Gothic Quarter Barcelona How to explore it
Gothic Quarter of Barcelona, a Description
The Barri Gotic, (in Catalan language), is the historical center of Barcelona, and the best maintained and largest medieval urban area from the XIII to XV centuries in Europe. Today it is a well-maintained, pedestrian area, full of monumental sites, narrow maze-like streets and charming squares and terraces. An excellent way to start a visit to Barcelona is to leisurely stroll across the quarter while absorbing the particular feeling of this city and learn about its history and vibrant culture.
Origin and Evolution of the The Gothic Quarter
The Barri Gotic is full of history, its origin was the urbanization of the interior of the Roman City the area defined by the 2000 year old Roman Wall (marked in yellow in the aerial picture). The Roman Wall is an impressive construction 18 meter high, (60 feet) with full sections still well preserved, like in the Plaça Nova and in Plaça del Rei. Indeed the Roman heritage of Barcelona is very noticeable; many streets of the Gothic Quarter Barcelona follow the exact roman streets, even), the present residence of the City and State government was build on the old roman forum the center of roman commercial and political power.
In 1200s Barcelona, was a prosperous and dynamic city as result of its successful commercial expansion through the Mediterranean, and its role as capital of the Kingdom of Catalunya-Aragon. The reduced size of the Roman City quickly became too small, and a cluster of small settlements and churches were build outside the walls like Santa Anna. In 1250 and to sustain its growth, protect the population and establish itself as a true capital, two sets of medieval walls were built. The area within these walls (in orange in the aerial picture) is what today we call the historical center or medieval city.
The medieval city experienced four other major urbanistic events; first the wall in the center that run exactly were Las Ramblas are today was demolished in 1700s to allow for further construction. Secondly, after the fall of Barcelona in 1714 to the Castilian-French troops in the succession war, a major fortification was build to control the city, La Ciutadella (The Citadel). That construction meant the demolition of 800 houses, one fifth of the medieval city.
The industrial revolution and the rise of a prosperous Catalan bourgeoisie had many urbanistic effects in Barcelona. The main one was the development of L’Eixample, (The Expansion, in Catalan), a grid-like well planned upper-middle area that became a magnet for architects among them Gaudi, and were most of his masterpieces like Sagrada Familia, Casa Batllo and Casa Mila are located. (For more information about this neighborhood check our Gaudi Tour). As part of a major modernization and expansion of the city and in order to improve communication, sanitation, and to reduce the high density of population a new street was developed. Pau Claris street, today cuts across all historical Barcelona, and represented the destruction of a major section of the city. Finally in mid 1900s a major effort to restore and embellish the area defined the medieval historical center that we can see today.
Medieval Quarters of Barcelona: Barri Gotic, Ribera and Raval
Medieval Barcelona is composed by three different quarters, Barri Gotic itself, Born-Ribera and El Raval. The three quarters are separated by two streets running perpendicular to the harbor, Las Ramblas and Pau Claris.
At the center limited by Las Ramblas on one side and Pau Claris street on the other and closest to the roman core, is the main Gothic Quarter of Barcelona (Barri Gotic) itself. It was the finest area of the time, full of palaces and where the cathedral and centers of power where established and still remain. Barri Gotic is now a very well kept, pedestrian and monumental area that contains many sites like the roman buildings, La Plaça del Rei, (King’s Square) an untouched 1300 site formed by the medieval Royal Palace and the Throne Room, and the El Call o among many other worth visiting.
Bordering the Gothic Quarter of Barcelonan and just separated by Pau Claris street there is the gorgeous medieval quarter know as el Born or Ribera. This area was the quarter oriented towards the sea, where merchants, entrepreneurs and artisans lived, full of gothic gems like Santa Maria del Mar (the Cathedral of the Sea).
Santa Maria del Mar is a unique and beloved church that was build just in 60 years by popular subscription (as opposed to the nobility oriented Cathedral of Barcelona). It is one of the few large constructions in Europe of a single not mixed architectural style (Catalan Gothic in this case). This quarter has many attractions like the Picasso Museum and el Passeig del Born a 1200s street boulevard were knight tournaments and joust took place. We suggest to visit El Born-La Ribera at the same time than Barri Gòtic, as we do in our Gothic Quarter Tour
El Barri Gothic and El Born-Ribera are must see areas, both pedestrian with a perfect mix of historical sites, monumental areas, pleasant terraces and millenary corners in a very compact size, which makes it perfect to visit leisurely by foot on your own or with organized Barcelona tours. The Barric Gotic and Ribera also contain a broad variety of restaurants, some of them very genuine were local food and tapas are prepared still in the traditional way. Our Tapas Tour Barcelona explores these coveted spots and offers a truly memorable experience.
Gothic Quarter of Barcelona, Logistics
We suggest to start your walk in Catalunya Square, it is well communicated with subway station “Catalunya” of lines 1 and 3. Then you have two options either go down Las Ramblas as we described in our post Las Ramblas Barcelona. Essential Guide and important Advice, and near Liceu Theater turn left into Ferran street going into Sant Jaume Square. Another, more interesting way, is from Catalunya Square take Portal de l’Angel to end up infront the roman walls in Plaça Nova and the Cathedral and start from there. For more information check our Gothic Tour page that includes detailed information regarding main stops and points of interest.