts, including Sant
Pere, Sant Agusti, Sant Cugat, Santa Caterina, La Ribera and El Born. This
area grew outside the city as a fishing district. La Ribera was located next
to the port; the Passeig del Born and Montcalda street were the districts of
the aristocracy and Sant Pere was given over to the manufacture of textiles.
The area finally became a part of the city in the 13C when it was enclosed
by a new section of walls. If, at present, it seems to be a little separated
from Old Barcelona it is because at the beginning of the 20C, the Vi Laietana
was opened, so as to connect El Ensanche to the port area. La Ribera, being
less central and well-known, is the most traditional and typical district in
the area of Old Barcelona. In its upper section, the textile tradition is still
conserved in the Sant Pere district, as can be seen in the Carrer Alt de Sant
Pere where fabric wholesalers congregate in feverish activity. At the end of
this street stands the 10C church of Sant Pere de les Puelles which has been
At the beginning of this same street is the Palau de la Musica Catalana (Palace
of Catalan Music), a Modernist work by the architect Lluis Domenich i Montaner
in 1908, which was built for the chorale "Orfeo Catalá". It
is one of the greatest jewels of Modernist art and, along with El Liceu, is
the Best proof of the city's passion for music in modern times. Even more typical
is the Sant Augsti district (Plaça de Sant Agustí and surroundings)
which, with its old houses, local crafts and way of life, takes us back to
a Barcelona steeped in tradition.
The most lively and bustling area is that around Santa Caterina market, Best
visited in the morning so as to take in all its local colour, both in the market
ad the adjacent street, and in the smaller streets which, although a little
squalid, are full of character. Princesa street, opened in the 19C, separates
the upper districts from the district of La Ribera. This street is full of
small businesses and characteristic of the last century. It is also linked
to the painter, writer, collector and promoter of Modernism, Santiago Rusiñol
who, in the novel and play "Auca del Senyor Esteve", captured for
ever the typical figure of the "botiguer" (shop-keeper), and who,
with his Bohemian life style that was so full of wit and humour, represented
the liberal Bourgeoisie and exemplified art between the 19C and 20C.
The Passeig del Born is Moncada street, and has aristocratic buildings dating
from the 14C and 18C. This is the street with the greatest concentration of
art and culture in the city, especially since, very recently, its palaces have
been restored for use as museums. The first three palaces house the Picasso
Museum, the most visited museum in Barcelona. It contains works from the childhood,
adolescence and youth of the so-called greatest artist of the 20C, and also
a fine collection of works from later periods in his life.
In other palaces in the same street we can find the "Museo Rocamora de
la Indumentaria" (Costume Museum), the "Galeria Maeght", the
Omnium Cultural Institution and other art and cultural centres, both open to
the public or in the preparatory stage. Montcada street leads into the Passeig
del Born which was, for many centuries, the most refined and most popular avenue
in the city. It was here that, in the 14C and 15C, jousts and fairs of all
kinds were held (these fairs continued until well into the 19C), and the avenue
still maintains much of its former glory. At one end of the avenue stands the
building of the former Barcelona Central market which has now been converted
into a public area given over to exhibitions, festivals, fashion shows, etc.
Up until a few years ago, this whole area was full of small businesses concerned
with the sale of foodstuffs, of which some still remain. At the other end of
the Passeig del Born is the Church of Santa Maria del Mar, built in the 14C
and considered to be the most perfect Gothic church in Barcelona. The church
and the small squares and streets surrounding it make up one of the most attractive
areas in the city, and the entire area is full of bars, restaurants, night
The third important area in the old town is known as the Raval, and is located
between the Rambla and the Rondas de Santa Antoni and Sant Pau. The Raval is
also made up of several districts. The uppermost, skirted by the very commercial,
popular and overpopulated Pelai street, where we also find the headquarters
of "La Vanguardia" (the biggest selling newspaper in Catalunya),
has two points of access from the Rambla. One is via Tallers street which,
in the past, was the location of many butcher's shops. These were not permitted
in the city centre and so had to be located in the suburbs. The street now
specialises in record shops. The second point of access is via Bonsuccés
street followed be Elisabets street. Here we find, first the Convent of Bonsuccés,
and then the so-called "Caseron de la Misericordia" (Orphanage) which
took in abandoned children. Next there is the "Collegi de Sant Guillem
d´Aquitánia" dating from the 16C which now belongs to the "Institut
del Teatre", and, on the corner of Els Angels street, stands the "Casa
dels Infants Orfes", another orphanage from the 16C.
To this list of fine buildings should also be added the Convent of Els Angels,
which has recently been restored, and, in Montalgre street, the enormous building
known as the "Casa de la Caritat", which is going to be converted
into a Museum of Modern Art in the same way as the Pompidou Centre in Paris.
Further down between the streets of El Carme and El Hospital, we find the Hospital
of La Santa Creu i de Sant Pau (situated behind La Boqueria Market). This was
the medical centre from the times of the Middle Ages (10C) until the beginning
of this century. The Gothic and later buildings, as well as the 14C courtyard,
all go to form an area of art, culture and tranquillity within this mainly
noisy district. The buildings house the Medical Academy, the Catalunyan Library,
the Masana School, and in the chapel, art exhibitions are occasionally held.
The streets of El Carme and El Hospital lead into the small square and district
of El Padró where an important gipsy community lies.
The "Barrio Chino" (red-light district) spreads out between Sant
Pau Street and the port, and is principally a working-class area. Its atmosphere
is typified by prostitution and delinquency and there are brothels, pick-up
bars and all kinds of dealings in stolen goods, as well as drug trafficking.
The streets most given over to this kind of activity are Sant Pau, Robadors,
Sant Oleguer, Les Tapies (perhaps the worst of all), Arc del Teatre and those
adjacent streets. There is a clear continuation along Escudillers street and
its surroundings on the other side of La Rambla. In this area we recommend
a visit to the very popular "Bar Marsella" on the corner of Sant
Pau and Sant Ramon streets. Also the "Bodega Bohemia" in Lancáster
street which is a kind of low night club, somewhat "camp" in character,
which tries to bring back what has now gone out of fashion.
Visitors could also try the cabarets "Barcelona de Noche" (Barcelona
at Night) in Les Tapies street and "Villa Rosa" in Arc del Teatre,
as well as a host of bars where there is flamenco singing and revellers and
drinkers get together. However, not all this area is given over to the lower
strata of society. In Carrer on La Rambla, for example, there is Güell
Palace, the work of Gaudí, which is worth a visit to see its surprising
architecture and the Theatre Museum within. Also there is the Church of Sant
Pau del Camp, almost at the end of Sant Pau street, which, with its Romanesque
and Gothic styles, is one of the most beautiful churches in the city.
The most entertaining part of the "Barrio Chino" is found along
the continuation of El Paralelo, in the lower part of the avenue of the same
name. Here we find the low night clubs and the revue and comedy theatres, such
as the Arnau Theatre, the Apolo Theatre, the Victoria Theatre, and above all
the famous "El Molino" (the Windmill) Theatre, a popular cabaret
where the artists are as interesting as their public and nobody should fail
to visit. At the present time El Parallel is undergoing a new boom period,
thanks to the fact that good theatre companies are performing in the theatres
and are helping to attract people from all over they city. Nevertheless, none
of the area's popular atmosphere is being lost as a result.
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