The oldest of the four neighborhoods comprising Barcelona's Old Town, the Barri Gòtic (Barrio Gótico in Spanish, Gothic Quarter in English) is the heart and soul of historical Barcelona. Its winding streets are flanked by remarkably beautiful medieval buildings and plazas dating back to the 14th and 15th centuries. In addition to picturesque charm and centuries of history, your guided tour of the Gothic Quarter will take you past many bars, shops, restaurants and a sprinkling of must-see attractions, such as:
Barcelona's Ayuntamiento, or City Hall, boasts a 19th-century Neoclassical façade but also has parts dating as far back as 1373! Its main entrance nowadays is on the spacious Plaça de Sant Jaume, once the site of the city's Roman forum, but head around to the Calle de la Ciutat for an idea of the building's grandeur along with a look at the former entrance, a flamboyant Catalan-Gothic façade that was unfortunately damaged during 19th century renovations. You can go inside to see paintings by Albert Rafols Casamada, a Catalan artist, or wait until Sunday mornings, when you can go further into the building; a Sunday visit will allow you entry, for example, into the impressive 14th century Saló de Cent, the building's restored Council Chamber.
Built between the 13th and 15th centuries over the crypt of a former Visigothic chapel, Barcelona's emblematic catedral - La Seu - is by far one of Spain's most exceptional Gothic costructions. The cathedral is dedicated to Saint Eulalia of Barcelona, co-patron saint of the city who was not-so-pleasantly martyred during Roman times for publicly declaring her preference for Christianity. Once you spend some time gazing admiringly at the building, head inside, where you'll find spectacular altarpieces, soaring heights, elaborate Gothic decoration and carved tombs (including those of an 11th-century count and countess). One of the cathedral's most impressive features is its 14th-century Gothic clauster, boasting tropical gardens, palm trees and a gaggle of 13 white geese, which are said to represent the age of Saint Eulalia. In fact, geese have been kept in the clauster for over 500 years, a tradition that doesn't seem to be in any danger of dying anytime soon.
In the Plaça de la Seu, the square in front of the cathedral, you can also see renovated 4th-century Roman tower, now hosuing the impressive collection of religious art and artifacts belonging to the Museu-Diocesà-La Pia Almonia. Also looking out over the square are two marvelous 15th-century buildings: the Casa de l'Ardiaca, formerly the archdeacon's residence and now the city archives, and the Palau Episcopal, the bishop's palace.
As we mentioned, the Barcelona Gothic Quarter covers the site first settled by the Romans years and years ago. Remnants of Roman times - temples, tombs, walls, etc. can be found throughout the area, and really give you a sense of Barcelona's long and interesting history. Next to the Palau Episcopal you can check out some of the remaining Roman walls; once entirely enclosing the Gothic Quarter, the vast majority of the walls were pulled down in the 19th century. Luckily, however, we still get to see parts of them!
In addition to the spectacular cathedral, the old and picturesque streets of the Gothic Quarter are also home to a sprinkling of churches and chapels; here we'll briefly describe just a few:
- Església dels Sants Just i Pastor / Sant Just i Pastor Church
14th-century church boasting a plain stone façade outside and, inside, magnificent stained glass and decoration. In the late Middle Ages, this church was the only place in town where Jews could swear legal oaths in deals with Christians.
- Església de la Mercè / Mercè Church
18th-century church at the center of the Festa de la Mercè, one of Barcelona's most anticipated annual festivals. While the church was burned in the 1930's, the apse murals, stained glass and side chapels have all been authentically restored to their former glory.
- Capella de Santa Ágata / Santa Agata Chapel
Dating back to 1303, when it was constructed over a Roman wall, the Santa Agata Chapel is a small but beautiful example of Gothic architecture with a a tall single nave and an exceptional Gothic altarpiece.
- Esglesia de Santa María del Pi / Santa María del Pi Church
Situated between three lovely little squares is the 14th-century Santa María del Pi church, which boasts a Romanesque door but is largely Catalan-Gothic in style. Its plain interior, which contains a single nave and several chapels between the buttresses, helps the stunning stained glass windows - including the huge rose window, said to be one of the world's largest - to really stand out.
Easy to miss but certainly worth a look, the 19th-century Plaza Real is located just off Las Ramblas and through an archway. The elegant, Italian-style square boasts swaying palm trees, pastel façades, wrought-iron balconies, arcades and a lovely central fountain, along with decorated iron lamps designed by a very young Antoni Gaudí. Take a seat at one of the sidewalk cafés - or one of the benches for a free seat - to soak up the sunshine and people-watch.