The Barri Gòtic in Barcelona is a fantastic place to get lost. Just wandering around those winding Medieval streets, soaking up the atmosphere is a perfect way to experience the neighbourhood. If you like to be a bit more pro-active in your wanderings here are our favourite places to visit...
La Catedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulàlia Plaça de la Catedral
Barcelona's Cathedral stands majestically in the centre of a wide square (handily called Plaça de la Catedral) and is a beautiful example of Catalan Gothic architecture. The first mention of a place of worship on this site comes in 599AD and two Cathedrals had been built before the one we see today. Work started in 1298 on what was originally meant to be a simple extension of the Romanic church currently occupying the site but the project grew and grew and the Cathedral we know today took over 150 years to complete. The façade, though it appears to the naked eye to be an original feature, was actually added in the late 19th Century just in time for the 1882 World Fair. The design was similar to original drawings for the façade which was actually quite plain, like many churches of the time. The Cathedral is named after the patron saint of Barcelona, Santa Eulàlia, whose remains are interred in the crypt. She was a 13 year old girl who was apparently killed by the occupying Roman forces when she refused to repent her Christianity. Thirteen white geese are kept in the cloister as a reminder of each year of her short life. El Call
The small area of El Call with its tiny streets was the former Jewish quarter of Barcelona. There had been a Jewish community in Barcelona since Roman times and it was bustling with life; excavations have revealed butchers shops, two synagogues and baths, in fact you can still see the remains of the Men's Baths in a shop at number 10 Banys Nous. The winding street were densely populated until 1391 when there was an uprising against the community causing 300 deaths. Those who survived were forced to convert, flee or be executed. The buildings were then passed on to important figures of the city. The streets still hold signs of the former inhabitants of the area; there is a stone with a dedication to a new hospital carved in Hebrew on the wall (the Spanish translation underneath is incorrect) and the site of the Synagogue which has undergone excavation and is now open to the public for guided tours.
Columns of the Temple of Augustus MUHBA - Temple d'August - Paradís, 10
The Temple of Augustus was dedicated to Caesar Augustus and was the highest point in Roman Barcelona (Barcino). Built in 1AD it showed the wealth of this relatively small settlement. From this temple four columns have survived two thousand years of history to be seen in Barcelona today, offering us the chance to imagine what life was like in Barcino.
Plaça Felip Neri
This hidden gem of a square offers a tranquil space in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the Barri Gòtic and with an interesting back story. The square is home to the former headquarters of the Barcelona Guild of shoemakers and the shoe museum and partially built on top of a medieval cemetery. The main draw of this square is the church, Iglesia Sant Felip Neri after which the square is named. In 1938 the square was bombed by Nationalist forces and caused the deaths of 42 people, mainly children, who had been sheltering in the church. During its reconstruction it was decided to leave the holes and marks left by the bomb on the wall of the church to serve as a reminder to all of the devastating effects of war.
It may hardly ever be a white Christmas in Barcelona but the combination of lower temperatures, a sweet tooth, an the tradition of 'merienda' (an afternoon snack) means just one thing: hot chocolate. The first mention of Carrer Petritxol is in 1340 and the tiled murals which adorn the walls show traditional images of the street and give helpful advice, such as to drive carefully and slowly. The street is particularly famous for its many granjas; cafés specialising in hot chocolate of all kinds (believe me there are many to choose from!) as well as the obligatory accompaniment of traditional cakes, pastries or churros. Beware when just asking for 'chocolate caliente' it is very thick, almost like a sauce, why not try a 'suis' a hot chocolate with whipped cream on top to warm up on cold winter days?
All photographs ©Arduino Vannucchi