The time stops in Barcelona's Gothic Quarter

Barcelona is a city full of life, bustle, parties on the beach, beers on the Ramblas; it is a socially innovative city, where people are three steps ahead, revolutionary. However, it has spaces that have remained suspended in the passage of time, as if guarded by history. The Barrio Gótico, which has been there since Roman times, is one of these. Here is the city's cathedral, the city wall, the little stone streets that look like something out of a medieval fairy tale, the Jewish quarter - which is a neighbourhood within a neighbourhood - and the royal square. This is where it all began in this bizarre, extraordinary and fascinating city.

Gothic Quarter, historical center of the city.

- © ansharphoto / Shutterstock

In Catalan it's called Barri Gòtic, and it's one of the most important places to visit in Barcelona. It has been somewhat emptied of locals for the same reason, but it is impossible for it to lose its authenticity - although that is a controversial issue - as it stands among the stones that have been there since the Romans, when the city was called Barcino. It is the historical centre of the city in every sense of the word: as a nucleus where the past is collected, where time and its stories are kept.

This neighborhood has been here since Roman times.

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This is just one of the four neighbourhoods that make up Barcelona's Old City, although it is the oldest. This is obvious as you walk among its stone buildings that have been turned a little black by time and the medieval aesthetics, with architectural buildings that have given the area its current name.

The invention of the Gothic Quarter

This area has not always been called Gòtic. In fact, it was given that name as a tourist strategy that occurred to Ramón Rucabado, writer and journalist, and which seemed an excellent idea to the architect and councillor of the city council, Adolf Florensa.

This neighbourhood remained intact until the 19th century, when the authorities decided to give it a good overhaul because the walls made it very dark, difficult to move around and sometimes unhygienic. However, to do this they had to decide what could be torn down and what had to be left standing, so they made an analysis of its historical value.

They found many beautiful houses and structures, which not only did not need to be demolished, but needed to be given more importance. They began a project to restore the neighbourhood around the Cathedral, which was the area's namesake at the time.

What was dilapidated was renovated with windows, tribunes and gothic friezes. Buildings that were in poor condition were replaced by others that were in better condition, moving stone by stone. A new avenue, the Via Layetana, was the central axis of the whole renovation, as it was to connect this neighbourhood with the port.

But while the connection with the rest of the city was being speeded up, vehicular traffic was prohibited inside the neighbourhood. They replaced the street lighting with street lamps and called in great architects to help with the project, such as Joan Rubió, a disciple of Gaudí, who built the flamboyant bridge on Carrer del Obispo, one of the main attractions of the Gothic Quarter.

Iconic flamboyant bridge by Joan Rubió.

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The importance of the neighbourhood

The renewal of the neighbourhoods is not unique to Barcelona, and although it is not exactly the same as when it began, this district has undoubtedly formed a very important part of Barcelona's and Catalonia's identity.

Among these cobbled streets are inner neighbourhoods with their own personalities that tell the stories that have passed through this ancient city, such as the Jewish quarter, the Palau and La Mercè. And it is true that not all the stones of this neighbourhood are there from the 1st century BC, but you can see the remains of the wall that once protected the city of Barcino.

Inside the Gothic Quarter

The Gothic Quarter is not huge, but there is a lot to see here. It can easily take half a day or a bit more to get around, although it's not that many square kilometres. Here are some of the must-sees:

The Cathedral

This is one of the main reasons why you should go to the Gothic Quarter. It has a very long history and many renovations: it was built between the 13th and 15th centuries, on top of the cathedral that the Romans had before them, which in turn was already on top of a Paleochristian basilica of the Visigoths. But the Gothic grandeur that can now be seen, especially on the façade, dates from the 19th century.

The Jewish Quarter

From 70 AD a small Jewish community settled in Barcelona, fleeing the repression and war in Palestine in the first Jewish-Christian war. From then on, the Call, as this Jewish quarter is called in Catalan, began to be created, which at one point became the largest in Catalonia, with a community that made up 15% of the population.

The history of this neighbourhood is complicated and often tragic, with anti-Semitic attacks and much discrimination. Here you can visit the MUHBA El Call, which tells the story of Barcelona's Jewish community in relation to the history of the city and the splendour of its cultural legacy.

The Plaça Reial

The Plaça Reial is an excellent place to start or end your tour of the Gothic Quarter, as it adjoins Las Ramblas.

Named after the Catholic Monarchs, construction began in 1850 on what was once the site of a convent. It was the work of the architect Francisco Daniel Molina and is highly praised because the way it is built creates an optical illusion that makes it appear quadrangular rather than rectangular. It has passages that connect the streets of the medieval fabric and thus create a flow between the interior and exterior of the square.

The City Wall

The ancient city wall was built between the 1st and 4th century BC and a large part of it is still standing and can be visited. Various remains have been preserved, especially in the northern and eastern parts. In the Piazza Nuova, where the Praetoria gate was located, the best preserved parts are to be found, with two towers, part of the perimeter wall and an arcade of the old aqueduct.

Around this square there are many old houses and small streets that are well worth a walk.

The whole Gothic Quarter is a spectacle of time in pause and architecture from other eras, which, despite not being there since the beginning of time, are an axis of the culture of this city and show a different, more conservative aspect of Barcelona.

The Roman wall of Barcelona.

- © ansharphoto / Shutterstock
by Sofia Viramontes
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