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A Guide to What's Gothic in Barcelona

Updated on July 3, 2019
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Marma is a former professor and currently working in the legal field. She has a love of writing, culture and travel.

What is the Gothic Quarter?

You may have heard of Barcelona's El Barrio Gótico or Gothic Quarter. Aside from being an immensely popular tourist destination in this part of Spain, it is also a very historic area. It contains buildings and ruins spanning Barcelona's long and rich history from the time of the Roman invasion through the Middle Ages.

The Gothic Quarter consists of some of the oldest parts of Barcelona, making it a fascinating mixture of Old World architecture fused with modern life amenities, a combination you will not often see in other parts of the world. The quarter is essentially a series of narrow medieval styled streets that lead into several beautiful open plazas. If you want to feel like you are traveling back in time then the Gothic Quarter is the place to be!

Just how old is Barcelona's Gothic Quarter? Barcelona is one of the earlier northeastern settlements the Romans built when they colonized early Spain around the third century B.C. though there were earlier settlements built farther south. The Romans later built a wall around Barcelona and parts of this wall still remain in the Gothic Quarter today, as new additions were built around it. If you are a history buff, go see the centuries old Roman ruins in the quarter. They are quite mesmerizing.

One of the many medieval styled streets in the Gothic Quarter, Barcelona.  Note the stones and arches, very characteristic of gothic architecture.
One of the many medieval styled streets in the Gothic Quarter, Barcelona. Note the stones and arches, very characteristic of gothic architecture.
One of the many plazas in the quarter.  This plaza was reconstructed in a medieval style.
One of the many plazas in the quarter. This plaza was reconstructed in a medieval style.

What Exactly Does Gothic Mean?

When people think of the word 'gothic' or 'goth' they may think of vampires or emo-youths dressed in black, morbid colors. But the gothic style of architecture characteristic of the Gothic Quarter is far from being related to the aforementioned examples. 'Gothic' or 'goth' is a term that was associated with the Visigoths, Scandinavian invaders who ruled Spain in the 400s.

Gothic design became more prevalent in Europe during medieval times (near the 1100s through the 1500s) and the term 'gothic' was the term used for it. You can frequently see medieval gothic architecture in the cathedrals and narrow cobble- stoned streets of the quarter. The gothic design favored the use of dark stones, high arches and high ceilings and tall pointy roof towers . If the buildings in the Gothic Quarter were not built during the Middle Ages then they were reconstructed in that era's style.

It can be quite informative and useful to have a basic familiarity with gothic style to better understand and appreciate the appearance of the Gothic Quarter. Medieval gothic architecture can often have a profound impact on the atmosphere of a building or neighborhood.

An inside view of Cathedral Barcelona.  The high ceiling and narrow arches are quite reminiscent of medieval gothic style.
An inside view of Cathedral Barcelona. The high ceiling and narrow arches are quite reminiscent of medieval gothic style.

What Can You Do in El Barrio Gótico?

If you are not yet inspired to visit the quarter because of the beautiful medieval architecture and ambiance of the Gothic Quarter alone, then there is much more available to encourage you. The quarter consists of several lovely plazas where you can partake of activities that can keep you busy for days. These activities include: shopping for clothes, art or music at authentic local shops, eating at historic or more trendy Catalonian restaurants, enjoying drinks at a tranquil cafe, visiting a tapas bar, enjoying music and dancing at a night club or outdoor concert.

The Plaza Real or La Placa Reial (in Catalán) is one Gothic Quarter plaza often full of concerts, live music and restaurants, all available for people's entertainment through the evening hours. Another plaza is the Plaza de Pi which offers many cafes and restaurants. There is so much to do in the streets and plazas that it would be beneficial to take a walking or guided tour to experience as many activities as you can while simultaneously learning more about the history and culture of the city.

If your interest lies more in history, then the Gothic Quarter contains it in abundance. Several historical buildings include the gothic styled Barcelona Cathedral, the Barcelona City History Museum, Barcelona City Hall and the Picasso Museum or Museo Picasso. Furthermore, there are remnants of Roman castles, walls and pillars left over from the Roman Empire's extensive colonization of early Spain (from about 2 B.C.-400 A.D.). It is quite fascinating to be able to see parts of the city today that go back in time for so many centuries!

For travelers and sightseers wanting a little taste of the spiritual, the Gothic Quarter contains several beautiful gothic styled cathedrals. Spain is a predominately Catholic country and has been so since Isabel and Ferdinand united the Spanish kingdoms centuries ago (after kicking out the Moors). This explains the plethora of cathedrals through out Spain and within the Gothic Quarter such as the Barcelona Cathedral or Catedral de Barcelona. This cathedral is particularly beautiful with its tall ceiling arches and medieval design. The interior of the cathedral produces a calming, meditative atmosphere for those desiring to relax and pray or simply take in more of its serene medieval ambiance.

Closing Thoughts on Barcelona

I wanted to mention that Barcelona is in the state of Cataluña (Catalonia in English). While castellano or Spanish is the official language, many people in Cataluña speak catalán or Catalan, which is a different language than Spanish. You may notice certain street and building names in Barcelona are not exactly Spanish. For example, El Barrio Gótico is El Barri Gotic in catalán or old town Barcelona is called Ciutat Vella in catalán but La Ciudad Antigua in Spanish. Like Spanish, Catalan is a Latin based language but still different from actual Spanish, so if you don't recognize the language when in Barcelona, don't fret! The linguistic differences are simply another part of Spain's unique historical and cultural heritage.

I hope you enjoyed this article on Barcelona's Gothic Quarter and that you will be able to visit it one day very soon!

© 2019 Marma


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