Europe’s Best Outdoor Art Gallery: Gothic Quarter Barcelona

Europe’s Best Outdoor Art Gallery: Gothic Quarter Barcelona

Gothic Architecture of Barcelona

The fascinating Gothic Quarter Barcelona – Europe’s greatest outdoor art gallery – sits within the city of Barcelona. World-famous for its intricate and enchanting beauty, this particular neighbourhood takes in many famous landmarks framed by the Gothic architecture of ancient times.

As the centre of the old city, the original structures of the Gothic Quarter Barcelona are remarkably well preserved. Many of the medieval buildings are still intact, and there are remnants of the wall that was present in Roman times. The majority of the Gothic Quarter is pedestrianized and despite the throngs of tourists that wander the streets, it retains a real charm through this authenticity. I love the Gothic architecture for its beautiful details and unique features. Every time I walk through this area, it’s easy to imagine how it might have felt walking these streets many centuries before. Original Gothic architectural features frame all of the modern shops, cafes and restaurants. It is as if the modern world is consistently enhanced by the power and beauty of this long-ago time. In every part of the Gothic Quarter Barcelona, the space is used to create new and original locations. There are bicycle rental shops with low ceilings carved from original stone structures and tiny stores selling handmade jewellery tucked away into every corner.

A Maze of Delights

The streets of the Gothic Quarter BarcelonaPhoto credit: Stefano TarnellRiccardo Cuppini

The quarter’s layout is like that of a maze, full of endless small streets which all lead to another hidden delight. The streets are mostly very narrow which just adds to the character. I have lived in Barcelona for over two years, yet I still find myself getting lost in the jumble of tiny streets. The other day I was walking through the Gothic Quarter when I asked two people which direction I had to take to reach Passeig de Gracia. Despite the fact that both were Barcelona-born and bred, neither was entirely sure which way to direct me. This is a perfect example to illustrate how intoxicating this area is and how easy it is to get wrapped up within this ancient labyrinth.

There are many beautiful landmarks in the area of the Gothic Quarter Barcelona. There are those that are large and impressive, and those that are more subtle. Personally, I prefer the smaller, more intricate Gothic details that evoke the feeling of the past centuries, such as the original street signs, alcoves embedded high up into the street walls containing figures of Mary and Jesus, and the towering wooden doors with huge iron door knockers that introduce many of the buildings. Among the larger structures, the Cathedral of Saint Eulàlia is extremely impressive and never fails to make my heart skip a beat. Its Gothic and neo-Gothic architecture is typical Catalan Gothic style and includes towering gargoyles, featuring a variety of animals, which cause many people to confuse the building with Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia.

A walk from the cathedral over Carrer del Bisbe takes in a unique ornamental bridge designed in a flamboyant (late Gothic) style that crosses the street high above. The street then opens out into the Plaça Sant Jaume, which is one of my favourite spots as it is constantly teeming with activity. With the City Hall on one side and the Presidential Palace on the other, the cobbled square regularly plays host to lively protests (usually those campaigning for Catalan independence) and some very beautiful wedding parties emerging from City Hall.

Placa del Pi, a food market in the Gothic Quarter BarcelonaPhoto credits: Jaume Ventura, vgm8383

The Plaça del Pi is another of the area’s most distinctive landmarks. It’s home to the dazzling 14th century church, Santa Maria del Pi, with its striking Gothic arches. The square also holds a Catalonian food market at weekends where musicians and street performers add to the atmosphere. In the next square over, Plaça de San Josep Oriel, there is a weekend artist and artisan’s market, again framed by original Gothic buildings that sit alongside more contemporary, bright yellow apartment buildings with neat balconies and trays of flowers.

Jewish Barcelona

tours around the Gothic Quarter Barcelona

Photo credits: Fnogues, Ramiro Sanchez-Crespo

The Gothic area is also home to the Jewish Quarter of El Call, a tiny section of streets just behind Calle Ferran. You can reach the old synagogue–one of the oldest in Europe–via steps that lead down below ground to a low doorframe that even shorter people would have to stoop to pass through. Once inside, the tiny space includes Jewish figurines and artefacts that have been donated to the synagogue from all over the world. One section of the floor is also made of solid glass to showcase the original Roman foundations underneath. Around the corner from the synagogue is a large furniture shop full of trinkets and interesting home furnishings. At the very back of the shop, among tall plants and striking pieces, is the old mikvah. This is where the men of the Jewish community would go for their ritual bath when the synagogue was still an active place of worship. The women’s mikvah is around the corner underground, below a popular café. To be standing in the exact place where people from centuries ago underwent their religious rituals just adds to the magic of the area.

Where to Stay

Hotel Bagues near Gothic Quarter Barcelona

The Gothic Quarter extends across from Via Laeitana over to Las Ramblas–one of the most famous streets in the city and home to the Bagues Hotel. With just 31 rooms and suites, the five-star museum/boutique hotel has an intimate, authentic atmosphere, which fits perfectly against the backdrop of the Gothic influence. The hotel itself was built within the premises of a historic palace and designed around the legacy of its previous occupants, Catalonian jewellers Bagues-Masriera, who used the building as their home and workshop. The rooms that face the Ramblas have tiny balconies with original windows that frame the streets below and offer a view of Barcelona life 24 hours a day. The roof terrace, with its compact bar and stylish swimming pool, faces the Gothic Quarter and takes in the new and ancient landscape with the towering spirals of the cathedral and the twisting, mystical streets. The Plaça Reial–one of the most attractive and famous squares in the Gothic Quarter–is just moments away from Hotel Bagues. This buzzing area features a number of lovely restaurants and bars, with open air concerts in the summertime.