Buscando Barcelona

Archive for the ‘Field Studies’ Category

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.


File:Plaça angels.JPGFormerly a forgotten area of Barcelona, the neighborhood of El Raval went through a major cleanup in the early 1990s in preparation for the 1992 Summer Olympic Games hosted by the city. The dramatic turn from inner city neighborhood to progressive city neighborhood was incredibly beneficial not only to El Raval, but to Barcelona as a whole. Because of its working class population, drugs and violence were prevalent in the area. When the time came to clean up the neighborhood, the council decided that the Placa dels Angels was the best place to start. They cleared the plaza and made it an open area directeFile:CCCB 20070408.jpgd toward younger citizens and families in an effort to drive away the drug dealers. It is off this plaza that two of the most valuable contemporary buildings exist.

            First is the Museu D’Art Contemporani De Barcelona, MACBA for short. Home to late 20th century art, the building itself is a testament to this era as well. It was designed by the American architect Richard Meier’s and is based on rationalism. The straight lines and bright white façade with large windows create a stark contrast with the rickety old apartment buildings surrounding the structure. The curved lines incorporated in the architecture seem to be a small testament to the laundry constantly fluttering in the wind from the balconies of the apartments, as if Meier was trying to soften the contrast between the old and the new. The courtyard in front of the MACBA has become a place frequented by young people in the neighborhood and contemporary art exhibitions draw in diverse groups of people, a welcome change for the area.

                        Tucked behind the MACBA is the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona, or the CCCB. Residents of the Raval neighborhood can attend art exhibitions, debates, festivals, films, concerts, and lectures that promote the arts in an effort to bring contemporary culture into the neighborhood.  There is an open courtyard in the middle for people to chat and dbarcelona ravaliscuss the exhibitions as well as a cute little café. When we visited, there were several college-aged kids having a café con leche and a cigarette talking with each other. Another group of elementary school children were just leaving from a field trip to the museum. There is a really pretty square courtyard in the middle that has a stunning contrast of classical and modern architecture. The top of the glass facade is angled in such a way that you can see all the way over the rooftops of El Raval to the Mediterranean Sea. It creates a beautiful effect on the glass and brings a little of the water into the neighborhood.

            From there we walked down Rambla del Raval, one of the spaces opened up by the City Council. Lined with palm trees it is similar to Las Ramblas, but much less touristy. It is the hang out spot for the neighborhood’s residents, which is largely Pakistani among other immigrants. It was very pretty and you could see the differences between the old apartments and those that had been remodeled in an effort to update the neighborhood. We passed a new, high class hotel which backs up to a street that is filled with prostitutes at night. It was strange seeing such a stark contrast between luxury and poverty, but is a poignant reminder of the work that still needs to be done to clean up the neighborhood for good.

Seeing the ancient Roman walls next to modern architecture allows for a direct connection between the old and the new. So it was only fitting that our first field trip in Barcelona: Past and Present be to a location which most effectively illustrates this. The perimeter of this old Roman city is still visible today, and can still be walked by following this outlineStarting at Placa Nova, follow Carrer de la Palla to Carrer dels Banys Nous, to Carrer d’Avinyo toward the port. Then take Carrer Ample, Carrer del hostal d’en Sol, Carrer de Angel Baixeras, Carrer del Sots-tinent Navarro, Carrer de la Tapineria, back to Avinguda de la Cathedral.These six-foot-thick walls run for about 1350 yards and once enclosed 25 acres in a fat coffin shape. Four main gates to the city were denoted by the 2 main avenues that crossed at the forum at the center of the city. This forum is believed to be beneath the plaza in front of the Cathedral.

There are several interesting sites in this area of the city, like the three original columns of the Temple of Augustus in the courtyard of Carrer del Paradis (which unfortunately we didn’t see because it is under restoration right now), but my favorite would have to be the Placa del Rei in front of the Cathedral. It’s a wide open space frequented by visitors and locals alike. I love the Barcino sign off to the side and the fact that you can still see part of a Roman aqueduct projecting into the square. It is hard to believe that this sprawling, busy, metropolis was ever anything but that. Barcelona  started out as any other; small and exclusive with most of its population living outside the city walls. 

           Having just been back to the plaza to visit the Christmas market, I still got the chills knowing that ancient Roman ruins were right beneath my feet. Seeing them was even more interesting when our class visited the Museo de L’Historia de la Ciutat. Robert Hughes, the author of our textbook Barcelona, was right when he said that the ruins aren’t much to look at aesthetically. I have to admit I was expecting a Pompeii-like scene, or something similar to Rome itself. However, that is not to say that the ruins were disappointing. In fact, it was hauntingly beautiful. The silence as we walked through really made you appreciate the humble beginnings of this great city….but the museum workers, and other visitors were none too happy when that reverent silence was broken by a water bottle that was sent flying down the metal walkway in to the ruins themselves by my slightly clumsy friend Mary. Ooops! She was incredibly embarrassed, but at least the bottle was tightly closed! Luckily the ruins were left unharmed, but I’m not sure that Mary will be if the museum sees her there again with another water bottle!

            Next to this museum is the Salo de Tinell, another impressive architectural monument in the city. Its arched cavern-like construction was one of the largest of its kind in Europe spanning over 50 feet. It was designed by Pere III’s architect and placed on top of Berenguer IV’s royal palace, yet another example of Barcelona’s penchant for using the past to define the present. Though its name means “banqueting chamber,” that was not its sole purpose. Throughout the 1370s it was used as Parliament for the region and in 1493 it is said that Ferdinand and Isabella received news of the New World from Christopher Colombus in that very room. Though there is no real evidence to back that claim up, it definitely adds a certain presence to the already magnificent structure.

Today, Parliament has moved to Placa Sant Jaume, also in the Barcino, or Barri Gotic district. Facing each other are the Generalitat (Regional government) and the Ajuntament (City Hall). This is another plaza in which people congregate for various events of the city. The Generalitat celebrates St. George, or Sant Jordi, the patron saint of Catalonia with a sculpture on the façade overlooking the square. The city hall across the way is a major historical site. It was from the Salo de Cent within this building that the Council of the Hundred ruled Barcelona as a city-state for nearly 500 years. This government had a more populist view than that of the Corts which was succeeded by the current Generalitat. The Council of the Hundred was selected by the count-king of Barcelona’s electoral college of 200 men who all represented various trades and professions. The council chosen were common citizens nominated though a lottery. While its not quite as busy as the plaza in front of the Cathedral, many a historic speech has been made and many demonstrations have occurred between these two important buildings.


            Seeing these monuments next to ancient ruins brings up an interesting dichotomy in the definition of the modern city of Barcelona. Is it solely the area within the Roman perimeter leaving the neighborhoods as mere extensions? Or has the city encompassed those neighborhoods willingly embracing each of their unique beginnings?   Your viewpoint really depends on how you view the city. Are you more a fan of the historical origins of Barcelona? Or do you agree more with the fact that the city changed as the times changed and that Barcelona is now a sprawling, thriving metropolis?

            While I think that both sides have valid points, I’m going to have to side with the post office. Incoming mail to anywhere within the city limits is addressed to Barcelona, Espana. While I live in L’Eixample Esquerra, my mail I receive is still addressed to the main city of Barcelona, not L’Eixample. This applies to any other neighborhood whether it be Gracia, El Born, Barri Gotic or Barceloneta. Then again, the post office makes these distinctions with the postcode, similar to how they do in the United States, which consequently brings me back to where I started. It seems this is one of those age old questions that may never be legitimately answered. Whatever the case, it is easy to see that Barcelona of the present can never be fully appreciated without first understanding the Faventia Julia Augusta Paterna Barcino of the past.


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