Maybe you saw the Gothic Quarter on an earlier cruise, but left with the feeling that you only scratched Barcelona’s surface. What more is there to see in the rest of the Old City? If you’re near the Colon Monument, the sights of Port Vell and El Rival are within easy walking distance; if you’re near the Cathedral or the Museu de l’Historia de la Ciutat, La Ribera and Barceloneta are better choices for an afternoon ramble.
Port Vell, Barcelona’s historic old port district, was redeveloped for the 1992 Olympics. Stretching from the Colon Monument to Barceloneta, the revived waterfront district has become a draw for tourists and locals alike. La Rambla del Mar, a wooden walkway, leads from the Colon Monumuent to the Maremagnum, a mall containing shops, bars, restaurants, an IMAX movie theatre and Barcelona’s Aquarium, the largest in Europe. (Aquarium Open 9:30am-9:00pm, Weekends and Bank holidays, 9:30am-9:30pm – Admission €20, Children €5-15, depending on height)
The Maritime Museum (Avinguda de les Drassanes), near the foot of La Rambla, is located in the former Royal Shipyards, and tells the story of Barcelona’s maritime past. The permanent exhibition may or may not be closed for renovations (on-line information is contradictory and undated), but the highlights include a replica of a 16th century galley that fought at Lepanto, several ships models, and an outstanding collection of navigational instruments. There are also changing temporary exhibits on display. (Museum open daily 10am-8pm; Winter Hours are Tues-Sun 10:00am-5:30pm, Sat 2:00-5:30pm. Admission €5; Free on Sundays after 3:00pm)
Sandwiched between La Rambla and the Paral-lel is El Raval, a bohemian neighbourhood undergoing gentrification. From ancient monasteries to Modernist gems and 20th century bomb shelters, this part of Barcelona holds many surprises.
One of the oldest buildings in this part of town is Sant Pau del Camp (Carrer de Sant Pau, 101) a Romanesque church and former monastery believed to have been founded in the 9th century. The church gets its name from its location – at the time of its founding, Sant Pau was outside the city walls and in the “country.” Despite having been destroyed and rebuilt several times, the church and cloister are in remarkably good shape, and still provide a quiet haven from the bustling city outside its door. (Church open Mon-Sat, 10am-1pm and 4pm-7pm)
Another relic is the Antic Hospital de la Santa Creu (Carrer Hospital, 56), which served as Barcelona’s main hospital from 1401 until 1929, when it was replaced by a newer building in the Eixample district. Today the former hospital wards house the Biblioteca de Catalunya and its millions of documents and artifacts pertaining to Catalan history. The Institut d’Estudis Catalans has taken over the 17th century Casa de la Convalesencia, while the third building in the complex, the 18th century neo-classical Reial Academia de Medicina, is now sometimes used as an exhibition space. (Library open Weekdays 9am-8pm, Sat 9am-2pm. Royal Academy open weekdays until 2 pm. Free.)
While technically in the Poble Sec neighbourhood of Montjuic, El Refugi 307 (Nou de la Rambla, 169) is only a few blocks west of the Paral-lel and so included here. One of the thousand or so air raid shelters built during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), El Refugi is now one of the interpretation centers of the Museu d’Historia de la Ciutat. Guided tours of the 400-meter long tunnels, complete with toilets and an infirmary, give a glimpse of what life was like for the average Barcelonan during the Civil War. (Guided tours on Sunday, 10:30, 11:30 and 12:30, with reservations only – Admission included in price of History Museum ticket.)
To the east of the Gothic Quarter, across Via Laietana, is La Ribera, (also known as El Born). One of Barcelona’s oldest neighbourhoods, La Ribera (“the shore”) was created in the 13th century, when the city first expanded beyond the old city walls. For the next two centuries, Barcelona was at the height of its mercantile and maritime preeminence; the new seaside district became the neighbourhood of choice for merchants and tradesmen connected to the port, while the wealthiest families built palaces along the Carrer Montcada. Today the district (now known for the 19th century Born Market on the Carrer del Comerç) is the center of Barcelona’s vibrant art and restaurant scene.
Tucked away at the northern end of La Ribera, one block east of the Via Laietana, is the Palau de la Musica Catalana (Carrer Palau de la Musica, 4-6). This Modernist masterpiece, designed by Lluis Domenech i Montaner, was commissioned by the Orfeo Catala, a group dedicated to promoting and preserving Catalan music. If the building’s exterior, of red brick decorated with ceramic mosaics and monumental sculptures, is ornate, the interior is even more spectacular. Two grand marble staircases lead from the vestibule to the foyer, with its wide brick arches decorated with pastel ceramic flowers. A fine view of the mosaics that decorate the second story columns of the façade can be had from the Lluis Millet Hall, where concert-goers gather before performances. The Concert Hall itself is naturally illuminated in daylight hours by an enormous stained glass skylight and side panels, while the stage is surrounded by an elaborately sculptured arch. This 15-minute German video gives you some idea of what the interior holds: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCI7ff0Q18Y
55-minute guided tours of the Palau de la Musica Catalana are available in Catalan, Spanish, French, English and Russian every 30 minutes from 10am-3:30pm and cost €18, although various discounts are available. Tours sell out quickly, so it is suggested that you buy your tickets in advance, either on-line or at the box office. For information on performances, tickets and tours, follow this link: http://www.palaumusica.cat/en
From an architectural standpoint, the jewel of La Ribera is Santa Maria del Mar (Plaça Santa Maria, 1). Built in the 14th century to commemorate the Catalan conquest of Sardinia, Santa Maria is an outstanding example of the Catalan Gothic style. The massive, rather severe façade belies the ethereal, soaring beauty of the interior, where slender octagonal columns support a simple vaulted ceiling. The church is almost devoid of imagery due to a fire in 1936; as a result, the harmonious proportions of the interior, lit by the clerestory windows of the apse, shine through. (Church open Mon-Sat 9am-1:30pm, 4:30-8pm; Sun 10am-1:30pm, 4:30-8pm)
On the eastern side of Santa Maria del Mar is the Carrer Montcada, Medieval Barcelona’s main street. Montcada is still lined with the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque mansions of the wealthy, which have been converted into museums and art galleries. Barcelona’s Picasso Museum (Carrer Montcada, 15-23) occupies five adjoining mansions on the eastern side of the street. While most of the 3,800 works inside are from the artist’s early years, the Museum also has the only complete series of the 58 paintings comprising “Las Meninas” (1957). The collection also includes lithographs, illustrations and ceramics.
(Open Tues-Sun 9am-7pm, Thurs 9am-9:30 pm, Closed Mondays & Public Holidays; Admission to the Collection plus Temporary Exhibit is €14/€7.50 for Seniors)
For complete information on the Museum, the Collection, and Admission fees, follow this link: http://www.museupicasso.bcn.cat/en/
Passeig del Born, a wide boulevard holding many trendy shops, restaurants and bars, extends from Santa Maria del Mar to the old Born Market on the Carrer del Comerç. In Medieval times, it hosted jousting tournaments; in the 16th century, it was used for the executions; today, it is one of the centers of Barcelona’s nightlife.
At the eastern end of Passeig del Born is the old Born Market, one of the first Modernist buildings in Barcelona. The Born was Barcelona’s central market from 1878 until it closed in 1971. It languished for decades after the closure, falling into decrepitude, until it was decided to convert the market into the Provincial Library of Barcelona. During excavations, workers uncovered the ruins of the medieval town that had been leveled to construct a military fortress after rebellious Catalonia was defeated in the War of Spanish Succession (1714). It was decided to preserve the ruins, and the Library project was moved to another site. Today, the ruins form a kind of “city within a market” and are part of the Born Cultural Center (Carrer del Comerç, 2), a civic space and covered plaza that connects Passeig del Born to Paseo Picasso and Ciutadella Park. In addition to a permanent exhibit of artifacts found on the site, the Center also has restaurants and space for cultural activities and events. Guided tours of the “Museum of La Ribera,” as the medieval ruins are known, are available at the ticket desk near the entrance. (Upper level open Tues-Sun, 1oam-10pm; Dining area open 10am-Midnight.)
Family Fun in El Born
Just on the other side of Paseo Picasso is Parc de la Ciutadella. This urban oasis replaced the Citadel, the fortress built after Barcelona’s defeat in the War of the Spanish Succession. This much-hated symbol of Madrid’s control was destroyed between 1869 and 1878, and only three of the original buildings remain – the military chapel, the Governor’s palace (now a secondary school) and the arsenal, which is now home to the Catalan Parliament. The park’s development did not begin in earnest until after the area was designated the site of the 1888 Universal Exposition. On the Paseo Picasso are the four surviving buildings from the Exposition – the modernist Castel dels Tres Dragons, the Neoclassical Martorell Museum, and two pavilions, the Hivernacle (winter garden) and the Umbracle (tropical shade greenhouse). Tres Dragons and the Martorell are now part of Barcelona’s Museum of Natural Sciences, but have been closed to the public for renovation. The park also has ornate gardens, a cascading waterfall, a lake and the Barcelona Zoo – a great spot for a family outing. (Park open 10am-7pm in Summer, 10am-5pm in Winter; Free – Zoo open generally 10am-5:30pm, sometimes later depending on the season: Admission €19.50, Children €11.95, Seniors €10.05, Disabled €5.65)
You have to love a city that has a museum devoted exclusively to chocolate! Museu de la Xocolata (Carrer del Comerç, 36) tells the history of chocolate in Europe, from its introduction by Spanish Conquistadores returning from the New World through the present day. Exhibits explain not only the importance of chocolate to the Aztec and Maya, but how the addition of milk, sugar and honey made the beverage popular in Europe. There are also exhibits of modern manufacturing equipment and techniques, as well as displays of paintings and sculptures made of chocolate and the “Sala Barcelona,” which holds models of some of the city’s famous buildings, all rendered in chocolate. Activities include chocolate tastings, chocolate-and-wine samplings, and many other events, tours and workshops. And your ticket is edible! (Museum open Mon-Sat, 10am-7pm, Sun & Holidays, 10am-3pm – Admission: €5)
For information on events and schedules, visit: http://www.museuxocolata.cat/
Almost as popular as chocolate, as least with the younger set, is magic, and Barcelona has its own Museum of Magic inside El Rei de la Magia (Carrer de la Princessa, 11). Opened in 1881 as a shop catering to illusionists (both amateur and professional), El Rei’s mission has expanded beyond selling tricks and paraphernalia to include classes, workshops and performances. (Open Tues-Sun, 11am-2pm and 4pm-8pm – Tours must be booked by phone or e-mail, €5)
For performance schedule and prices, visit their website: http://www.elreydelamagia.com/en
Once upon a time, Barceloneta was an island off the coast of Barcelona. Following the construction of the Citadel, the marshland that separated the island from the city was reclaimed, and housing was built to shelter the displaced former residents of La Ribera. Today, Barceloneta is the city’s beach and marina area. There is one museum of note, Museu d’Historia de Catalunya (Pl. Pau Villa, 3), whose mission is to showcase the shared heritage of Catalonia and reinforce a separate national identity. The permanent exhibit presents the chronological history of Catalonia, but the Museum also hosts temporary exhibitions and special activities. (Museum open Tues-Sat, 10am-7pm; Wed, 10am-8pm, Sun & Holidays, 10am-2:30pm – Admission: €4.50, Seniors €3.50)