Venturing Into Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter
As Milo explores Barcelona, he opens the door to the City’s gothic quarter. Rich in history, this ancient, picturesque enclave is a jewel of an old world set in an already vibrant crown. A real must-see for anyone in Barcelona!
Barcelona’s historic Gothic Quarter, so named for its distinctive architectural style, occupies a relatively small but extremely significant area in the south of the city. The historic centre of the old Roman city of Barcino was in this area, and thousands of years of history and architecture visibly connect these ancient origins to the present-day. This variety, as well as the area’s picturesque nature, the mostly pedestrian streets and the many landmarks, mean that the Gothic Quarter is one of the most famous and most visited parts of Barcelona. The neighbourhood is neatly delineated by La Rambla, Via Laietana and Ronda Sant Pere, separating it from El Raval, El Born and Eixample respectively.
As the name suggests, the Gothic Quarter is dominated by the gothic architectural style which was at its peak in Europe between the 12th Century and the 16th Century. This style is characterised by pointed arches, which may have been influenced by Islamic architecture, flying buttresses, large stained glass windows and ornate decoration. There are many prominent landmarks in this area, such as Barcelona Cathedral (Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia), Plaça Reial and Plaça de Sant Jaume, all of which are hubs of activity year-round.
Indeed, these landmarks showcase the different historical periods of activity in the area side by side. The Cathedral, on the site of which there has been a religious site since the 4th Century, was built from 1298 to 1448, during the zenith of Gothic architecture’s popularity in Europe. The building’s façade, however, was constructed between 1882 and 1913, a period of widespread neo-Gothic construction in the area. Another example of this is Plaça de Sant Jaume, which is located at the centre of the ancient Roman settlement of Barcino and serves as the administrative centre of both Barcelona and Catalonia to this day. As the Palace of the Generalitat (Government) of Barcelona and the Barcelona City Hall directly face each other across the square, demonstrations and protests here are a common sight.
The subtle nature of later additions to the dominant architecture of this area can be put down to a restoration project carried out in time for the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition, a World Fair which would naturally draw global attention to the city. Prior to this project, the Gothic Quarter had had a seedy reputation, but new construction in the neo-Gothic style throughout the late 19th and most of the 20th Centuries allowed it to be transformed into the attraction that it is today while maintaining its signature architectural style. One example of this which blends in with its medieval surroundings particularly well serves to be exceedingly popular with tourists and photographers: the Pont del Bisbe, the bridge across Carrer Bisbe near Plaça de Sant Jaume. While the structure fits in seamlessly with the buildings it connects, it was in fact built in 1928 by Joan Rubió.
The labyrinthine layout of this area contrasts with the grid system evident throughout most of Barcelona and guarantees an exciting opportunity for exploration
Today, the Gothic Quarter’s system of narrow, pedestrian streets and squares are full of small shops, cafes and nightlife which make it popular with a wide cross-section of society. The labyrinthine layout of this area contrasts with the grid system evident throughout most of Barcelona and guarantees an exciting opportunity for exploration, especially for young people and tourists. Indeed, from a personal standpoint, these groups signify both the advantages and disadvantages of living in the Gothic Quarter.
The other main reputation that the Gothic Quarter has is as a fun and lively area for nightlife
The constancy of the beautiful architecture of this area is matched by the constancy of guided tours going from Plaça de Sant Jaume (outside my flat) past the Pont del Bisbe and to the Cathedral; the sound of English and American accents regularly passing under my window. The other main reputation that the Gothic Quarter has is as a fun and lively area for nightlife, which carries obvious benefits for a young person such as myself but also may play a part in the relatively high crime rate for the area, compared to the city as a whole. Moving here from Sant Gervasi, a more residential, wealthier, quieter and typically older neighbourhood, I was happy to accept these small inconveniences for the location, lively atmosphere and beauty of the Gothic Quarter.
Edited by Ryan Gerrett