The Roman Barcelona.
A historical circuit.
When we walk around Barcelona doing tourism, we usually focus on the monuments of the modernist period (Sagrada Familia, Pedrera, Parc Güell), or the monuments of medieval Barcelona (Cathedral, Plaça del Rei), some of them popularized by successful books such as Santa Maria del Mar ( The Cathedral of the Sea) .
But Barcelona has other things to see to know its history. Before being an important medieval city, Barcelona had been a Roman city. At that time it was not even called Barcelona but Barcino (or rather Colonia Iulia Augusta Faventia Paterna Barcino). Barcino was founded between 15 and 13 BC by order of Emperor Augustus, the first emperor of the Roman Empire, great-nephew of Julius Caesar. Augustus was in the Iberian Peninsula during that time making war on the tribes of northern Spain, the only ones who resisted him in order to conquer the entire Peninsula, and he had a hard time. When the war ended, he decided to found the colony of Barcino (among other foundations) to give land to the veterans of the troops who had fought in that war.
We can still see that Roman influence in the layout of the streets of the historic center of the city. The Romans, who were very orderly, used to create cities following what they called a hypodamic layout, or what is the same, they built the city from two main perpendicular streets that crossed at a central point, where the center of town was established. the city (the forum). The center of Roman Barcino was located approximately in what is now Plaça Sant Jaume, where the Palau de la Generalitat and the Town Hall are currently located. As we can see, things have not changed much in these more than 2,000 years, and the center of power in the city is still in the same place.
Visit to the Roman walls of Barcelona
Barcelona, or Barcino, had a wall that surrounded the entire city. This Roman wall was demolished in the 19th century when the city was growing due to industrialization. But there are still some remains of the wall that can be visited, some can be seen with the naked eye, but others are a little more hidden or more difficult to identify. To be able to visit all these remains of the wall, we suggest a circular route around the old perimeter of the wall, visiting the remains that remain visible. We will start this tour at Plaça Nova, the square where Barcelona’s cathedral is located.
- Nova Square
The remains of the wall that are preserved in Plaça Nova are undoubtedly the best known. Millions of tourists visit this location every year and cross the remains of the wall to go up Carrer del Bisbe to Plaça Sant Jaume, one of the busiest and most beautiful promenades in the city.
In this square, to the right of the cathedral, four towers of what was the wall are preserved. Two of the towers (the ones on the left) are square and are integrated into what is now the archdeacon’s house (yes, the pink building). The other two towers, those on the right, that are preserved are round.
Why this difference in the shape of the towers? Very simply, the walls of Barcelona were made up of 76 towers, 66 square and 10 round. The round towers corresponded to those that were on each side of the entrance doors, as well as the towers where the wall made a corner. In the case of Plaça Nova, the two towers on the right are the towers that flanked the northern entrance to the city (the one known as Porta Praetoria ).
If you remember what we have explained before, the city was built from two lines that crossed in the forum. The gates of the city of Barcelona corresponded to the points where these two streets intersected with the wall, so Barcino had 4 entrance gates, one at each cardinal point. Therefore, from each entrance gate the city forum could be reached in a straight line. Unfortunately, currently only this gate in Plaça Nova is preserved (and the remains of another of the gates, as you will see later).
A curiosity regarding this gateway to the city is that, currently, you can see a piece of aqueduct (an arch) that is embedded in the third of the towers. This arch does not correspond to the original aqueduct of the city, but it is a reconstruction of part of said aqueduct that was made in 1958! Of course, the original aqueduct entered the city through the same place as this replica.
- Ramon Berenguer Square
We will do our tour of the Roman walls in a clockwise direction although, obviously, you can do it in the opposite direction if you prefer.
In our case we will now go, crossing the entire square of the cathedral, to the Via Laietana, which marks, more or less, the limit of the Roman city of Barcino. If we turn right along said street and go down, we will end up at Plaça de Ramon Berenguer. You will quickly identify this square, since it is where the equestrian statue of this illustrious count of Barcelona is located, as well as the rear of the Palau Rial and the Church of Santa Águeda.
To understand who he was and why this character (known as the Great) is so important and why a square has been named after him, it suffices to point out that, among many other things, his son Ramon Berenguer IV, married with Petronila de Aragón, which brought about the union of the Kingdom of Aragón with the County of Barcelona, creating the Crown of Aragón. As a curiosity, Ramon Berenguer III married a daughter of El Cid (although she was not the mother of Ramon Berenguer IV, since she died very young).
Although when we see this square the first thing we think is that we are seeing a medieval complex, the truth is that part of these buildings are built taking advantage of the Roman wall. We can see this in the square towers on which part of the building sits, which if you have come from the cathedral square, you will realize that they are very similar to the square towers that were in said square. The use of Roman remains for subsequent constructions is very common, as you will see later. Why build a new wall if one is available?
You will see that in some parts of the wall there are areas of red brick that contrast with the stone of the wall. This brick part is a reconstruction of ruined areas of the wall, and red brick is used so that the original area is well differentiated from the reconstructed area.
- Carrer de Sots Tinent Navarro
Following this piece of wall along Carrer de la Tapinería we will arrive at Plaça de l’Àngel, where the Jaume I metro station is located. Another of the city’s gates should be here, but currently there are no remains of it. Crossing the square we will continue down Carrer del Sots-Tinent Navarro, parallel to Via Laietana.
Here is the rear facade of the Palau Requesens, but now that you have seen other parts of the wall I am sure you will be able to detect that this palace also uses parts of the wall in its construction, specifically three towers, as well as the pieces of wall between the towers. As you can see, the tower on the far left, made of red brick, is a reconstruction of the original tower on the few remains that remain of it. If we continue a little further, we will see that there are also remains of the bases of two other towers.
We will come across a street that goes down, known as Carrer Baixada de Caçador. After that street we see two more towers. This part of the wall is very interesting. If you look closely you will see that these towers and their walls have windows. The truth is that this part of the wall had been integrated into the buildings that were built here. In fact, if you look closely, there is currently a park in front of the wall. This park was formerly occupied by other buildings, which were demolished to expose the wall. For a long time this piece of the wall was hidden by the constructions that were built on top. Can you imagine living in a house with a piece of the Roman wall as a wall? It must have been difficult to make holes to hang a picture.
Now look at the end of this piece of wall. You will see that there is a kind of unfinished arch that disappears into the next building. Indeed, there are still pieces of wall to be discovered in this area. It is planned to continue with the work of demolishing buildings to show more parts of it.
- Traginers Square
We continue our way down the same street and turn right onto the next street (Carrer del Pom d’Or), a very narrow street that leads to a rather hidden and not too well-known square, Plaça de Traginers. This section of wall that we have seen along Carrer del Sots-Tinent Navarro ended here. If you remember, I have previously commented that circular towers were used at the corners of the wall. Well, this is precisely what we have here, the base of the circular tower that was the corner of the city wall. Here the wall made a turn to head towards the South gate of the city (actually Southeast, since the streets do not follow a North-South/East-West orientation).
As we have seen in other areas of the wall, this section of the wall has been preserved because a house was built on top of it, during the Middle Ages, using the wall as a foundation. This house was later demolished and we have this hidden piece of the wall, not too well known.
- Correu Vell Street
We leave Plaça de Traginers and continue along Carrer del Correu Vell, a very narrow street. Halfway down the street there is a small, very narrow passage to the right that leads to a small square. Believe me when I tell you that this spectacular place is practically unknown to most people, even those of us who have lived our entire lives in this city.
Here we can see the back of what was the old Palau dels Marc, and is currently the Pati Llimona Civic Center. Again you will be able to see the typical square towers with which you will already be quite familiar, as well as the piece of wall that was between both towers, on which the rest of the palace wall has been built.
- Carrer Regomir.
We go out again to Carrer del Correu Vell and continue on until we reach Carrer de Regomir. This street follows the layout of one of the Roman streets that crossed the city from end to end. If you followed this street (later it changed its name to Carrer de la Ciutat), you would arrive at Plaça Sant Jaume (now you know that the center of the Roman city, the forum, was there), and if you continued going up you would arrive at the door where we have started our tour, in the Plaça de la Catedral. But let’s not anticipate events.
As you may have guessed, this street was another of the entrances to the city, which is popularly known as Porta de Mar, since it was the one closest to the coast.
Going up Carrer de Regomir we will reach a point with a corner where we see a small arch. These are the remains of that old Porta de Mar. In fact, the small arch that we see corresponds to the pedestrian passage of said door. The Barcino gates had three entrances, a larger central one for carriages and animals, and two lateral ones for pedestrians.
No, it is not that the Romans were shorter and that is why they made a small door. What happens is that it has been building on the lower levels and the current ground level has been higher than the Roman original.
Next to this gate were some of the city’s hot springs, of which some remains remain, as we will explain in another post.
A few meters further on there is a very narrow street on the right that leads to what is known as Pati d’en Llimona. It is the same Pati Llimona civic center whose rear facade we have seen before. The civic center preserves remains of the oldest wall in the city that can be visited.
- Carrer Avinyo (Number 19)
From here, the remains of the wall are not so visible, since the old wall runs through a space that is currently built, even so there are some remains that will surprise you.
After arriving at Plaça del Regomir, we turn left along Carrer de Calella (later Carrer de la Comtessa de Sobradiel) to Avinyó street. Possibly the name of this street will sound like Picasso’s painting, “Las Señoritas de Avignon”. History says that this name refers to a brothel that was located on this street and that Picasso must have known well, since he lived in this city for about nine years.
At number 19 of this street is the Associació Excursionista d’Etnografia i Folklore (AEEF), which preserves another rest of the wall inside, which can be visited by prior reservation.
- Calle del Call
Further on, just when Carrer d’Avinyó changes its name and becomes Carrer de Banys Nous, we find Carrer del Call on the right.
The name of this street refers to the Jewish quarter of medieval Barcelona (known precisely by that name ” Call “). If you look closely, some streets in that area have names that refer to that medieval past, such as Carrer de l’Arc de Sant Ramon del Call or Carrer de Salomó ben Adret.
In that street we can see a piece of the wall (part of a tower) and part of the moat inside a Woman’s Store jewelry and accessories store (although the shops change quickly in this area).
Further along that same street we see how the opening of Carrer del Call cut through the wall, and we can see a cross section of it, above the Fills M. Sala jewelry store. This view of the wall will help us understand how the buildings in the area were built and integrated on both sides of the wall, using it as dividing walls for many buildings in the area.
- Carrer de Banys Nous (The Farm)
And what do you think of the idea of having a good cup of chocolate with churros sitting at a table next to the wall? Well, that’s exactly what you can do at La Granja , an old dairy converted into a cafeteria in 1872 and which has an interior wall that is directly the Roman wall.
This place is located on Carrer de Banys Nous, which is the continuation of Carrer d’Avinyó, a few meters ahead of the intersection with Carrer del Call, so that what we see inside the place is exactly the piece of wall that continues A few meters further on, the cut piece of wall that we have seen in Carrer del Call. Once again, this helps us realize how many parts of the wall are still there, forming part of the walls of the buildings located on Avinyó and Banys Nous streets.
- Carrer de la Palla
Finally, near the end of the route, if we follow Carrer de Banys Nous, it ends up becoming Carrer de la Palla, where we see other remains of the wall. We are now very close to the starting point in Plaça Nova. The piece of the wall and the towers that we see here are precisely those that are found after the entrance tower to the city (the tower on the right) that we saw in that square, with which we close the entire circle and finish our tour. .
We hope you liked it and enjoy it as much as we do!!