Barri Gòtic – Barcelona’s gothic quarter
Barcelona’s Barri Gòtic, the Gothic Quarter, is the oldest and perhaps the most atmospheric part of the city. Wonderfully positioned – to the east of Las Ramblas, north of the port and west of the Cathedral – this was the site of the ancient Roman village and, consequently, has some fascinating reminders of Barcelona’s rich heritage.
Situated, perhaps surprisingly, at the highest point of the old city’s highest vantage point – albeit only at 40 feet above sea level – this largely pedestrianised labyrinth of winding medieval lanes offers visitors history, architecture, ambience – and shopping. There are even some Gaudí designed street lamps to look out for on Plaça Reial: but don’t worry, they are unmistakable.
At the heart of the Barri Gòtic is Barcelona’s resplendent cathedral, built on the site of both Romanesque and Visigothic churches. Visitors who often consider La Sagrada Família to be Barcelona’s cathedral are missing a real treat – notable are the cloisters, the highly decorated chorus and some fabulous carved sculptures. There is also the unusual religious sight of a courtyard full, not just with flowers, but also with geese! The guidebooks will give you the full story.
The Barri Gòtic is chock full of historical delights. The 15th and 18th century churches on the Plaças del Pi and de Sant respectively; some stretches of 3rd century Roman wall and the highly imposing Palau Reial Major, which was the home of the counts of Barcelona, and where Ferdinand and Isabella welcomed Columbus back from his American adventures. Some of the oldest houses in the city are around here – many dating back to the 12th century.
One of the great joys of the Gothic Quarter is the number of hidden squares you stumble across on your journey. Some of the larger ones – such as the Plaça de Sant Jaume I and the Plaça del Rei are justifiably well-known. However, some of the reclusive little bars hidden away amongst the tiny, twisting streets alongside antique book shops will make readers of Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s ‘Shadow of the Wind’ feel right in the heart of the novel.
For many, one of the not-to-be-missed experiences of the Barri Gótic is a visit to the Museu Picasso, housed in parts of what once were five medieval palaces and containing over 3,500 original works within its permanent collection. Often the queues outside might appear quite daunting – a situation exacerbated by the narrowness of the streets, of course – but once inside the opportunity of being surrounded by so much exuberant artwork, mainly from the artist’s Blue period, makes the wait more than worthwhile.
The quarter is also a place to find some delightful shops, selling ceramics, textiles, leather goods, jewellery and fashion. The most commercial areas are to be found around Portal de L’Angel and Carrer Avinyo but there are some enchanting shops to be found all around the area.
More than anything, though, the Barri Gòtic is a place to spend time wandering and simply absorbing the textures and ambiences peculiar to this beguiling and distinctive part of Barcelona.