In the First century b. C. Barcelona was a small Roman colony called Barcino. Its walls were built in the 3rd a. C. to protect the city from the attacks of the barbarians. The Gothic area still keeps the layout of the Roman town: the forum -the big public square- was in the exact place where today is the Plaça Sant Jaume, the square where the City Council of Barcelona and the Government of Catalunya have their seats. Nearby there is a piece of the Roman forum: 4 columns of the Augustus temple that you may visit inside a building at the street Paradís, at the highest point of the hill Mons Taber on which the Romans built the town. At the Gothic quarter today as 1000 years ago we find not only the institutional life of the city, but also commerce, hustle and bustle everywhere: The streets Portal de l'Angel and Portaferrissa -both with names referring to the medieval doors of the city walls (Porta means door)- are today a pedestrians shopping area. In the narrow streets around we can find specialized shops: antique shops at Banys Nous and De la Palla, design and accessories at Avinyó...
We can see the Roman wall along many streets of the Gothic quarter: Sots Tinent Navarro, Tapineria, De la Palla. At Avinyó and Banys Nous the wall is part of the buildings, we can see it inside some shops. Even the Medieval Royal Palace of the Catalan Counts and monarchs was built on the Roman wall, and we can see one on top of the other watching it from the Ramon Berenguer el Gran square.
At the Plaça Nova was the main entrance to the walled city: it is the Portal del Bisbe, and it still keeps its two semicircular towers, one on each side of the door. Integrated in them are the Casa de l'Arcadiaca and the Bishops Palace. Together with the Pía Almoina, these were all buildings belonging to the Church, and related to the Cathedral's service. The Avenida de la Catedral is an open space used for concerts and celebrations. On Sunday mornings a crowd gets together there to dance the sardana, the catalan national dance.
The Cathedral was built during the 14th century, but the facade is neogothic, so put up in the 19th century. It has a beautiful gothic cloister with live geese inside, the entrance to it is at the street Bisbe. Attached to it, is the romanic chapel of Santa Llucía. Not far is the atmospheric secluded plaça de Sant Felip Neri: the church has on its facade impacts of guns of the Civil war and on the square is also the Museum of Shoemaking.
On the left handside of the Cathedral, at the plaza de Sant Iu, is the Museu Frederic Marés, in a beautiful 15th century building which was part of the nearby Medieval Royal Palace; it has a nice patio and a terrace placed on the Roman walls where you can relax and have a coffee.
The street Bisbe takes you to Plaça Sant Jaume -the mentioned Roman forum-. On it, there are the Palau de la Generalitat, seat of the Catalan Government with a reinassance facade and a gothic patio, and the Casa de la Ciutat -the City Hall- with its gothic facade at Ciutat street. Both can be visited at set times.
On the lefthandside of the Palau de la Generalitat, the street Call takes us into what used to be the medieval jewish quarter, a very prosperous comunity, that in the 13th century made up 15 % of the population of the city. The antisemitic revolts of the 15th century and later expulsion of the jews, caused the end of the jewish Call.
Not far from the Call, and near the Ramblas, is the popular Plaça del Pí. The gothic church of Santa María del Pí, built in 1453, has a magnificent rose window on its main entrance. Around the church there are several squares with cafés and terraces. At weekends there are artisan's markets of painters and locally produced food. From the plaza del Pí runs off the street Petrixol, a narrow lane with interesting shops and the popular granjas (farms) where generations of Barcelonese have enjoyed hot chocolate, sweets and pastries.
From the plaça de Sant Jaume, going up the street Llibretería, we get to the Plaça del Rei: It is the courtyard of the Royal Palace Palau Reial Maior- residence of the Catalan monarchs since the 9th century. A beautiful semicircular staircase takes you to the entrance hall called Saló del Tinell, in which Chistopher Columbus was received by the kings of Spain on his return from America. On the right of the plaça is the side facade of the Royal chapel of Santa Agata, built right on the Roman wall, and on the left is the Palau del Lloctinent, of the 16th century, above it sticks out the elegant tower of the Mirador del rey Martí, from where the monarchs could contemplate the sea. Also on the square is the Museu d'Història de la Ciutat (M-4), at the gothic palace Clariana-Padellàs moved there stone by stone from the Avenida de la Catedral when it was enlarged in 1931. In the summer evenings the Plaça del Rei is the setting for concerts and performances of the Grec Summer Festival
Again from plaça Sant Jaume, we can wander towards the sea through narrow quiet streets, see the charming placeta de Sant Just, and the forgotten gothic palace at Lledó street...We can also go along Avinyó street, give a glimpse at the octagonal placeta Milans, or for those who enjoy gritty atmospheres, have a beer at the plaça George Orwell. All the streets in this area have fascinating corners for the curious ones: little shops and workshops, a charming restaurant, a quiet café... But be careful, the muggers are on the watch!
Dont miss the Plaza Reial, a wide 19th century square, with palm trees and Gaudí streetlamps, closer to the port, and ideal for a drink on one of its terraces.
Further down, very close to the port is the carrer Ample. It was the hip quarter in the 17th, as we can guess at the sight of some of its palaces and the Church of La Mercé, patron Virgin of Barcelona, of the 18th. In one of these palace houses -Paseo de Colón nº 6- Cervantes wrote the end of the Quixote. In the streets around -e. g. carrer de la Mercé- there are good restaurants and bars.
Once we get to the Passeig de Colom we'll see the Port. If you want to know about its highlights see our section Port Vell and Barceloneta.