Catedral de la Seu is one of the most visually stunning sites in Barcelona. It´s official name is Catedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulàlia (Catalan for Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulàlia). The commonly used name La Seu refers to the status of the church as the seat of the diocese, and also to the plaza in which it´s located.
It is a gothic cathedral, appropriately located in the Barrio Gotico (Gothic quarter) of Barcelona that dates back to the 14th century. Construction began in 1298 and was completed in 1448, although the gothic facade, including the central spire, was not completed until the beginning of the 20th century. In true Gothic fashion it features spires, pinnacles, arches, and of course, bell towers.
The site where it was built has always been a spiritual center for Barcelona. A Roman temple was built there during the Roman Empire which was destroyed by the Moors in 985 and replaced with a mosque. Later, between 1046 and 1058, the mosque was razed and a Roman chapel was built. The chapel still remains today, added to the cloister.
The interior has a large nave and high ceilings (84 feet high in some places), all of which were cleaned during a recent period of renovation, and is divided into three aisles. On the side aisles are chapels from the 16th and 17th century which include some impressive works of medieval art. Also worth mentioning is the Cappella de Sant Benet, a 15th century altarpiece by the artist Bernat Matorell which depicts the crucifixion of Christ.
Beneath the high altar there is a staircase illuminated by candles which leads to the crypt. The body of Santa Eulàlia, the children´s saint and to whom the cathedral is dedicated, is entombed there. She is considered the children´s saint as she was killed by the Romans at the age of 13 for her Christian beliefs. The crypt also contains an alabaster sarcophagus of her; an Italian work by the sculptor Lupo di Francesco which dates back to 1330.
The cloister is considered one of the best parts of the cathedral and was referred to as “the loveliest oasis in Barcelona” by the historian Cirici. It was built in the 15th century and is lined with chapels containing alters of various saints, and the tombs of members of the ancient guild of the Barri Gòtic are underneath the stone floor. The cloister overlooks a beautiful garden filled with orange trees, palm trees and a pond with fish.
In the center there is a Gothic fountain crowned with a statue of Sant Jordi (Saint George). The cloister is also home to a gaggle of white geese, and has been for the last five centuries. No one is sure how they came to live in the cloister but there are several theories, one of which suggests that thirteen geese were placed in the cloister to represent the age of Saint Eulàlia when she died, and another that says that they represent her purity.
From Monday to Saturday visitors can take an elevator (ascensor als terrats) to the roof. It is located just to the left of the crypt steps and has amazing views of the neighborhood and the cathedral towers. There is also a museum, the Museu Diocesá, which contains a collection of medieval art and church treasures from around Barcelona.
Every Sunday, normally at 12:00pm, a group of locals meet in front of the cathedral to dance the Sardana, which is the traditional dance of Catalonia, while band members play on the front steps. The dance is not nearly as vibrant or flamboyant as some of the other Spanish dances, such as flamenco, but its intricate steps still make it worth watching. An antiques market is also held here every Thursday, and the Christmas fair each December.
During the feast of Corpus Christi in June a unique Catalan tradition takes place, known as “l’ou com balla” which means “how the egg dances”. It consists of an empty eggshell being placed on top of the fountain in the cloister and left to “dance” on the water, while the fountain itself is decorated with flowers. The tradition dates back to 1637 but no one is sure of the significance. Some say that the egg represents spring and the beginning of a new life cycle, and others believe that it represents the Eucharist.
A view of the Cathedral at night is breathtaking, you can sit on one of the benches at the Plaça de la Seu looking at the subtly lit up façade.
All visitors should dress conservatively in order to enter the cathedral, and this is strictly enforced. Both men and woman must cover their shoulders, and shorts and skirts above the knee are not acceptable. If you visit in summer the general rule is to make sure your knees are covered and if necessary bring a scarf or sweater to cover your shoulders before entering.
Entry to the church and cloister is free but entry to the museum costs €2, to the choir €2.20, and the roof elevator €2.50. There is a combined ticket available from 1:00pm to 5:00pm Monday through Saturday and from 2:00pm to 4:45pm on Sunday for €5 which gives you entry to everything. The normal hours, without the combined ticket, are 8:00am to 12:45pm and 5:15pm to 7:00pm Monday to Friday, and 8:00am to 12:45pm and 5:15 to 6:00pm on Saturday and Sunday. The cathedral is located in Plaza de la Seu in the Gothic Quarter, and the nearest metros are Jaume I (the yellow line L4) and Liceu (the green line L3).