Barrí Gotic or the Gothic Quarter is found between the Cathedral and City Hall, enclosing most of what is left of medieval Barcelona and contains some of the most interesting monuments of the city. Hidden below these centuries old streets another secret also lies… the archaeological remains of the of the ancient Roman city. The majority of construction was done the 14th and 15th centuries, when Barcelona was of great importance in the Kingdom of Aragon. Medieval Aragon’s influence was massive; at that times composed of Catalunya, Valencia, Balear Island, some parts of the South of France, some Italian islands, and some parts of Greece. With this great size came considerable wealth, wealth that was invested in Barcelona and used to construct the magnificent Gothic structures we can marvel at to this day. Let’s take a look at five stops in the Gothic Quarter I think are worth a visit on your next trip to Barcelona.
1. Barcelona Cathedral
Let’s start with the most imposing structure in the Gothic Quarter, the Barcelona Cathedral. Interestingly enough it is actually the third holy place to occupy this spot. The first was a Paleocristian church built around the 4th century, the second a Romanesque style structure constructed in the 11th century.
The church we see today began construction in the 14th century and today is commonly known as the Cathedral of Saint Eulalia. Like many venerated martyrs Eulalia’s legend is a tragic one. Just 13 years old Eulalia was a converted Christian who refused to adore the Roman Gods and dared protest against the Diocletian era persecution of Christians. As punishment for her crimes she was convicted to endure 13 tortures and to die on an X shape cross. Inside you will find allusions to Eulalia’s story, such as 13 white geese alluding to Saint Eulalia’s age at the time of her martyrdom. Why geese you ask? The geese are seen as guardians to raise the alarm as they make a lot of noise when strangers approach.
2. Plaça del Rei or King’s Square
The square of the palace of the Kings of Catalonia and Aragon; the kings that received Christopher Columbus when he returned from his first trip to the New World. Columbus knelt before the king on the stairs of the Salon del Tinell, part of the banquet halls of the palace. Built in the 15th century, the banquet halls later became the headquarters of Inquisition, and later on a part of the church of Clarisse Clan.
The best part of this square is it’s variety. You can easily see the Gothic influence, but in places you can see features more reminiscent of the Renaissance. Plaça del Rei also has a bit of a bloody history, it was where some public executions were held during The Inquisition.
On the right side of the Saloon we can see the Gothic Chapel of Saint Agatha, which is crowned with a bell tower whose base is a Roman defense tower and a portion of the roman defense wall. The legend of St Agatha its a little bit complicated and not for the faint of heart. Mainly, as a punishment of her Christianity, in the Era of Diocletian, she was tortured, had her breasts cut off and forced to walk with them on a tray.
3. Saint Philip Neri Square
The scars on this small plaza tell a gripping story from a dark time in modern Spanish history. Once upon it would have echoed with the sounds of children as it was used as a playground for a nearby school. During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) the square was bombed by the troops of General Francisco Franco and more than 20 young lives were tragically cut short. The walls of the school and church still bear the marks of these bombs as a grim reminder.
The church used to be one of master architect Antoni Gaudi’s favorites. He came here every morning for mass, in fact he was returning from this church when he was struck by a tram and killed.
4. The Jewish Quarter or The Call
The Jewish Quarter lies in the heart of the Gothic Quarter and forms an integral part of Barcelona’s heritage and identity. It is a beautiful way of learning the complex and at times tumultuous story of five centuries of Jewish people in Barcelona. Walking through the narrow streets (Call) you can even find the old synagogue, Jewish inscriptions still on the walls. The influence and importance of Barcelona’s Jewish citizens is often overlooked but did you know that Danone, one of the largest companies in the world today, was founded by a Jewish family here in Barcelona? In fact they named their company after their son Daniel’s nickname, Danon.
5. The Museum of the History of Barcelona – MUHBA
The hidden gem, the buried city. Located under the Plaça del Rei, the remains of the Roman, Visigoth and Medieval city can be discovered with a visit to the basement. The beauty of the MUHBA is the variety of sites that are preserved within it;, like a 2000 year old wine cellar, a factory for salted fish, a wealthy family’s (extravagant for the time) home and a 4th century baptismal font. I truly believe is one of the jewels of the Gothic Quarter and entrance fee is a mere seven euros but also gives you access to Salon Tinell and the Chapel of Saint Agatha.