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Flag of CataloniaBarcelona - La Rambla

The Best way of getting to know Barcelona well is to take a stroll along La Rambla at any time of day or even night. This boulevard, almost 2 km long and situated between the Plaça de Catalunya and the port, was once upon a time the site of a mountain stream. All kinds of people can be found walking or just relaxing beneath the oriental plane trees: the young, the old, the rich, the poor, the locals, the visitors, the revellers and those of a more contemplative nature. La Rambla is a never-ending show where everyone is both actor and audience at the same time. It is a delight to all the senses, with a character that is alluring, vivid and everchanging, and it is for this reason that it attracts all kinds of people.

Although La Rambla is unique, it really consists of five different "Ramblas" and two squares, and this is why it is sometimes given the name in plural of Las Ramblas. The upper section is called the Rambla de Canaletes and is made up of a square with many seats. it is here that people meet, perhaps to talk about politics, football of simply life itself; where you can drink the water from the Canaletes fountain and, as the legend would have it, become a native of Barcelona; where you can have your shoes cleaned by a shoeblack; where all kinds of demonstrations are organized; where one can have a drink or something to eat at establishments as "Canaletas", Nuria or Baviera.

After this comes the Rambla dels Estudis, which gets its name from the fact that, in times gone by, it was the site of the Estudi General or University. In memory of those days, here we can find the Academia de Ciencies (Science Academy), located on the upper floor of the Poliorama Theatre. It is worth a visit to see its common rooms, library and an enormous clock dating from 1868. The Rambla dels Estudis is also known as the Rambla dels Ocells (Birds) because it has a small travelling market selling birds and other animals, including fish, tortoises and dogs, and because it is the only part of La Rambla where the sparrows in the trees make so much noise. Opposite the Poliorama Theatre stands the very popular Capitol cinema. There are also many hotels, such as "Ramada Renaissance" (with a shopping arcade), and the fine building belonging to the Compañia General de Filipinas, one of the most traditional companies in the country. On the Raval side stands the Church of Betlem, in Gothic and Baroque styles, and, on the other side, the beautiful Moya Palace which has recently been restored by the Generalitat. It has large halls and wall paintings, and is the setting for many exhibitions.

Next we have the Rambla de Sant Josep, also known as the Rambla de les Flors since it is here that we find the famous florist's stalls, filling the whole area with their colour and scent. The artist Ramon Casas and the philosopher Serra Hunter both married florists from this street market. Nevertheless, it is not only the smell of the flowers that fills this area. A great deal of the aromas come from La Boqueria market, probably the finest and most bustling market in the whole city. It is situated in an arcaded square-like the Plaça Real- covered with a huge iron and glass roof which houses dozens of stalls selling vegetables, meat, fish and with bars providing food and drink. Everything is neatly arranged, along with the happy cries of the stallholders, it becomes one of the most appealing places in the city. In this Rambla we can also find shops of all kinds and large news stands, selling newspapers, magazines and books, that stay open until very late at night. The headquarters of the City Councils Department of Culture is located within the Palace of La Virreina-built by a viceroy of Spain in Peru for his young wife. It is here that important art and sculpture exhibitions are held.

Between this Rambla and the next there is a small square known as the Pla de La Boqueria which was, once upon a time, the centre of the city. Here one can see an area paving that was designed by the painter Joan Miro, and, to one side, the beautiful house of Bruno Cuadros with its Chinese dragon and umbrellas on the façade. As there are no trees, the square is full of light as well as pigeons during the quietest moments.

The Rambla de Caputxins or del Centre is typified by its street-side bars such as La Opera or Los Italianos where people go to look and be looked at. With its shops on all sides, iron fountains, magazine stands, and cigarette sellers, this is perhaps the Best Rambla to see an improvised show: perhaps a woman amusing herself drinking a customers Horchata (orgeat) in a streetside bar, or maybe somebody juggling for a group of people putting on a clown show, or simply a drunkard giving a short speech... One can spend hour after hour in this Rambla, watching the people go by, enjoying the winter sun and summer breeze, or looking at the well-dressed people going in and out of El Liceu.

El Liceu - the Barcelona Opera House - is a large, sumptuous theatre dating from the last century where they present, not only the great operas of Wagner, Verdi and Mozart performed by great singers, but also concerts, ballets and sometimes plays, and where great Carnival festivities have traditionally been held. Be it El Liceu, the Hotel Oriente (where the famous Hans Christian Andersen once stayed), the other hotels and inns, the cafés and bars from today or times gone by, it must be said that every inch of this Rambla is full of local and universal history.

From here we pass into the square known as the Plaça Reial, built in the middle of the last century on the site of an old convent. Up until 1900 this was the square of the then bourgeoisie, with its palm trees, fountain and luxury shops. Then in this century it became a popular square with bars and pubs and public from many walks of life, including those rejected by society. The square itself is closed-off and has arcades. Many artists live here and there are a lot of shops, including such oddities as the Museum of Natural Sciences and the Herbolario del Rei (The Kings Herbalist). Here there is a place where flamenco dancing is performed called "Los Tarantos", a shoeblack stand and, on Sunday mornings, a coin and stamp market.

Between the Rambla del Centre and the Rambla de Santa Monica there is another small square known as the Plaça del Teatre because of the Principal Theatre which stands there (this has now been converted into a cinema and a pelota court). It is in this square that one now comes across the beginnings of the area where the lowest stata of society are to be found, mainly in the red light districts of the Barrio Chino and Escudellers street.

The last Rambla is called the Rambla de Santa Monica. It is typified by the church bearing the same name, the bars with their somewhat doubtful reputations, the typical restaurant called "Amaya", the "pelota" court, the Colon Jazz Club and Palace of Marc - headquarters of the Department of Culture of Generalitat and the scene of many interesting exhibitions. There is a popular market held in the centre selling cheap goods and many souvenir shops. One will now also notice the stronger wind and smells coming from the port.The port and the Portal de la Pau will be later described in the section dedicated to the Port of Barcelona.

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