Gothic “The city without time”

“The city without time” – this is the title one of the many novels about Barcelona. But it is not by happenstance. The ancient city endured series of captures and wars, change of eras and governors for more than two one thousand years. And each of these eras was in own way reflected in modern look of Barcelona, like multi-colored particles of a big mosaic to which this amazing city is so similar.

In the heart of the city, between La Boulevard Rambla and Via Laietana Street, there is an area where time seems to have remained still. The web of narrow, curve, medieval small streets shrouds you at once as soon as you curtail from the noisy area of Catalonia.

Historic center of Barcelona – the Old city – consists of three areas: Raval, Gothic Quarter and La Ribera. All three quarters bear the impress the Middle Ages, but the most ancient of them – Gothic. It is some centuries more senior than the others and kept traces still of antique constructions, its streets remember invasions of Visigoths and Moors. The main part of buildings of quarter was built at 14-15 centuries in Gothic style. These are cathedrals and temples, residences of Catalan monarchs and mansions of the local aristocracy. The thick stone walls which darkened from time, the narrow pointed windows, massive doors, bas-reliefs and sculptures almost ideally kept spirit of the Middle Ages. And it attracts here not only tourists, but also creative people – writers, artists, and directors. By the way, many key scenes of the well-known movie “Perfumer” were shot on streets and squares of Gothic quarter which for a while turned into Paris the 18th centuries.

It is rather briskly here in the afternoon. Besides ancient monuments practically continually it is possible to meet a fashionable little shop, cafe, a souvenir or jeweler shop, street actors and musicians. And in the evening the medieval atmosphere of quarter finds unforgettable gloomy charm. Though to walk alone on deserted streets of quarter it is unsafe. It has ill fame of one of the most criminal districts of Barcelona.

As entrance to Gothic quarter from the area of Catalonia serves the street with the symbolical name “Gate of Angels” – Portal del Angel. This street, as well as at the majority of streets of quarter, has the history and the legends. Here were main gate of the city in medieval Barcelona. Also they were called then as Gate of Blind. Every day from city vicinities beggars, cripples, blind met here to beg. Once – it was at the end of the 14th century – over gate there was an angel with a sword in a hand. There was one monk among the amazed citizens who dared to start talking to an angel. On a question who is he and why he appeared here, the angel answered that command Supreme he is the Guardian angel of Barcelona. Since then city gate began to be called “the Gate of the Angel”. Later half a century on this place built a chapel with image of the Guardian angel of Barcelona. Its holiday is celebrated in Barcelona annually 2 October.

The ancient Gothic church of Saint Anne with a fine internal court yard is hidden in a quiet cozy corner between Portal del Angel and La Rambla. In the 11th century it was part of the monastery. After demolition of a city wall and a chapel of the Guardian angel some time its image was stored here.

If you take the turn from the Portal del Angel to the left on one of small streets, you will get to the well-known bohemian cafe “Four Cats”. It, of course, has no relation to an era of the Middle Ages, but too is sight of quarter and is noteworthy. The cafe opened at the end of the 19th century became a place of meetings of creative elite of “a fine era”. Its frequent guests were Gaudi and Picasso, among other celebrities. Here passed the first exhibitions of early Picasso, and famous composers and musicians acted later. In the period of board Franco cafe was destroyed, but it is completely restored in the 70th years of the 20th century.

Mardrid Square that is located on the right side from Portal del Angel Street is known that here was found the Roman cemetery of 2 centuries of our era. The small town Barcino founded in the 3rd century B.C. by the Carthago commander Hamilcar Barca and called in his honor then was seized by Romans. They also constructed the first city walls. All burials then settled down outside the city, along the road conducting to it. On gravestones names of those who is buried, and those who erected a monument are traced.

Portal del Angel Street conducts to the center of quarter – Placa Nova (“Plaza Nueva”). Let you be not misled by this name. Plaza Nueva is the oldest area of Barcelona. In antique times the main square of Roman Barcino was at this place. Here traded not only any food and ceramics, but also slaves. Up to now the Roman towers which in the Middle Ages became part of a fortification remained.

Construction on this place of Plaza Nueva in the 14th century was connected with the decision of the city authorities to carry out to the city water from mountains. Two aqueducts supplying the city with water met on the square. The part of that aqueduct too escaped. Now on Thursdays on Plaza Nueva is arranged the antiquarian market.

Novaya Square imperceptibly passes into the Cathedral Square (“Pla de la Seu”).

There is the main temple of Barcelona – the Cathedral of the Sacred Cross and Saint Eulalia. The cathedral is the residence of the Archbishop of Barcelona. In honor of a cathedral Gothic quarter before the beginning of the 19th century carried the name “Cathedral”. Straying on small streets of quarter, you will hardly manage to avoid this majestic Gothic temple. He is visible practically from any corner of quarter.

Construction of the main part of a cathedral was conducted at 13-15 centuries, and in the next centuries the temple was periodically completed and reconstructed. The main facade of the building was finished only at the end of the 19th century, the spike is established at the beginning of the 20th, and in the 80th years of the last century its last reconstruction was carried out. Therefore the architecture of a cathedral combines some styles.

The Gothic cathedral of 13-15 centuries has the most interesting and very ancient background. It begins at the time of early Christianity.

In the 4th century in the ancient city of Барсúно on that place where by order of the Roman deputy crucified one of the first Christians of Eulalia on a cross, and the cathedral now rises, the church devoted to the young martyr was constructed. On a legend, thirteen-year Eulalia was executed by pagans that refused to renounce Christian belief. It was subjected to thirteen – by number of years – to the cruelest tortures: the heated coals, pounded glass, hot wax and oil. But every time it remained is safe. And only when she was crucified on a cross, she died and rose by the sky in image white pigeons.

The place of burial of Eulalia long time remained it isn’t known. And only in the 9th century of power sacred were found by one monk in church which now is called Santa Maria del Mar. Sacred relics were transferred to Saint Eulalia’s Church and are nowadays stored in an ancient crypt under the main thing altar the Cathedral as its main relic. If to lower a coin in a special opening, the sarcophagus starts shining. Remind us 13 white geese living in one of chapels of a cathedral and walking in an internal court yard of history of life and Eulalia’s death, drawing attention of tourists. White color of birds symbolizes Saint Eulalia’s purity, and their number – number of years sacred and torments which she had to bear for belief.

In the 10th century during Moors attack ancient Basilica it was destroyed. Only its underground chapel – a crypt with relics sacred escaped. At the beginning of the 11th century after release from Moors of columns of Barcelona Ramon Berenguer over this crypt constructed a cathedral in Romance style. One more ancient legend is connected with a name of the count. It narrates about tragic, as well as it is necessary to the medieval legend, history of the count and his beloved of Almodis.

Having buried the first wife, the columns Berenguer soon was fond of the daughter of the French count Almodis de la Marche. As she was married, Ramon had no choice, but to steal her and force to take away to Barcelona where the wedding took place. Later the Pope Victor II found their marriage illegal and separated both from church. Contrary to it they ruled Catalonia more than 20 years. So far Almodis wasn’t killed by the eldest son of Ramon Berenguer from the first wife who was afraid that one of the stepmother’s children from the previous marriage will become the successor of the count. After her death the murderer was disinherited and expelled from Barcelona, and the old count went to look for death on war. Wooden sarcophagus with Berenguer Ramon I ashes and Almodis de la Marche is now established on an eminence at the main altar of the Cathedral.

Construction of the Cathedral which became to one of samples of the graceful, “burning” gothic style was conceived and begun only in the 13th century. The construction of the temple was finished in the middle of the 15th century according to drawings of a Rouen cathedral therefore in the main cathedral of Barcelona lines of the French and Spanish gothic style are combined with elements of Catalan art.

Outstanding masters of Europe at different times worked on internal furniture of the temple. Huge color stained-glass windows of the 15th century light the twilight of three spacious naves. A set of harmonious columns form lancet arches and dizzy height the flying dome. At a main entrance to the temple marble baptismal fonts of the 15th eyelid are located. In the center the attention is drawn choruses – the top open gallery in church where there is a body and musicians or choristers settle down. Openwork shod lattices, skillful woodcarving and to a stone, a wall from white marble with bas-reliefs on Saint Eulalia’s sufferings. Wooden chairs of the choruses are decorated with the gilded knightly coats of arms on the occasion of meeting of knights of the Award of Gold Rune which passed here in the beginning of the 16th century.

One of halls of a cathedral is devoted to Sant Crist de Lepant. Here is stored one more major relic of a cathedral – the image which is especially esteemed in Barcelona Christ. The wooden crucifixion of the 16th eyelid was removed from Don Juan de Austria’s ship after legendary fight with Turks at Lepant. On one of the Spanish galleys, by the way, among other participants of battle there was also Miguel de Cervantes. Christ’s figure has obviously expressed curvature. According to the legend, the image was bent when the enemy shell flied to it thanks to what the ship remained safe.

In one of chapels of a cathedral there is an elevator on which it is possible to rise by an observation deck at a dome.

In the Cathedral there are a lot more surprising and standing attention things. There are also 26 chapels where remains of priors of the temple and notable aristocrats are stored, and a cathedral Treasury where unique works of art are collected. Already mentioned internal court yard with the most beautiful Gothic garden where white geese walk, magnolias and palm trees grow, the fountain – Saint George’s source, the patron of Catalonia murmurs.

Entrance to a cathedral free, but for rise on the elevator and an entrance to an internal court yard it is necessary to pay. Therefore if you plan to examine in detail all sights of a cathedral, it is better to buy the monthly card for 5 Euros.

Special value of the Cathedral of Barcelona is most brightly expressed that the red cross of Saint Eulalia on a white background is part of the coat of arms of Barcelona along with yellow-red strips of a flag of Catalonia.

The cathedral has some entrances and exits, and it is not important, in what direction you will go, leaving it. Anyway you will get to any historical place. In one of lanes behind a cathedral there is a house which adjoins columns of an era of Octavian Augustus. These are the escaped parts of the Roman forum.

And you don’t have to look far from here for Saint James Square (“Placa de san Jaume”). Here face to face are located two main government buildings: Municipal council and Palace of the government of Catalonia. Both structures belong to a Gothic era.

On Sundays after a lunch citizens come to dance favourite Catalan dance of a sardana here. And if you arrive here in September or February, you can become the participant of the main holidays of the city devoted to patronesses of Barcelona. At the end of September here passes La Merce festival – Lady of Mercy and in the middle of February – the Sacred Eulalia festival. Both holidays are celebrated with traditional Barcelonian scope: festive processions and concerts, extremely large dolls and live sculptures, laser shows, dances, theatrical performances.

The church 18 of an eyelid devoted to the Lady of Mercy too is in Gothic Quarter, but in its port part, near Columbus’s statue. There the ancient wooden image of the Mother of God is stored.

From Saint James Square it is possible to walk down the bishop Bisbe Street – the main street of quarter – and to admire there the graceful balcony bridge connecting two opposite buildings. The balcony is considered a gothic style sample though it was created during a modernist style era.

The most beautiful building of the street – The house of a meeting of Cortes where there was a parliament of Barcelona. Spacious, graceful, unusually light, with a beautiful orange garden, it undoubtedly deserves attention.

Having curtailed from brisk Street Bisbe into a labyrinth of narrow lanes, it is possible to get on small, hidden from curious eyes, Plasa de San-Felip Neri. There was a cemetery in the ancient time, in the Middle Ages there was a church, and in the 18th century was built the graceful temple of San-Felip Neri. Near church there is a unique Museum of footwear – a rarity even for Europe. There are among its exhibits – the Roman sandals and Christopher Columbus’s boots. Lonely, deserted, a little gloomy place in the center of quarter attracts thin romantic natures of artists, poets, actors. Not without reason the scene of the first murder of already mentioned movie “Perfumer” was shot exactly here.

If from Saint Eulalia’s Cathedral to go outside not Bisbe, and on the opposite side, before us will open the small sizes Royal Square of the 18th century (Placa del Rey).  The Royal palace located on it – the former residence of counts of Barcelona. In a palace throne-room a royal couple Isabella and Ferdinand accepted Columbus after his well-known expedition which dug out America. Now in the building of the palace there is Archives de la Couronne d’Aragon – the second-large archive in the world. Externally the building looks in a medieval way strictly and gloomy, but differs in rich internal furniture. That to estimate it, it is necessary to visit the underground Museum of history of Barcelona. It is interesting also to that conducts to ancient Roman ruins.

Don’t confuse this area to other Royal Square – Placa Real 19 centuries, which is in the same quarter and adjoins Boulevard Rambla.

If you are interested medieval Jewish quarter – El Call, it is necessary to go from Saint James Square in the direction, opposite to the Street Bisbe, – towards the sea down the Ataulf Street. By the way, this imperceptible small street bears a name of the leader of a barbarous tribe of the Visigoths which took Barcino in the 5th century AD and stores history about the daughter of the Roman emperor kidnapped by it. And according to the laws of the genre, in this legend too all perish.

Jews lived in Barcelona practically from the very beginning of its history – 1 century AD. And by the 13th century the Jewish community became the most influential in Spain. In the middle of the 14th century, in the middle of Inquisition, the most dramatic period of its history begins. Jews were accused of defilement of Christian shrines, and persecutions began. The synagogue was ruined and destroyed. Jews were burned on fires as heretics, in hundreds destroyed during riots. Escaped Jews were violently christened in the church constructed on a synagogue place or turned out from Spain. In more detail in Barcelona you can learn about tragic pages of history of the Jewish ghetto, having visited the ancient synagogue located in the cellar.

It is possible to tell for a long time about this quarter where each its corner breathes with history, but it is better to arrive and to see everything with your own eyes.

It seems, ruthless time not imperiously over this city. Perhaps it has indeed powerful heavenly patrons? Or it is love and care of inhabitants does Barcelona immortal? This is the city without time, to which suits any era.

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Author: Natalia Petrakova
Translation: Albina Akhmedova

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