Buscando Barcelona

On the Waterfront: La Ribera and El Born

Posted on: December 15, 2009

Named for the seaside along which it is situated, La Ribera was the main hub of the city of Barcelona during the 13th century when Catalan commerce ruled the western Mediterranean ports. MerchaCarrer de l'Argenteria (Silversmith street) by OrliPix.nts, entrepreneurs, craftsmen set up shop close to the water in this district. To the right of Via Laietana, south of Calle Princessa and bordered by Port Vell and the Parc de la Ciutadella, La Ribera boasts a neighborhood within a neighborhood; that of El Born. It is here that the best illustration of the past and the present can be seen. The guilds of the old town are still visible in the street names. At one time Carrer de Sombreres was the location of the hatters of the town, silversmiths worked on Carrer de Argenteria, and if you needed a new sword you would visit Carrer de Espaseria. Today, it is on those streets that the new guilds reside, most notably, the Calle Montcada. As La Ribera’s best known street, it is no surprise that the palaces and best attractions line it. Boasting the largest concentration of Gothic palaces in the city, the street is home to the new museum guild.

Spanning five contiguous palaces, the Picasso museum is the most visited attraction in Barcelona. I would go into more detail here, but it will be later described in detail as one of my cultural experiences in Barcelona. Another museum to note is the Textile and Clothing museum, as well as a pre-Colombian art gallery. This makes up the museum guild of modern La Ribera. Other modern day guilds include the multitude of unique local boutiques of designer clothes, some of which occupy their historical counterpart’s Gothic workshops. This juxtaposition of the past and the present further drives home the fact that Barcelona is a modern city that manages to hang on to its roots.  

File:Santa Maria del Mar 2.jpgDeep within this district is one of Barcelona’s many churches. The Santa Maria del Mar was begun in 1329 and the people worked tirelessly on this incredible gothic work of art for over 50 years. It is often said that the church was actually built right on the sand of the beaches and years of city expansion extended the shoreline pulling the church farther into the city. While this is a lighthearted thought, it is not actually true. This idea may have come from the miscommunication of the name and location of the church that originally existed on this site, the Santa Maria dels Arenys, or Holy Mary of the Sands. Below del Mar, and dels Arenys is a burial site dating back to the first century AD which was why the site was chosen. Dels Arenys was also the likely location of the first Episcopal seat of Barcelona in the 4th century, so there is obvious significant meaning behind the location. The original church was the religious home of the cult of Saint Eulalia, the patron of Barcelona who was supposedly buried there in 303.  File:Barcelona santa maria del mar 1.jpg

 Also known as the people’s church, it was decorated to reflect the life of the neighborhood surrounding it. Doors and altars were decorated with dockworkers, another representation of the guilds that dominated the area, this reference being to the bastaixos or guild of longshoremen. The main altar is crowned with a wooden model of a ship from the 15th century. Unfortunately, the rest of these kinds of decorations were lost when the church was set on fire during the Spanish Civil War. Luckily, the beautiful stain glass windows survived and bring back some of the beauty to the bare walls, octagonal columns, and high vaulted ceilings. In the end, this fire that burned for 11 days was a blessing in disguise because the true beauty of this architecture can now be fully appreciated. The columns of the Santa Maria del Mar are the widest of any gothic church in Europe spanning just over 43 feet apart. This allows for an incredible solemn grandeur that is often imitated but rarely duplicated by other churches.

Next to this church is The Fossar de les Moreres , a memorial plaza in Barcelona. The plaza was built over a cemeteary where defenders of the city were buried following what is known as the Seige of Barcelona the end of the Spanish Secession in 1714. This seige is remembered on the date of its occurance, September 11th. The plaza retains its everyday use as a public space, but always has an eternal flame burning over the heroic poem by Frederic Soler, “El Fossar de les Moreres” for which the plaza is named. Many Catalans pay homage to the defenders of city who were killed and are buried at the memorial every year on this date.

Also near the water is the Consulat de Mar, also known as La Llotja. It was originally a seaside exchange mart built by Pere Llobet, the architect of the Salo de Cent in the Ajuntament building, but a flood destroyed it. Pere III decided to rebuild it as part of his redevelopment plan in the late 14th century. Possessing a single arcaded room with gothic pillars and a flat beamed ceiling this contract room is the oldest constant operating stock exchange in Europe. However, that was not its only use. For several years in the late 19th century, the main art school of Barcelona inhabited its upper floors, and renowned artists Picasso and Miro studied there.

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