Situated on the old Mont Tàber is the real centre and origin of the city of Barcelona and the area that Barcelona sprouted from. For 500 years this small mountain hosted the Catalan Monarchy, making it a political and religious meeting point. Here you can find Roman archeological remains and buildings that demonstrate the old capital’s power. During the twentieth century the “Old Town” became more and more important due to the beauty of it’s buildings and labyrinthine streets as well as it’s numerous art galleries.
The best place to start a visit to the Barri Gòtic is the Plaça Nova (New Square). Always full of people, it has a mix of old and new buildings that deserve to be seen. Every Thursday there’s an antiques market from 9am to 8pm, a Christmas market during the whole of December and, on Sundays, it’s also a meeting point for those who like and dance the Sardanas, the traditional Catalan dance.
At the north east of the square there’s the Col·legi d’Arquitectes, the Architects Association. Built in 1961 by Xavier Busquets, it caused much debate among the locals due to the innovative style of the building in such an historical place. The front side of the building is Norwegian artists Carl Nesjar’s interpretation of one of Picasso’s pictures.
On the other side of the square there are two cylindric towers, remains of the old Roman wall that protected the city from aggressors. Even though they have not been well conserved, they create a beautiful entrance to the old town. Next to the towers is local artist Joan Brossa’s interpretation of Barcino, the roman name for Barcelona.
Next to the Plaça Nova is the Pla de la Seu with the Cathedral of Barcelona in the middle. Built at the end of the nineteenth century by August Font, is a beautiful example of gothic architecture that deserves to be visited. Inside it are buried some of the more important characters of Catalonian’s history such as Ramon Berenguer, creator of the catalan national flag, or Saint Eulalia, protector of the city. Also a must see is the cloister with a beautiful fountain in the middle and a traditional Mediterranean garden. It is here that one of the most popular festivities in the Catalan calendar, “Ou com Balla” is hosted.
Leaving the Cathedreal square and following the Carrer de Santa Llúcia we get to Santa Llúcia church, one of the few Romanesque remains (even though it’s been refurbished) of Barcelona. Just in front of the church there’s Casa Ardiaca. Created in the sixteenth century, it has a quiet interior garden with a renaissance fountain perfect for relaxing while reading a book or just admiring the beauty of the building.
Starting from Garriga i Bachs and following Montjuïc del Nisne street you come to Sant Felip Neri square; named after the baroque church dedicated to this Saint. After the Spanish Civil War, and especially after the death of former dictator Franco, the square became an important symbol of the difficult times Catalonia has gone though. The church’s front wall still displays the marks of shrapnel, the result of a bomb that fell on the 30th january 1938, killing around twenty children refuged in the church.
Considered the most noble and aristocratic square in all Barcelona, Plaça del Rei deserves much time to admire each building and hidden spot. On sunny days, you can normally find musicians playing classical music and every Sunday hosts a market of handmade medieval tools. Just to the left of the entrance there is el Palau del Lloctinent, a late Gothic building built in the sixteenth century by local architect Antoni Carbonell. The wooden ceiling and the gallery of columns on the first floor are truly beautiful.
A stair case at the end of the square takes one the entrance of Palau Reial or the old Royal Palace. Just beyond the entrance you can find the marvellous Saló del Tinell, rediscovered in 1936. The room has six gothic arches built in 1370 by the royal architect Guillem Carbonell. The paintings on the wall represent the battle held in Mallorca in 813. Another notable feature of the palace is the viewpoint called Martí I l’Humà. This tower used to be a watchtower guarding the Mediterranean and now provides visitors with stunning views of Barcelona.
At the other side of Palau Reial there is the palace’s chapel built during the first third of the fourteenth century. This austere gothic building hosts the work of one of the most important Catalan artists called Jaume Hughet. A further notable feature is the sculpture Topo – greek for space – made in 1986 by Eduardo Chillida, one of the most renowned spanish artists inside and outside of Spain.
Leaving the square you can find the City’s History Museum, built following the gothic style. Since 1943 hosts the Barcelona Museum that offers visits to the undergrounds were you can still see some remains of Barcelona’s Roman past. The museum is open everyday except mondays and local holidays, more information can be found here.
Another curiosity that reminds one of Barcelona’s Roman past can be found at the end of Carrer Paradís. On the floor, an old grinder wheel marks the highest point of the old Mont Tàber, were the roman city was situated. Just in front of this is the Catalan Hiking Association, were inside you can see four Roman Corinthian columns perfectly conserved.
Plaça Sant Jaume has two of the most important buildings for locals. On one side there is de Barcelona’s City Council and, at the other side, el Palau de la Generalitat. This square has traditionally been the political centre of the city. The Romans also made this the public Forum, where people used to meet to discuss politics. Both buildings can be visited only in specific dates.
Just leaving the Palau de la Generalitat, on the left is the Carrer del Call which used to be the entrance to the old jewish area during the Middle Age until they were driven out in the riots of 1391. Back at the time the neighbourhood of “El Call” was the cultural centre of the city hosting the only university of the city: Escola Major o Universitat Jueva (Jewish University); nowadays, it’s a beautiful part of the history of Barcelona with a charm all of its own.
At the end of Baixada de Sant Miquel there’s a beautiful hallway opened in 1879 by the mortgage society of Catalunya. Always quiet, it’s a good place to visit, especially because the artist Joan Miró was born there, in house number 4.