The heart of Barcelona is the Ciutat Vella or Old Town. This area consists of a collection of historical neighborhoods, like the Barri Gòtic, El Raval, and La Ribera, and it’s where you’ll find a maze of tightly knit streets, Roman ruins, medieval buildings, markets, tapas bars, boutiques, and artisan workshops.
Here’s a list of some of the main sites in the Barri Gòtic and La Ribera:
La Catedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulàlia – the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia, referred to simply as Barcelona Cathedral, is a 13th century Gothic church built on the foundations of a primitive basilica believed to have been constructed in the 4th century. Of particular interest to many visitors of the Barcelona Cathedral are the cloister geese. The church is located at Plaça de la Seu.
Plaça Reial – a welcome surprise just off of La Rambla, this ‘Royal Plaza’ was created in 1848 on the former site of a Capuchin monastery. Studded with palm trees and lined with arcaded walkways, restaurants and cafes, the square has a wonderful Mediterranean feel and features the Fountain of the Three Graces (Font de les Tres Gràcies) and a couple of Gaudi designed streetlamps.
Plaça Sant Jaume – once the site of the Roman Forum, this square is home to the Barcelona City Hall (Casa de la Ciutat) and the seat of the Government of Catalonia (Palau de la Generalitat de Catalunya). Both buildings offer tours and there’s a tourist office on the ground floor of City Hall.
Plaça de Sant Miquel – interesting to see for the sculpture titled Homenatge als castellers (Tribute to the Towers) by Catalan artist Antoni Llena i Font. Plaça de Sant Miquel is located just around the corner from Plaça Sant Jaume.
The Museu Picasso – Located at Montcada, 15 in La Ribera, the Picasso Museum holds an impressive collection of original works by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso. In addition to the artwork, the museum also offers a chance to see the interiors of a few palaces dating back to the Middle Ages.
Roman Ruins – remnants of the Roman settlement of Barcino can be seen throughout the Barri Gòtic neighborhood. These include the columns from the Temple of Augustus dating from the 1st century BC and parts of the wall and defensive towers from the 4th century AD. At the top of the wall in Plaça del Rei is the Medieval Chapel of St. Agatha, now part of the Barcelona History Museum (El Museo de Historia de Barcelona or MUHBA). At the base of the wall is Plaça Ramón Berenguer el Gran with the equestrian statue of Ramón Berenguer the Great, Count of Barcelona and Girona.
Passeig del Born – a jousting field for knights in the Middle Ages, the passeig today is a shady boulevard connecting the Mercat del Born to the north with the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar to the south. Lined with benches the promenade is a good place for people watching.
The Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar – this 14th century Catalan Gothic ‘Cathedral of La Ribera’, was built to commemorate the conquest of Sardinia. Santa Maria del Mar is located at the southern end of Passeig del Born.
Plaça de les Morere – Created in the 19th century, this memorial plaza was the former Fossar de les Morere (Cemetery of the Mulberries). Originally the cemetery of the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar and later a burial ground for Catalonians killed during the Siege of Barcelona in 1714, the plaza is now a symbolic meeting place for locals. An eternal flame, placed here in 2001, burns from the top of an elegantly arched torch. Plaça de les Morere is located next to Santa Maria del Mar.
With so much to see and do this is an area of Barcelona you shouldn’t miss. We recommend taking your time here to enjoy the ambience. And stay tuned, we’ll be back soon with a few words about the boutiques, museums and tapas bars in the area…