In this section The Traveller offers a walk through the best of the medieval city (Ciutat Vella) and its immediate surroundings, starting at the subway station of Jaume I (L4 Yellow Line) and ending at the iconic church of Santa María del Mar in the Born district. Many of the stops are woven into the stories related in Barcelona Time Traveller: Twelve Tales and offer the visitor a wider perspective on the turbulent history of the city. The walk itself takes about ninety minutes but if you plan to include all the stops involving admission charges (museums and churches: some closed on Mondays) then you can easily spend much of the day making this route, finishing in the attractive Born district with its abundant tapas bars.
Taking the metro exit signed Pl. de l`Angel (NOT Argenteria) you will emerge at street level in the little square of Pl. de l’Angel. Turn around clockwise and walk past (or into) the tempting La Colmena pasteleria and follow the C/ de la Tapineria. This little street runs northwest parallel to the Roman and medieval city wall capped by the Royal Palace seen directly ahead. After a short distance you will enter the square named after Ramon Berenguer El Gran, one of the most successful of the medieval Counts of Barcelona and commemorated here by a fine equestrian statue. Read the story of how medieval Catalonia came into existence in The Eleventh Tale. On one side of the square is the busy Via Laietana, whereas opposite on the other side and sitting on top of the Roman wall rises the 14th century chapel of Saint Agatha with its octagonal bell tower.
Now return to Pl. de l’Angel and turn right (with La Colmena on the left) into the Baixada de la Llibretería where two thousand years ago the Via Augusta entered the Roman town of Barcino (see the Sixth and Seventh tales), and climb gently to reach the square where lies the political heart of Catalonia: the Pl. Sant Jaume. On the right side of this square is the Government Palace of Catalonia (La Generalitat) which faces the City Hall (Ajuntament) to your left. Now take the narrow street immediately on your right as you enter Pl. Sant Jaume (C/ del Paradís) and continue climbing gently, turning right to the next corner where an open doorway leads to a (free) exhibition of four Roman columns remaining from the First Century Temple of Augustus capping the little hill of Mont Tàber on which Barcino was founded. Note the metal wall plaque outside marking the height: 16.9m above sea level.
Continue along C/ del Paradís to reach the back of Barcelona Cathedral and turn right into C/ de la Pietat and then on down the Baixada de Santa Clara to the medieval square of the Pl. del Rei on the other side of Saint Agatha’s Chapel. The Royal Palace ahead and on the left was the residence of the Kings of Aragon/Counts of Barcelona from the 13th to 15th centuries. The great events recounted in The Second Tale finish here, where “echoes of the lost convent haunt the little street named Baixada de Santa Clara running between the two museums”. On the right of the square is the Museu d’Història de Barcelona where €7 buys you an underground visit to the Roman roots of the city, part of the Royal Palace (Palau Reial), Saint Agatha’s Chapel (read the Eighth Tale of pestilence in the city) and the 14th Century Saló del Tinell built in the time of King Peter the Ceremonious (Second Tale).
Return to the cathedral and turn right (keeping the cathedral on your left) to reach the tiny Pl. de Sant Iu where stands the famous portal to the Marès Museum (Second Tale). This once formed the entrance to the replacement Saint Clare’s Convent after the original was destroyed in the terrible 1714 Seige of Barcelona. Broken remnants of the original gothic convent can be seen in the basement of the Marès Museum (€4.20). Pass beneath the Marès portal to discover the atmospheric open air Café d’Estiu coffee bar nestling in the medieval building complex.
Leaving the Marès Museum portal, continue following the cathedral (keeping it on your left) around to its front entrance (entry €7). The gothic building is dedicated to Saint Eulalia, co-patron saint of Barcelona, who is entombed in the crypt: read the gory story of her martyrdom in The Fourth Tale. Keeping the cathedral building on your left in Pl. de la Seu, follow C/ de Santa Llúcia to pass (on the right) Casa de l’Ardiaca (Archdeacon’s House) with its mix of styles and history that includes part of the Roman walls. Now turn left into C/ del Bisbe, following the cathedral walls (still on the left) for a short distance to the little square called Pl. de Garriga i Bachs. Here take the narrow street on the right (C/ de Montjuïc del Bisbe) which curves right into the Pl. de Sant Felip Neri, where horrific damage to the walls around the square record the explosion in January 1938 of an aerial bomb dropped by Franco’s airforce. The explosion is reported to have killed 42 people, mostly children. Barcelona suffered badly from aerial bombardment during the Civil War, notably during the attack by Mussolini’s Aviazione Legionaria Italian bombers on 16-18 March 1938, the co-called “Bombing of Barcelona”. Exit the square to the left to arrive at C/ de San Sever where you turn right then left to enter C/ de St Domenec del Call in the former Jewish Quarter of the city (El Call). A short distance down this street is the little square called Placeta de Manuel Ribe (on the right) on the other side of which is the Centre del Call MUHBA Jewish museum (€2.20). Now backtrack to C/de San Sever and turn left to discover the infamous Baixada de Santa Eulàlia, where the saint was inventively reported to have been rolled down thirteen times (one for each year of her life) inside a barrel full of sharp objects.
Descend the Baixada de Santa Eulàlia and turn left into C/ dels Banys Nous then right into C/ de l’Ave Maria to reach another of the city gothic monuments: the basilica of Santa María del Pi (€4) in Pl. de Sant Josep Oriol. Pass around the front entrance of the basilica, keeping it on the left, to enter C/ de Cardinal Casañas which curves around to meet La Rambla where you turn right. Now walk up La Rambla, passing the metro station of Liceu and the famous market of La Boqueria on the left, with your back to the sea, your valuables safely hidden, and the stones deposited by countless flash floods beneath the paving under your feet (Third Tale). After passing the market take the next street on the right (C/ de la Portaferrissa) then first left (the narrow C/ d’En Bot) to find the square known as the Pl. Vila de Madrid.
At street level here you can view part of a Roman necropolis with semi-cylindrical funeral monuments (known as cupae) carved, like most of the medieval city, from the local Montjuïc brown sandstone. The cemetery, which was for long buried from view by successive flash flood deposits spreading out from La Rambla (Third Tale), can be visited close up in the museum here (€2). Cross the square diagonally to the opposite far corner and enter C/de Bertrellans, at the end of which turn right into C/ Santa Anna then left (No. 29) to discover the 12th century church of Santa Anna. The church is tucked against a low cliff which separates the medieval city from the higher sloping ground (known as the Pla de Barcelona) that runs up from Plaça Catalunya to the Collserola Hills behind the city (see the First, Third and Twelfth tales). The low cliff has forced the 15th century cloister to be built skewed at an angle to the church.
Back in C/ Santa Anna continue in the same direction to cross Av. del Portal de l’Àngel (renamed after the supposed apparition of a guardian angel during a visit by Saint Vincent Ferrer: see The Third Tale) and enter C/Comtal which runs to Via Laietana which you cross, turn right then left into C/de Sant Pere Més Alt. A short distance along this road on the left is the Modernist extravaganza of the Palau de la Música Catalana (turn left to enjoy its café-bar and restrooms around the back of the building). Now continue along C/de Sant Pere Més Alt for another 100 metres to locate black metal gates on the left at No. 31-33 (Bar Pasajes). When open these gates allow public access to the Passatge de les Manufactures, at the back of which (sometimes closed to the public) is a curious flight of 26 steps that climb the same low cliff seen at Santa Anna and lead out on to the urbanized surface of the Pla: “the geological shape, the geomorphology, of the city can be discovered in hidden places such as these” (from The Third Tale). Returning to C/de Sant Pere Més Alt continue to the church of Sant Pere de Pueŀles, all that remains of a monastery complex founded in the 10th Century, sacked by Muslim raiders, and gloriously reconstructed in the High Middle Ages only to be repeatedly degraded by war damage in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries: the church encapsulates the story of Barcelona itself (see the Second and Third tales).
Passing Sant Pere at the Pl. de Sant Pere turn left into C/de Lluís el Piadós (Louis the Pious, son of Charlemagne: see The Eleventh Tale) then right into C/de Trafalgar to reach the Neo-Mudéjar-style Arc de Triomf, built for the 1888 Universal Exposition just outside the limits of the (now demolished) medieval city walls. The Arc is built on the head of a large alluvial fan called the “Punta del Convent Formation” and produced by the diversion of storm flood waters around the medieval city walls during successive flash-flood events (see The Third Tale). Inland from the arch the ground surface follows the Pla de Barcelona which rises to meet the hills seen at the back of the city, whereas towards the sea the alluvial fan surface slopes down the Passeig de Lluís Companys to the Parc de la Ciutadella. The modern aspect of this part of Barcelona belies the fact that it is steeped in three hundred years of politically charged history. The “Convent” in the alluvial fan title was that of Saint Clare, demolished as a result of the 1714 seige. Lluís Companys, President of Catalonia and leader of the left wing party ERC, was exiled after the Spanish Civil War but handed over to Franco by the Nazi secret police, the Gestapo, and executed by firing squad in Montjuïc Castle in October 1940 (see A Day Out on Montjuïc).
With your back to the hills walk down the wide Passeig from the Arc de Triomf. Just before crossing the road at the end you will walk over a mosaic of the city geography in 1714. Now cross the road and enter Ciutadella Park, with the prominent “Castle of the Three Dragons” modernist building designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner immediately on your right. The park was the site of a huge 18th Century fortress (La Ciutadella) built on the ruins of the medieval city where Saint Clare’s Convent once stood, to ensure military control over the city after the siege of 1714. The former arsenal of La Ciutadella now houses the Catalan Parliament. Keeping the Castle of the Three Dragons to your right, turn right to locate the park exit to cross the Passeig de Picasso and enter C/de la Princesa which you follow for four blocks to reach the junction with C/de Montcada. Just a few blocks away on the right (by Saint Catherine’s Market) was the home of Miquel Parets and his family, but sadly there is no plaque to commemorate him and his famous 17th century journal (see the Fourth and Eighth tales). Instead, turn left into C/de Montcada which, lined with gothic mansions, is one of the emblematic medieval streets of Barcelona.
Passing the Picasso Museum on the left (€11), then several enticing tapas bars such as the famous and usually overcrowded El Xampanyet, you will arrive in the Passeig del Born immediately behind the gothic basilica of Santa María del Mar (free entry to nave at certain times, otherwise €5 for nave, choir and crypt, and €8 for rooftop tour). The Passeig del Born was the economic and social heart of the city in the 17th and early 18th centuries until the disaster of 1714 (see the Second and Fourth tales). Even today it is a lively, attractive place to spend some time, especially in the evenings. At the far end of the Passeig is the recently opened Born Cultural Centre, dedicated to preserving the archaeological and historical memory of the city. Coming back to Santa María del Mar, along the side of the basilica is the eternal flame monument at the Plaça del Fossar de les Moreres (Mulberry Tree Graveyard) which commemorates the Catalans killed in the 1714 seige: this is Ground Zero for Catalan nationalists. It is also presumably close to where Miquel Parets buried his wife and daughter in mid-May 1651 (see The Eighth Tale) and probably where those killed by the 1428 earthquake were interred (see The First Tale). Walk around past the front entrance to the basilica, beneath the famous rose window, and return to Jaume I subway station by walking up C/de l’Argenteria (Silversmith Street), retracing the steps of the Woman in Blue as described in the opening page of Barcelona Time Traveller: Twelve Tales.