The history of Barcelona and the Catalan people is rich and fascinating. It is also extensive and dates back well before the 20th century. Importantly, there is a place to learn about the past of this region and its people.
It’s at the Museu d’Historia de Cataluna. Located at the beginning of the Barceloneta district, and, in fact, one of the area’s highlights, this very large museum lives up to its well-known slogan “a stroll through history.”
The museum is located in what was once a brick warehouse that is actually located in Port Vell (Old Port) and has been carefully restored to meet the demands of its many visitors. There are four floors in this building which is also known as Palau del Mar (Sea Palace).
This stately building is also the original home of the General Stores and it is the last building still standing from Barcelona’s old port region. The “Stores” was designed in 1881 by Maurici Garrao, a prominent engineer of the time who was also the first director of the Barcelona Port Board of Works. When newly-constructed, the building was intended to be used as a trading depot.
The “Stores” is an excellent example of Barcelona’s industrial heritage, the last survivor of a bygone era. Importantly, it was refurbished and generally upgraded in 1992, the same year Barcelona hosted the Summer Olympic Games.
Today, the “Stores” houses the Museum of the History of Catalonia, the Social Welfare Department of the Government of Catalonia and several fine restaurants.
The museum’s ground floor (street level) and first floor are dedicated to temporary shows. These include a moving photographic portrait of the Mauthausen Concentration Camp and a homage to Josep Tarradellas, the first president of Cataluna. Of course, these are just two of many exhibits and shows that are available to visitors.
The second and third floors are where the main exhibits are located. These two floors are vast and quite expansive. Fortunately, the exhibits are numbered which gives you a sensible way to see – and understand – everything as it occurred in Catalonia’s history. By following the numbers in a logical sequence, you will be able to “walk through” the different periods of the area’s history and learn about the events that shaped that history, such as the peasant revolt, the Civil War, and the installation of the first autonomous government in the modern age.
Some of the many displays you can see.
There are interesting exhibits worth viewing, beginning with a look back at the original Iberians. Here you will find exhibits that re-create scenes that are representative of the area’s history … reproductions of maps and documents, historical sound recordings and video footage that chronicle long ago events, even interactive gadgets, some of which are quite ingenious.
Keep this thought in mind. There are very few original exhibits in the museum. The majority of artifacts are reproductions or well-crafted copies of the originals.
Moreover, many exhibits are presented in a verbal format. And, because the text and dialog is in Catalan, it can be difficult to follow the narration as it recounts the history. You can overcome this potential problem by carrying – and referring to – a handbook that is given to each visitor at the entrance to the museum. The handbook will enable you to better understand and appreciate each exhibit.
Another thought. If you’re traveling with children, they are certain to enjoy the interactive portion of the exhibits. The gadgets are interesting and fun and include green buttons, for example, that, when pushed, activate a song or an image, a display or even a mini-light show.
There is even a suit of armor complete with sword that your children can try on. Consider the fun in using a camera to take pictures of them in their “knight’s armor.”
Your stroll through the museum will give you access to a narrative that covers the region’s long history, dating way back to pre-history in the Paleolithic Period (a time when humans walked the earth in this area) to the time of the Roman Empire. A Roman army once landed in the Empuries (early Catalonian territory). More recent history will cover the Gothic Era and the Industrial Revolution.
There is lots to see on the third floor too.
The museum’s third floor takes you on an easy-to-understand-and-digest photographic and cinematic journey of the Industrial Revolution. It is on this floor that you will also find a propaganda film that reveres Francisco Franco and his family. There is also an excellent film that recounts the 1950s and the beginning of television and the Catalan mass media. While fun to watch and interesting, as well, dialogue in the films is in Catalan.
There is an exhibit that everyone will enjoy. It’s on the third floor and it covers the evolution of the kitchen throughout the 20th century. It’s fascinating to see how kitchen furnishings and appliances changed and improved over the years.
Another highlight of this exhibit is a very small car (represented in actual size) that was actually a popular form of transportation for Catalans during Franco’s reign.
There are no artifacts or exhibits on the forth floor, but it’s worth a visit while you’re in the museum. This is where you’ll find a library, meeting rooms and a very good restaurant where you can relax, dine and enjoy impressive views of Port Vell. The restaurant serves light snacks during lunch time and has a full a la carte menu for those who arrive for dinner.
There are also several fine restaurants outside and in front of the museum, all of which face the sea and Port Vell. These restaurants feature open-air terraces (which enable you to enjoy the sun while you dine) and serve delicious local seafood.
Please note that the restaurants outside the museum are often crowded with tourists during lunch and dinner throughout the summer months.
How to get to the museum.
The Museu d’Historia de Cataluna is conveniently located and accessible to public transportation. You can get to the museum all of these different ways:
- Take the metro (L4 yellow line) and exit at Barceloneta station.
Stroll casually – on foot – from the city center down Las Ramblas and Passeig de Colon.
- Take any one of numerous buses (Bus line N 14, 17, 39, 40, 45, more) to the museum. The most convenient is Bus line No. 17 which takes you directly to the city center and Plaza Cataluna.
Hours of operation.
The museum is user-friendly. It is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10:00 A.M. to 7:00 P.M.
Wednesday from 10:00 A.M. to 8:00 P.M.
Museum hours on Sundays and holidays are 10:00 A.M. to 2:30 P.M. The museum is closed every Monday (except on public holidays).
It is also closed December 25th and December 26th; on January 1st and January 6th.
Entrance fees are modest.
The cost per adult is only 4 Euros; for children age 7 to 18 and for senior citizens, the cost is only 3 Euros.
Children under age 7 are admitted free, as are all visitors on the following dates - April 23rd, May 18th, September 11th and 24th. The first Sunday of each month is also free to all visitors.
The Museu d’Historia de Cataluña presents you with a wonderful opportunity to see and learn about the history of the region and its people. Plan to visit it during your stay in Barcelona.