Ciutat Vella: the hidden spots at old town Barcelona pt 2
In an article we previously posted in this blog (Ciutat Vella: The Old Town of Hidden Barcelona) we showed you a route around the historic, hidden, gothic, old town Barcelona.
The route began in the old Hospital de la Santa Creu at the neighborhood of El Raval, to then continue through Elisabets street, the Santa Anna Church, the wonderful Bar “Els 4 gats”, the squares of Plaza del Pi and Sant Josep Oriol, the historic jewish quarter of Barcelona, and finally the beautiful (although tragic) Plaza Sant Felip Neri.
In this opportunity we will continue with our itinerary around the old town Barcelona to keep (re)discovering stories, buildings, and hidden corners.
Beware that, once you have finished reading this article, you can do the routes from both publications together at once, since the second one is but a continuation and finalization of the first route.
You have already gone through half the tour, get ready for what’s coming.
Going inside the Cathedral of any city is a must stop for most visitors, and Barcelona should be no exception.
We could say a lot about the Cathedral of Barcelona but for this time we will give you some curious details and stories about the exterior of this monument.
If you walk outside the Cathedral, in its surroundings, you will find a multitude of gargoyles decorating its facade, many of which are quiet peculiar (such as the bull or the unicorn), and one of them particularly is part of a legend: the elephant gargoyle. Says the story that when the elephant trunk falls down, a major catastrophe will take place and the world will end. Thankfully we have nothing to worry about since the trunk is now made of uralita, a very strong material that will most likely not fall off.
In this same street you will find an emblem of the Spanish inquisition, an enemy institution of the people from the moment it arrives to the city in the XVI century, bringing back a very dark age in Barcelona.
Turning your steps back a bit, go into Carrer del Bisbe (The Bishop Street), where you can delight yourself with many more gargoyles as it is one of the most photographed places in the gothic neighborhood of Barcelona. In this same street you will find the Puente del Obispo (Bishop Bridge), a neogothic style construction that hides a curse: if you look into the skull situated under the bridge, you will have very bad luck …
Continuing with our walk, come back to the peculiar gargoyles we first encountered (the bull, unicorn, and elephant) and you will then find the Archive of the Aragon Crown.
Not so frequented, and unjustly forgotten by visitors, it is really worth your time to go inside and admire it.
As you enter the building you will see a beautiful interior patio with a fountain and old vineyards that majestically ascend until reaching the third floor of the building.
Going up one of the side stairs, you will see the magnificent Sant Jordi Door, made entirely in bronze. Take a moment to look up and you will discover a wonder that few people pay attention to: an awesome catalan paneling from the XVI century, restored not so long ago.
Going out of the Archive of the Aragon Crown, you will find the famous Plaza del Rey or King’s Square, where you will once again observe many gargoyles, witnesses of various curious and historic events.
Dominated by the Palau Reial Major, Main Royal Palace, (at which stairs the farmer Canyamas tried to behead King Fernando The Catholic in 1492 without any success), you will also see the Chapel of Santa Agata, name given to the building since it contains the stone where the amputated breasts of such saint where exhibited.
Being a bit less bloody with our stories, in this plaza you will also find one of the most impressive museums in Barcelona, a place you should not miss: the MUHBA (Historic Museum of Barcelona). Go in and be amazed by the underground and historic Barcelona, Barcino, or the old Roman Barcelona.
If you love the hidden and historic sights, you should visit this museum. Its hidden corners and tombs will fascinate you.
Find out if you can go in for free at the MUHBA clicking here.
4.- Plaza Sant Just
At only 100 meters away from Plaza del Rey you will find Plaza Sant Just, one of the most beautiful and quiet places in the gothic neighborhood of Barcelona.
The Basilica de Sant Just as well as the precious fountain you will see in the square, are the oldest of the city (dating back to 1342 and 1367 respectively). The temple is well known as one of Antoni Gaudi’s favorite place.
Built on top of a Celtic Temple, it is full of masonic tombs. Inside there is a representation of the Black Virgin, famous in Catalunya. This Virgin is no other than a modification of the Christian veneration to Isis brought by the Temple Knights from Egypt.
Take your time to sit down and have a coffee at the plaza, admire its beauty and calmness while you observe the historic buildings that surround it.
At 30 meters away from Plaza Sant Just, on street Paradis number 10, exists the Centre Excursionista de Catalunya, in which interior remain standing the last 4 roman columns of the Temple of Augustus, dating back to I century before Christ.
A curiousity: at the time of the restoration work of what used to be this Center, 3 of the 4 columns where found. The 4th was found at Plaza del Rey and was later moved together with the other 3 to better show the idea of what the Temple to Augustus was.
Very off the beaten path of main touristic routes, its worth your time to go in and admire the columns, its live history of Barcelona.
Behind Paradis street, crossing Via Laeitana, walking straight on Argentería street and you will arrive to Santa María del Mar, a very beautiful and emblematic catalan gothic architectural style Church in the old city of Barcelona.
Its facade its dominated by the biggest rosette in Catalunya, with a diameter of 10 meters .. although it was not always up there.
This rosette holds two tragic stories: the first, on 1428, when it fell to the floor during an earthquake with 6 degrees on the Richter Scale at the very moment of a procession of the Corpus, killing dozens of people; and the other, on 1936, when the church was set on fire by communists and anarchists that assaulted the temple. During the fire the rosette fell off again with more unfortunate deaths.
Aside from these tragedies, Santa Maria del Mar holds most of its splendor. Go in and stand in awe at its solid columns and stale tombstones that adorn the floors of the church.
7.- Montcada Street and its medieval viewer balcony
Surrounding Santa Maria del Mar you will reach Montcada street, in the heart of the Born neighborhood, one of the most beautiful and medieval streets of the old city, where you will find as well the fascinating Picasso Museum, unique not only for the works it hosts but for the architecture of the building.
Formed by 3 joint palaces, its facade conserves the only medieval viewer balcony in Barcelona.
You might ask yourselves , Why would you have a viewer balcony in this part of the city? The answer is more simple than it seems: during medieval times the coast reached until Santa Maria del Pi, and at these historic times it was a luxury to have a viewer to watch the sea and see without being seen.
Even though we said we would only see 7 new stops in the route of hidden Barcelona, we cannot forget about the Born Market and its recently restored underground medieval ruins which were part of la Ribera district that was demolished in the early eighteenth century after the defeat of Catalonia in the War of Succession in 1714.
Continuing the trace of the original Barcino, nowadays you can visit the inside of the market to admire the old roman way and see in details the constructions of those times.
Observe for a while how the sun rays iluminate the old walls and roman patios, an experience that will transport you to the past and let you imagine life in the old times.
We have surely missed some stories and hidden places, although this route does not mean to be exhaustive.