Where else can you find the true history of Barcelona but in those squares that have watched every step of Barcelona’s life evolve through the centuries? You may have strolled through Plaça St Jaume or taken the metro to Plaça Catalunya and walked down La Rambla to the seafront, but when you look a bit closer there’s a lot more to discover.
1. Plaça Catalunya
Plaça Catalunya is always buzzing with life, so it may come as a surprise that before 1858 it was a rural area outside the city walls. “Raml” in Arabic means “a seasonal stream,” which once flowed in the place of today’s steady stream of traffic. The Medieval city walls were taken down in 1854 to allow the city’s expansion and a public competition was held to determine the new design of the district we now know as L’Eixample, (which means expansion.) The architect, Puig i Cadafalc, designed the large open square which stands today. Since then an abstract monument for Francesc Macia, in honour of the former President of the Generalitat, was placed in 1991 by Josep Subirachs, who is probably most famous for his work on the Passion Façade on the Sagrada Família.
2. Plaça Espanya
Plaça Espanya was the site of Barcelona’s public hangings until 1715. What you won’t see here are Les Quatre Columnes which represented the four red stripes on the Catalan flag and were demolished as part of Miguel Primo de Rivera’s ban of all Catalan symbols. They were replaced with two grand Venetian Towers, built for the World Exhibition in 1929 and modeled on the bell tower at St Mark’s Square in Venice. The famous Magic Fountain was put together by the engineer Carles Buigas who wanted to show the possibilities of beauty through filtered electric light. Such an innovative design as early as 1929 makes the fountain a truly avant-garde work.
3. Plaça Sant Jaume
This is the centre of the city’s administrative headquarters and is a major symbol of Catalan culture. The square is named after the King of Aragon, who was the first great patron of vernacular Catalan literature. The Palau de la Generalitat originates from Medieval times and no less than 121 presidents have ruled from this seat. After the Spanish civil war Franco made the Palau insignificant by abolishing the Catalan Government, however, after the restoration of the democracy the Palau regained its power. Facing this is the Ajuntamento headquarters. Its neoclassic façade is from 1847, yet the building actually originates from 1369 when the earliest council chamber began.To capture the immensity of the history of this square it’s worth visiting coming on a Sunday when you can experience the local traditional Sardana dance.
4. Plaça Sant Feli Neri
Tucked away in Gothic Quarter, Plaça Sant Felip Neriholds a great deal of Catalan history for such a small square. The square and the 16th century Baroque church are built on the grounds the Medieval cemetery Montjuïc del Bisbe. This tranquil square is a strong symbol of Catalonia’s pain and suffering in the Spain Civil War. In front of the church of Sant Felip Neri hundreds of nationalists were lined up and executed. Mesmerising marks still remain on the church walls caused by the numerous stray bullets. Some even say that the dents to the right of the church doors resemble the face of Christ. In the same square, forty-two civilians (mostly children) were killed by the bombs of Nationalist air raids on the 30th January 1938. The victims had run for safety into the Iglesia de Sant Felip Neri when a bomb hit the church which then collapsed onto them.
5. Plaça dei Rei
Just off Via Laietana, Plaça del Rei is the most noble part of the old Barcelona, hence its name which means Square of the King. Hidden behind the 3rd Century Roman walls and built after a Germanic tribe attack, this beautiful Medieval square is easily missed. For three centuries it was a cattle fodder market, the place where the flour was brought into the city and where taxes were collected. What is most intriguing about Plaça del Rei is that the original square still remains below. The conserved ruins, which date back to 1st Century Barcelona, were found during restoration in the 1900s which led to the creation of the City History Museum in 1943.
Sandra Roig is Marketing Director at Apartment Barcelona.