Barrio Gótico district (Gothic Quarter) is the oldest part of Barcelona, it lies between the Las Ramblas and Via Laetana and expands from Plaça de Cataluña till the Paseo of Colon. It used to be the ancient fortified Roman village and years later when the city started growing considerably it converted in one of the most valued districts of Barcelona, much of which is pedestrianized.
Nowadays Barrio Gótico represents a mixture of new and old: because of constant modernization quite trendy new buildings share the scene with ancient houses which bear features of Romanesque and Gothic style. Thus for example, the Bridge of Sighs in Carrer de Bisbe seems to be very old and looks gothic in style but in reality dates from the 1920s revival in Gothic architecture.
Though not much is left from those Roman walls, you can still stumble upon some ancient roman ruins near to the Cathedral de la Seu, one of the most outstanding examples of Gothic architecture. Its imposing façade subtly lit at night, bell towers and the tranquil square just in front of the cathedral recreate the ambience of the medieval city.
El Call, a Jewish ghetto, also once lay within Barrio Gótico, a tiny area between the Carrer de Call and l´Arc de Sant Ramon de Call. Unfortunately only little visual evidence remains of medieval Jewish culture.
This district always was a centre of commerce, its twisting little streets still bear the name of the activity of the workshops that stood here for centuries, such as Escudellers (shield market) or Brocaters (brocade market). Nowadays Barrio Gótico invites you as well to go shopping to the numerous little shops and boutiques which are in abundance here, starting from the most commercial area de Portal de L´Angel to the tiny artisan shops deeply in the maze of narrow streets.
There are lots of peaceful squares in Barrio Gótico; one of the prettiest and least visited ones is probably Sant Felip Neri. It might be tricky to find it, as it is neatly tucked away to the right of the cathedral, but once you have found it you will be rewarded with peace and silence in the area which is often overcrowded with visitors. In the corner of the square there is a curious Museu de Calçat (Museum of Shoes), which demonstrates the evolution of the shoe through different ages.
Another lovely square is La Plaça del Pi, a home of the Gothic masterpiece Iglesia Santa Maria del Pi, a solemn church with a rose window noted to be the largest in the world. This square holds two regular markets as well as plenty of cafés.
Plaça del Rei which also resides in Barrio Gótico is considered to be the noblest in old town, as it represents a small courtyard of the great Royal Palace (Palau Reial Mayor). It is said that Cristophor Columbus announced his discoveries n this palace.
Plaça de Sant Jaume is another magnificent square which hosts two stunning building which face one another: the Ajuntament (Town Hall) and the Palau de Generalitat. Catalan people often gather here to dance Sardana, popular regional folk-dance.
If you come here on Sunday morning, you will see that performance accompanied with ensemble of wind and stringed instruments. Another Catalan folk tradition that takes place here is castellers – human towers, usually held on public holidays.
Moreover whenever there is a demonstration, people generally start off or finish at Plaça de Sant Jaume.
Beside the historical part, Barrio Gótico is a very popular entertainment place; it has plenty of restaurants, bars, cafés and clubs to suit all tastes.
How to get there:
By metro: green Line 3 Liceu, Drassanes, yellow Line 4 Jaume I.
By bus: 14, 38, 59, and 91
Some useful tips:
The Palau de Generalitat is only open to the public twice a year: on the 23 of April and the 24th of September.
Be careful with your personal belongings, as Barrio Gótico is a very popular tourist area, there are lots of pickpockets.