Las Ramblas has always been the most popular walkway in Barcelona; and it still is due to tourism. Ramblas, a word which comes from the of arab, means "river bed", and refers to the seasonal rivers, very common on the Mediterranean coast, that drain the rain water to the sea. This is what the Ramblas originally was, a sandy stretch of empty land along the medieval walls used by Barcelona medieval citizens as a setting for markets, dances, executions and leisure. Now it is an amusing promenade rimmed by trees that leads you to the port. Along the Ramblas you may find all a tourist needs: cafés, restaurants, fast food places, banks, money change offices, ice cream shops, souvenirs... The promenade is very amusing indeed due to the great number of live statues, musicians, clowns, circus, dance and all kinds of performances displayed along the walkway....Some of them really witty. One can spend days going up and down the Ramblas and still see something new.
The promenade is divided in five stretches: From Plaza de Catalunya to the sea, Rambla Canaletas is the first stretch. It is the place where the Barca football fans celebrate their victories The name Canaletas refers to a public fountain at the top of the Ramblas. It is said that if you drink from it you come back to Barcelona for sure.
The next one is the Rambla dels Estudis where you find newsstands with all kinds of magazines and press from all over the world. The third is the La Rambla de Sant Josep or Rambla de les Flors, full of flower stalls, on the right you'll see the entrance to the Boquería market or Sant Josep market, famous for its picturesqueness and the quality of its products.
At the Rambla dels Caputxins is the Opera House of Barcelona, the Liceo, completely remodelled after the fire of 1994 and with an excellent program. Further down, on the right, in the street Nou de la Rambla is the Palau Güell, a building by Gaudí, residence of his patron, the tycoon Eusebi Güell.
La Rambla de Santa Mónica is the last stretch. it is where the portraits ans caricature artists are and also the fortune tellers. At weekends there is an artisans market, a good place for last minute presents.
Right at the end of the Ramblas is the Columbus Monument built for the for the 1888 Universal Exhibition, Christopher Columbus points at Barcelona port where he disembarked when he first returned from America. The monument has an elevator to a platform with good views of the city. The medieval Royal Shipyards are close by, they are the best preserved medieval shipyards in the world and they house the Navigation Museum which is worth a visit.
The Raval Quarter
The name Raval comes from the arab and means a district outside the city walls. That was the Raval until the 13th century. In the Middle Ages the area were mostly fields and therefore the kings found there space to build monasteries, hospitals, hospices and universities. The beautiful romanic church Sant Pau del Camp, at the end of the street Sant Pau has a name which proves so (del Camp means in the Fields). The Hospital of Sant Pau i de la Santa Creu, in the street Hospital, is another medieval construction. Today it houses the National Library of Catalunya and a school of art. It has a charming inner garden with orange trees from where a beautiful reinassance staircase takes you up to the Library. Going towards the street Carme there is the Casa de Convalecencia, with a graceful 17th century courtyard.
At the end of the 19th century, and up to the 70s the Raval became a marginal area, a red light district called Barrio Chino -chinatown- a very active one being Barcelona a port city. The Barrio Chino was not only in the Raval quarter, it included areas of the Gothic quarter -Escudillers, Avinyó, Plaza Reial- At the beginning of the 20th century, when Picasso lived in Barcelona and frecuented its brothels - the "Demoiselles d'Avignon" are women from a brothel at the street Avinyó in the Gothic quarter- There are still a few streets at the Raval where one can picture what the district was like. For those who enjoy slumming, going into Sant Pau street up to the Marsella bar, and have an absinthe drink there can still be an exciting experience. There are two more reasons to go into Sant Pau street: The already mentioned romanic church of Sant Pau del Camp and the gorgeus modernist decorations of the dining rooms in the Hotel España, by Domenech i Muntaner.
The Raval has changed again. During the 80s and 90s it became an alternative and bohemian district, many young artist settled there and invented the new Raval, the city council implemented a policy of clearing and oxigenating the district -blocks were knocked down, new squares and avenues were created- to fight off the seedy population. The district became home to many inmigrant families from Pakistan, Morrocco, Filipines, India, China, Bangla Desh, Ecuador, Dominican Republic...
Today the district is a mixture of the old and the new, the foreign and the local, the sophisticated and the popular, modern and still marginal. The upper Raval houses today Universities, the Contemporary Culture Center, the FAD (Barcelona Design Office) and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA) built by the architect Richard Meier, at the Plaça dels Angels: a wide public space, meeting point of international skateboarders, Pakistani mothers, an arty crafty crowd and chidren of all colours and languages playing football.
For the tourist it is interesting to wander around and discover the great variety of offers to eat, buy, see, have a haircut or have a drink. The Rambla del Raval is one of those spaces opened up by the City Council, it is a promenade similar to the Ramblas, rimmed with palm trees. It is a favourite of the Pakistani population, to the point that many call it now the Rambla Pakistan. There are terraces to eat or have a beer and at weekends there is an artisans market, with a jaima (arab tent) where you can have a mint tea and delicious arab pastries.