Will you have visitors over soon and you’re worried about not knowing what to tell them about the centre of Barcelona? Are embarrassed that your friends from abroad know more about Ciutat Vella than you do? According to our own experience, in 80% of cases, Barcelona locals answer “yes” to these questions.
Don’t worry, that’s a natural phenomenon, seeing as when we’re from a certain place we take on certain customs (school, work, holidays abroad…) that dampen our curiosity about our own city. That curiosity that sparks up so easily when we’re travelling abroad vanishes once we have to worry about paying bills, meeting with friends or minding our home.
Of course there are always exceptions to the rule and we’re happy to know that many locals could be excellent guides of the centre of Barcelona, as we have seen in our cultural scavenger hunts. But for those who make up that 80%, here are three Little secrets about the centre to impress your visitors (at a basic, intermediate and advanced level).
PORTA DE SANT JORDI (The Door of Saint George)
It’s in the Palau del Lloctinent, together with the Arxiu de la Corona d’Aragó (Archives of the Crown of Aragon), next to Plaça del Rei. It pays homage to the Kingdom of Aragon, and includes, among other symbols, a representation of Sant Jordi (Saint George, patron saint of Catalonia), an allegory of the city of Majorca, the blazon of the Kingdom of Aragon, the coat of arms of Barcelona as a doorknob, the cross of Saint George and the handprint of the artist, Subirachs (that has been worn to a shine because of the many people who think themselves Indiana Jones and try to touch it to see if they find treasure on the other side).
The map on the door shows the Kingdom of Aragon at its widest extension, when Jaume II el Just (James II of Aragon) reigned from the end of the 13th to the early 14th Century. In it you can see the great extension of the territories of the Crown of Aragon: it ruled over Catalonia, Valencia, the Balearic Islands, Sardinia, Sicily, some areas in the south of Italy and France and even some parts of Greece (this explains the name of many streets in Eixample: Mallorca, Sardenya, Sicília, Provença, Rocafort, Lepant…).
It is a 1970s work by Josep Maria Subirachs, a prolific Catalan sculptor whose work features in many places in Barcelona, among others, Plaça de Sant Miquel, Jardins del Mirador de Montjuïc, the Diagonal metro station, the Palau de la Generalitat and… the whole sculptural ensemble of the Passion Façade (facing c/Sardenya) of the Sagrada Familia.
CARASSA at the crossroad of MIRALLERS and VIGATANS
On this crossroads you will see the sculpture of a head that sticks out from the corner of a building. It’s really a sort of advertising sign aimed at illiterate people and foreigners (sailors, mainly) that informed that the building housed a brothel. For those who are not convinced, just look at the expression of the sculpture: it’s a woman with blank eyes and a half open mouth, as though experiencing an orgasm.
This isn’t the only Carassa in Barcelona. There are two more that most likely showed the building they were on were brothels: one under the window of a third floor on Carrer de les Panses, a small street near Plaça de Santa Maria del Mar, and another on Carrer de les Mosques with Carrer Flassaders. The one on Carrer de les Panses, beign on a third floor, showed that the brothel was just on that floor, and not to bother the neighbours, however tricky that may be. This brings us to the advanced level…
Prostitution was common in the Middle Ages, and it was even regulated (as much as possible) by the local authorities (quite similar to what is shown in Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin didn’t exactly make that up). As suggested by the doctoral thesi of Lucía Conte Aguilar, this profession took up whole neighbourhoods in port cities just like Barcelona. Historians agree that the biggest brothel in Barcelona was Viladalls, on the Rambla close to what is now Plaça Reial. This sculpture, previously on the corner of Mirallers with Sombrerers, showed the Hostal Bordeller de la Carassa.
PLAÇA DE L’ÀNGEL
This square is called “Plaça de l’Àngel” (the Angel’s Square) because of a miracle that took place in the Middle Ages, said to have been brought about by one of the patrons saints of Barcelona, Saint Eulalia. There is a statue celebrating that miracle on one of the façades of the square, it shows an angel (oddly wingless) that points to the ground with their right hand and toward the northeast with the left.
In the 14th century the remains of Saitn Eulalia had to be moved from the chapel of Santa Maria de les Arenes (nowadays Santa María del Mar) to the Cathedral of Barcelona. According to legend, during the procession that took place for the move, the sarcophagus of the saint became so heavy that the bearers had to drop it. It was then that an angel appeared and pointed at a cleric in the crowd. The man had stolen a finger of the saint as a relic (even nowadays this sort of thing is quite valuable, and in the Middle Ages even more so). When the cleric admitted to the theft and returned the finger, the pallbearers were once again able to lift the sarcophagus and the procession was able to go on.
Before it was Plaça del Àngel, this square was, in many ways, the most important in Medieval Barcelona, back then called Plaça del Blat (Wheat Square). It was just a few metres away from Palau Reial and here, as its name shows, is where they held the market selling the most basic medieval food product: wheat. As a matter of fact, it’s not surprising that it was the stage multiple popular revolts in Barcelona, the most important of them taking place during la Guerra dels Segadors (the Reapers’ War) in the 17th century.
What’s your level of knowledge? Was this useful or did you know it all? Did you find that something wasn’t quite right? We’d love to discuss it, and that’s what the comment section is for!
We will soon have more posts with city secrets!