El Raval

El Raval takes it's name from the Arabic word Rabad meaning neighbourhood and this is one nieghbourhood of Barcelona that certainly has a colourful history...  El Raval, although right in the centre of town, has always been different. Despite there being settlements in the area for centuries beforehand it wasn’t incorporated into the Old Town until the Middle Ages when the city walls were extended. Originally the area of El Raval was used to increase the number of vegetable patches within the city which in times of famine in other parts of the area could sustain Barcelona’s population and also to construct the city hospital in what was then considered a neighbourhood close to the countryside and with clean air. The Hospital de Santa Creu was built in 1406 and during the 15th Century many religious orders made El Raval their home building convents and monasteries. The neighbourhood was (and still is) home to an important community of Catalan gypsies who lived mainly around the Carrer de Cera. The name of the street (cera meaning wax) comes from the river of candle wax which used to flow from the many candles lit at shrines to the Virgin Mary to protect the residents from the plague. The area was mostly agricultural until the 19th century when, before the walls of the city were demolished, factories were built in the neighbourhood and it quickly converted into a working class community. El Raval was also known for many years as the Barrio Chino (Chinatown) not because of the high number of Chinese immigrants but rather the general atmosphere in the neighbourhood during the 19th and 20th centuries. The area became home to many immigrants and was one of the poorest parts of the city. The seediness of the neighbourhood also attracted bohemian writers such as Hemmingway and Orwell who came to drink absinthe in the bars lost in the back streets of El Raval. It was run down and considered one of the most dangerous parts of town for many years until recently when an urban regeneration program was implemented. El Raval is still home to a large immigrant population which gives this neighbourhood a multicultural feel where you’ll find a shop selling Saris next to a second hand bookshop shops only selling books about theatre in Catalan. Young people have also moved into El Raval attracted by low rent and a burgeoning cultural scene and great bars, so much so that there now exists the verb 'ravelear' which means to spend time hanging out in this melting pot of a neighbourhood. Although it’s still a little rough around the edges and there are some streets you’d do best to avoid, El Raval is definitely worth a visit.