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Interesting Things to Do and See in El Born, Barcelona
Why is El Born an Attractive Neighbourhood?
Despite its humble beginnings as the site of jousts, El Born now has risen to become the trendiest and most fashionable district of Barcelona. Mind you, at the rise of trade, in the 19th century, its proximity to the Mediterranean breezes made this district home to many nobles whose architecturally interesting houses today serve as the appropriate background to the vibrant life that is now in the neighbourhood.
El Born District
El Born: Barcelona's Trendy Neighbourhood
When a Disney site gets too crowded, the site expands. When the core Barcelona tourist area gets overwhelmed, it, too, expands, most recently adding El Born and the Arc de Triumph area. They were here all along, of course, but needed polishing and upgrading to attract the mobs.
These are 2 fabulous additions. Arc de Triumph is a monument of invitation to the 1929 World’s Fair. The parks around it with their small museums and open grasslands were a welcome respite from the massively crowded streets of the Gothic area, that is the tourist hub. So, between the Arc and the Gothic area is Born.
The revamping of the historic old market building into a showcase for yet another era of Catalan history as well as an opportunity to see open excavations of a 1700’s town really adds variety to the shopping and restaurant specialties of the Born area. The vintage churches have also developed individual roles in explaining history.
The Museums are aplenty with the Picasso Gallery getting most of the attraction. It is huge, hidden inside beautiful vintage buildings that were a series of stunning residences and located near great old Churches and lovely small parks. It’s much more restful than the cut and thrust of the traditional Gothic area.
How to Find El Born
What To See and Do in El Born
The Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar
1. Go in the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar
The locals are very proud of this Basilica. Each time we mention we've been to the area, the first question from a local is whether we have been to Santa Maria del Mar. Yesterday, a volunteer in the Picasso Museum followed us as we walked out of the museum just to tell us to walk to the left as there, we would see the Santa Maria the Basilica Mar which is really beautiful.
It also has aligned with it the Catalan war memorial to the defenders of Barcelona in the early 1700. The bones were moved to the site and the history is another pillar of pride for the CATALANS (4500 locals helped off 45,000 French for months). The memorial wall and eternal flame is worth the visit.
This Basilica was built around 1329, at the height of this area's mercantile wealth. An icon of Catalan Gothic architecture, it has a museum inside to acquaint you of its intriguing history. Immediately after the Romans settled in the seaside of Barcino, the name for Barcelona then, a small Christian community sprang up and right where the Basilica is today, historians believed was where they built their first place of worship, the Santa Maria de Les Arenes, St. Mary of the Sea Sands.
Known then as Vilanova del Mar, this area excelled in ship building, exports-imports (logistics?), and in its artisans and craftsmen. Many of those who gained wealth in this new era, built huge homes on Moncada St. and started demanding a Church worth their status, thus, the building of Santa Maria del Mar which they largely paid for. Everyone got involved from the nobles to the workers and the fishermen who, using their boats brought stones from the nearby mountain of Montjuic. This is probably why this church is so much loved by the locals.
Address: Plaça de Santa Maria, 1, 08003 Barcelona
Fossar de les Moreres: The War Memorial Beside the Santa Maria del Mar El Born, Barcelona
2. Visit the Fossar de les Moreres
Literally translated as the Grave of the Mulberries, this place is so significant to the people of Catalonia as in here were buried the defenders of the city during the 1714 War of the Spanish Succession.
This war brought Barcelona in support of Archduke Charles of Austria (Holy Roman Empire) against Philip V of Spain who emerged victorious in the famous Siege of Barcelona. The Catalans, having defended their city for almost a year and a half against Philip's mixed army, finally capitulated and acceded to the terms eliminating their own institutions and eventually language. So, it is not surprising why the Catalans mark this day as their national day, having lost their own independent principality.
This place with its eternal flame is presently also a memorial to Catalans who have died in war. Dedicated to them is the poem by Frederic Soler, "El Fossar de les Moreres".
There are restaurants and cafes around the plaza where you can enjoy a cup of coffee or a light lunch al fresco. You can also just sit in the benches and contemplate life and conflict and the idiocy of humanity.
El Born Centre de Cultura i Memoria
3. Enjoy the Compelling Space of El Born Centre de Cultura i Memoria
Historically this was the El Born Old Market, Barcelona's first covered retail market opened in 1876 and served the neighbourhood until 1921. It then transitioned into a central wholesale fruit and vegetable market until its closure in 1971.
After a few years of going into decay, people spoke strongly for its preservation so in 1996, it was decided that it be developed as the home of the Provincial Library of Barcelona and a cultural centre for the Catalans.
As work started for this project, the ruins of these homes destroyed to make way for the fortifications to hold off Spanish Philip were discovered. This changed the theme from just a Library to a municipal cultural centre filling in another gap in Catalan history while being a magnet to draw tourists over for the Gothic area.
This newly renovated area, now called El Born CCM, is a compelling space that engages locals and visitors to reflect on how events affect communities all over the world. In the course of history, change has repurposed many communities and the archaeological site in this Centre shows the evolution that is inevitable.
Address: Plaça Comercial, 12, 08003 Barcelona, Spain
Archaeological Site in Born Barcelona
4. The Archaeological Site: Know More About Barcelona in the 1700's
The archaeological site inside the old Born Market or what is now called El Born CCM, shows the ruins of about 50 homes of the total 1000 that existed in this place in the 1700s. It gives you a glimpse of the history of Barcelona, the daily life in this area around 1700 and the items found during the excavation.
These homes were demolished after the Siege of Barcelona to make way to a fort that would help protect the city. It was only later when preservation of the old market was started that the foundations were found intact. The Centre has complete documentation of who were in these homes, what trades the owners did, how the interiors looked like including its fittings, a remarkable record of a significant era in Barcelona's history.
El Born Street
5. Enjoy Some of the Tastiest Food in El Born
Locals and visitors claim that some of Barcelona's best restaurants are here in El Born. We have so far eaten twice in the area's restaurants, El Guendilla and Lonja de Tapas, and came out very happy and satisfied with lunch in both places as were our guests.
The restaurants here in Born seem to be more imaginative with their menus and dishes with fewer "Hamburguerias" than elsewhere. I had an amazing artichoke dish, the spinach and cheese croquettes was to die for and fried camembert with berries sauce was just right for my taste buds.
Tapas in Born
6. Visit the Museums in El Born
Aside from the El Born Cultural Centre, there are other museums in Born that are all worth visiting. On top of the list, of course, is Museu Picasso. This is the most comprehensive collections of Picasso's early years when he often painted recognizable human shapes.
Opened to the public on 9 March 1963, it was possible largely because of the donation of over 4000 of Picasso's works by Jaume Sabartes, Picasso's close friend who became his secretary and, often, the subject of many of his paintings. His energy made this Museum possible and left Picasso's legacy in Barcelona.
The display is truly a study of how Picasso's art evolved throughout the years. Of interest is Picasso's 57 personal interpretations of Velasquez' Las Meninas as this is the only complete series of Picasso displayed all together.
Other museums in Born include the European Museum of Modern Art, an 18th century palace showcasing 20th and 21st century sculptures; Museu de la Xocolata where you can enjoy looking at chocolate sculptures; the Textile Museum which displays garments, fabrics and jewelry; the Museum of World Cultures which preserves and disseminates cultural and ethnic art; and Museum Barbier-Mueller dedicated to the artistic legacy of the pre-Columbian cultures of the Americas. A mixed bag, but something for everyone.
Museum of World Cultures
Artisan Shop in Born
7. Go Shopping in Artisans' Stores in Born
Many of the stores in Born are operated by the artisans themselves who have their workshops in here. We went around looking beyond the usual fashion favourites. While walking in the narrow street of Volta dels Tamborets, we found a bicycle with a quote from Albert Camus. Intrigued, we went in the store and met the leather craftsman, Alexis Fasoli, and his dog. We started looking at the products while discussing with him what we were looking for.
We ended getting a belt in beautiful dark blue. The next thing is to choose the buckle. We chose silver and this needed to be attached and adjusted to the belt.
Alexis told us it would take about 15 minutes and suggested we go around or he could offer us coffee which we politely declined. He assured us it would take no time to make the coffee and we could take it in the small table with two chairs right across his shop which he owned. We were delighted at the prospect of being able to sit down and people watch so we accepted. It was a totally enjoyable experience and well worth the money we paid for the belt.
Next to Alexis Fosali is Coll.ars which sells women's clothes and accessories. The storekeeper who was there was very accommodating, even showed me how to wear some of the unique accessories which she herself had made. The clothes were beautifully designed, colours were well chosen, and the accessories were unique. What attracted the shoppers was the two bags she placed on each side of the store front. In it were flowers and a big candle which was lighted, a nice touch.
There are many other unique and artsy stores in Born such as Iriarte Iriarte, Galleria Antic and Modern, and Habit just to name a few. It is my choice of a place to shop for unique things in Barcelona.
Narrow Born Streets
8. Walk through Born's Narrow Streets
Having been in Born a few times now, we still can't get enough of the place. We always come up to new narrow alleys that invite us to explore or a restaurant or a museum with interesting events or displays.
Each time we head off, something interesting always crops up making the experience of exploration not just intriguing but satisfying as well.
9. Enjoy the Street Scene
El Born has some of the liveliest streets in Barcelona. In one of our visits, we came across two musicians producing music with the most unique instruments made out of the ordinary things we often use: the saw and the umbrella. Watch the video below and listen to the music.
Enjoy Born When in Barcelona
All of these are easily reachable on the excellent subway system that is generally very user friendly even for Seniors. In Born, you’re never far from a stunning old building or 19th century government overstatement or a Catalonian howl for independence.
In mid-summer tourist season, the Born and all of downtown Barcelona is overwhelmed by the traditional European tourists, and now, the massive influx of Asians with new money to spend and new guidance systems to take them to every site. The locals are getting desperate and as Parisians did a century ago, will soon simply evacuate the city during peak tourism or as Venetians are doing, just abandoning the city period.
In the meantime, make sure you visit the Born area, enjoy some new sites and sounds and try to plan your visit for February and March when you can actually see things, sit in the sun and imagine history.
© 2018 Mary Norton