06 September, 2016
While Barcelona is a modern, cosmopolitan city, traces of its medieval past are very much in evidence. Buildings in the old quarter attest to a glorious past, thronging with Crusaders, Italian merchants, the nobility and a powerful clergy. Scattered in between Baroque, Neoclassical and Modernist constructions, a host of Gothic buildings are still standing, notably the Cathedral, the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar and the Palau de la Generalitat. But, what many Barceloners are unaware of is that old Barcelona also boasts a considerable number of exquisite Romanesque complexes which have survived to the present in excellent condition.
Romanesque in the Heart of Plaza de Catalunya
Few Barceloners suspect that one of the city’s leading Romanesque monasteries is sited hard by the central Plaza de Catalunya. I am referring to Santa Anna, a church and former monastery dating from the 12th century, featuring a cloister and a chapterhouse which still serves parishioners. The building was designed by the architect, Ramón Amadeu, but construction work continued for three centuries thereafter, making for a marked amalgam of various Romanesque and Gothic styles, although the former is more in evidence. To reach the church from Plaza de Catalunya, go along Calle Rivadeneyra (next to the Hard Rock Cafe) or Calle de Santa Anna.
12th-Century El Raval
Pressing on with our itinerary, take Calle Santa Anna towards La Rambla and walk down this colourful boulevard as far as Calle Hospital. Turning right along this street takes you into the heart of the multicultural El Raval quarter, graced with such striking buildings as the MACBA, the Palau Güell and the Biblioteca de Catalunya. This route leads into Plaça del Pedró, an important square in that standing in its centre is the Santa Eulàlia Fountain, regarded as one of Barcelona’s oldest monuments. Also in the square is the 12th-century Romanesque Church of Sant Llàtzer. The latter was once part of a leper hospital which operated from the 12th to the 15th century. Since being deconsecrated in 1913 and following a number of refurbishments, it has since been in use as a secular building.
Still in El Raval, the Calle de la Riereta leads into Calle de Sant Pau, which houses one of the finest Romanesque landmarks in Barcelona, the Monastery of Sant Pau del Camp. The building dates from the 12th century, although the precinct is thought to have been founded in the 9th century by Wilfred II, who is buried there. The monument also has a small, 13th-century cloister which is noteworthy for its storied capitals depicting hunting scenes, warriors, sirens, animals and plant motifs. Still standing in the monastery garden is the former abbot’s residence, built from the 13th to 14th century and extended in the 18th century. Before entering, be sure to look at the facade, as the doorway is flanked by two columns with Visigoth capitals, while in the tympanum we see Christ with SS Peter and Paul and an ancient inscription, which invite us to enter.
To Sant Pere de les Puel·les
After touring El Raval, we return to La Rambla along Calle Nou de la Rambla with its striking little palace, known as the Palau Güell, the work of de Antoni Gaudí. We forge ahead as far as Barcelona Cathedral, next door to which is the Chapel of Santa Llúcia, The chapel is located in the corner of the Cathedral cloister and has a doorway onto the street. It was built in late-Romanesque style in the second half of the 13th century and originally served as the Episcopal Palace of Barcelona. This is a good moment to visit the Gothic Cathedral, take a seat on one of the pews and relax.
The next stop on our itinerary is the Born quarter, one of the liveliest in the city, with a lot of cultural activities on offer. Well worth seeing is the Palau de la Música Catalana and El Born Market archaeological site. On the opposite side of Via Laietana you can take Calle de la Bòria as far as Plazoleta de Marcús, a small square where the Marcús Chapel is located. A 12th-century construction, it was sited alongside the old Roman road out of Barcelona. Many of the original elements on the facade have been preserved, as well as its Lombardic arches. Strolling further into the quarter you come across the last stop on our itinerary, the Royal Monastery of Sant Pere de les Puel·les, of which only the parish church has survived to the present. Founded in the 5th century, it has undergone major alterations over time, although part of the Greek cross structure is still intact, as are the Corinthian capitals surmounted by a 12th-century dome. The so-called “bird campanile” is also from the Romanesque period. This monument is key to an understanding of Barcelona in the Middle Ages.
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Text and images by Aleix Palau for Los Viajes de ISABELYLUIS
06 September, 2016