El Port Vell- The Old Harbour
Barcelona is a port city. The sea explains the very existence of Barcelona, the splendour of sea trading and Catalan expansion in the Middle Ages. The old harbour of Barcelona is dominated by the Columbus Monument at the end of the Ramblas promenade. Today the Port Vell - Old Harbour - is a leisure area and marina, but it still keeps a small fishing port. The new industrial harbour of the city is on the other side of the Montjuic mountain in the area called Zona Franca, and is still one of the most active in the Mediterranean sea.
Ironically, the city did not have a proper harbour until the 14th century, ships had to anchor near the beach or behind the Montjuic mountain in a little cove. When the old dock Moll de la Barceloneta was finally built, sand deposits accumulated on its northern side until a big sandy tongue was formed. A small fishing village settled there, the Barceloneta. In 1772 a light-house was erected at the end of the dock, it is today known as the Torre del Reloj.
At the new wharf Moll de Espanya, right in the middle of the old harbour, is the new Acuarium of Barcelona, the large-format cinema Imax Port Vell and the shopping area called Maremagnum. To access this area you'll have to cross the charming wooden bridge called Rambla de Mar.
The Moll de Barcelona wharf, near Colon Statue, is a docking area for cruise liners and ferries. Barcelona has regular connections with Genoa, Rome, Argel-Orán, Mallorca, Ibiza and Menorca, and it has become one of the favourite stop-off points for luxury cruise liners. At the end of this dock there is the World Trade Center of Barcelona, a convention center and luxury hotel, which has a beautifully choreographed water games fountain in its inner yard.
Also near the Colón statue there is one of the jewels of the Medieval naval splendour of Barcelona: The 14th century Royal shipyards, one of the biggest and best preserved in the world. The Drassanes Reials house today an interesting museum, with a replica of a Spanish 16th century Royal galley.
A pleasant, relaxing pastime for tourists and locals is to have a sail on the golondrinas -two storey boats- or in the camarans. Both tie up at the Moll Drassanes, right in front of Colón Statue, and take you round the Old Port and out to contemplate the city's sea-front.
The little fishing village built on the terrains gained to the sea became known as the Barceloneta. In 1718, land was needed to relocate thousands of families whose houses had been knocked down to build the hated military fort of the Ciudadela. The military authorities designed the new Barceloneta quarter following rationalist criteria: parallel streets and perfectly rectangular blocks. All aimed to improve hygiene and to control the population. Today the Barceloneta keeps this structure, and even some of the original one storey houses survive.
The Barceloneta is a triangle shape that extends out into the sea. It has two seafront promenades: the Passeig Nacional, which gives access to the marina in the Old Harbour with a superb view of Montjuic mountain in front, and the Passeig Marítim, which faces the open sea and stretches along the Barceloneta beaches. Both paseos have good seafood restaurants.
The beaches of Sant Sebastiá and Barceloneta stretch along the northern coastline of the Barceloneta, and further on towards the Villa Olímpica, where more beaches were reclaimed for public use when the industry in the area of Poblenou was dismantled. Nova Icaria, Bogatell, Mar Bella and up to the Fórum, where there is an an artificial beach. In Sant Sebastiá and Mar Bella beaches there are naturist areas.
On the evening of June 23rd, Barcelona celebrates the traditional Sant Joan (St John) festival, with bonfires on the beach and everywhere, and dancers dressed as fiery devils who dance and throw firecrackers and bangers throughout the night.