The Barri Gotic, Barcelona is easily one of our favourite neighbourhoods in the world. We couldn’t wait to discover the secrets this neighbourhood, that was once the ancient port town of Barcino held. We were staying close to it, and knew we’d keep passing it. But we didn’t want to miss out on anything. So we set out exploring the Barri Gotic on foot.
Exploring the Barri Gotic: Our walking trail
Plaça Sant Jaume (pronounced Yauma)
We began exploring the Barri Gotic, Barcelona ‘s old neighbourhood from the busy square of Plaça Sant Jaume. There used to be a church of St. James here (thus the name). It was a strange clearing in the midst of several official looking buildings where we looked up and saw Catalonian flags flapped defiantly against Spanish flags. These Government buildings bear witness to this ancient Roman thoroughfare where demonstrations and other political events often happen. We noticed that a couple of stores and fast food joints faced the square while people rushed about crossing through.
Roman Temple of Augustus
We then turned onto Carrer Paradis to reach the Roman Temple of Augustus (at #10). Through a nondescript entrance we went, and saw a plaque that read Mont Tàber 16.9 metres. The highest spot in the Bari Gotic didn’t seem any different to me. But as we entered, the temperature seemed to change, and a cool wind shook off the summer heat from the streets. And as unexpectedly as possible, there, in this tiny little niche stood 4 imposing columns, fluted and magnificent on their plinths, with a tiny black and white photo of the home in which they were found. This at some point, several years ago used to be a temple, in the ancient harbour kingdom of Barcino. The sheer history of these rather matter of factly placed relics, stunned us into silence for quite a while.
Carrer del Bisbe Bridge
Backtracking through Placa Sant Jaume, we then turned onto Carrer del Bisbe. There, suspended before us stood a medieval looking bridge, with details of gargoyles, skulls, monsters, goddesses, vines, bearded men, and other Gothic symbolism. This was the passage between the Government office and the President’s residence.
Plaça Sant Felip Neri
Via Carrer de Sant Sever we then turned onto Carrer de Sant Filip Neri at the end of which, hid a tiny little square. A small fountain, the shade of a tree, a tiny cafe table, it was like time had forgotten this little patch in this little corner of the Barri Gotic, Barcelona. The walls still had shrapnel scars from the Civil War. A small unassuming door led to the Church Sant Felip Neri, (once frequented by Antoni Gaudi himself) we stepped in gingerly, so as not to disturb the service that was in progress. Our eyes took a while to get accustomed to the darkness, a handful of figures praying in silence, illuminated by the glow of a few candles. We then popped into a store with the most colourful window display – Sabater Hermanos, where I filled a basket with lots of beautiful handcrafted artisanal soaps to gift friends and family back home. The square also led to a tiny shoe museum, manned by a kindly centenarian who spoke no English. He forbid us from taking any photographs of the ancient handcrafted shoes on display, but tried hard, in a very excitable manner to explain the significance of each showcase, gesturing towards me to imply women’s shoes, and writing dates on pieces of paper. We understood very little, but this mimed guided tour, was the most enjoyable one we’ve ever experienced.
Placa de la Catedral en Barcelona
We rushed back to the Cathedral of Barcelona opposite which sits the Casa de l’Ardiaca, the old archdeacon’s residence, now the city archives that also houses several exhibits. There’s a beautiful mail slot carved by Modernista architect Montaner. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to stop, because it was almost 12 in the afternoon, and the entire Plaça was ready to dance! The Sardana is a traditional Catalonian dance from the 16th century that is performed by seniors at the Plaça right outside the Cathedral in the summer months. We watched as the oldies shuffled and strutted to the tune of a band of 11 musicians, the Catalan flag fluttering in tune behind them. Their enthusiasm and the overall camaraderie between strangers was a sight we’ll never forget.
Cathedral of Barcelona
We then stepped into the biggest attraction of the Barri Gotic, Barcelona Cathedral. The outside of this 14th Century church was a Neo Gothic masterpiece. Prickly spires, robed statues, gargoyles, and loads of other extremely detailed motifs meant we stood there for a while before going in. A security guard stood at the entrance watching for summery revellers dressed in unacceptable clothing, but somehow my shorts passed muster. Inside, the church was dim, yet thronging with tourists. The tombs, the altar, cloister, side chapel, nave, all echoed of centuries of history, of a time when the Cathedral meant everything to its worshippers.
We took the Cathedral exit to Plaça Nova where the magnificent Roman towers of old Barcino stood towering over us. We were at what used to be the entrance to the ancient Roman city, and at the base we could see the modern bronze letters spelling out Barcino. A lovely coincidence that they had the letters to both our names! As we stood posing for pictures, across the square we caught a glimpes of the Catalan College of Architects (where Picasso used to hang out)! We also passed a flea market here once and it’s definitely better than Mercat del Encants.
We carried on from Placa Nova down Carrer dels Arcs and were suddenly in front of a strange fountain. Blue and yellow tiles of ladies carrying water, this was a fountain that marked the last (or first) stop to get drinking water for merchants and horses leaving Barcino. Seeing as it was still working, we jumped up and quenched our thirsts, the sweet cool water being the perfect respite we needed that summer afternoon.
Els Quatre Gats
Thirst led to hunger, and our next stop was a fabulous restaurant rendered famous (more recently by the movie Vicky Christina Barcelona) and where Picasso hung out in 1900. With two levels of seating, a vibrant and warm ambiance, it did definitely remind us of the intellectual-frequented haunts in Paris around Montmartre. We enjoyed a fabulous long lunch with a bottle of Cava, Olives, Croquettas, Cod filled with beans from Sant Pau and romesco sauce and Confit of lamb. Sigh. Just thinking about it makes me mouth water.
Avinguda Portal del l’Angels
We then walked down Av. Portal del l’Angels popping into stores like Zara, H&M, El Corte Ingles and more for a bit of retail therapy.
You can see why we loved staying so close to the Barri Gotic, Barcelona definitely hid some gems in its old quarter. Have you been? What did you think of it? Was there anything you saw that we missed out? Want more? Check out our Barcelona Guide here.