The Spanish Civil War and El Barrio Gótico

Barcelona was one of the cities that sustained the most damage during the bombings of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). Instead of targeting military objectives, Mussolini’s air force chose large concentrations of civilians.

One famous example can still be found in the Gothic District, La Església de Sant Felip Neri. During the war, the church was used as a shelter for evacuated children. On Jan. 30, 1938, Franco’s troops dropped a bomb directly in front of the building, killing dozens of children. A second bomb exploded shortly after, increasing the death toll. Scarring from the bombs is still clearly visible on the church’s facade, and a plaque reads, “Here died 42 people – the majority children – due to the actions of Franco’s airforce on the 30th of January 1938.”

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Architecture and Layout of El Barrio Gótico

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Like many other European cities, Barcelona’s old city is made up of narrow alleyways that never seem to take you where you think they will but eventually open into large squares.

In the Middle Ages, the city that was once Barcino expanded under King Jaume I. The Catalan Gothic style was developed and construction began on the Cathedral of Barcelona. Romanesque influences also appeared in the Gothic Neighborhood.

Barcino: The Roman City

When the Romans conquered the northeastern part of Spain, around 15 A.D., they established a capital in Tarraco (modern day Tarragona), another major city in Caesaraugusta (modern day Zaragoza) and Barcino (modern day Barcelona). Although Barcino was not initially the most powerful, it quickly grew in importance. The Romanization of Spain was vital to the nation’s development as the first laws came from the Romans, and Spanish (and Catalan) are derived from Latin.

The city was in a strategic location between two rivers, the Llebregat and the Besós. It was protected from the northern winds by the Collserola Mountains and had contacts in the

Mediterranean – Greeks and Carthegenians. It was also built on a branch of the Via Augusta, one of the major roadways that ran through the Spanish Roman empire. Barcino was a walled city built in the shape of an “oppidum,”or elongated rectangle.

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The Romans did not keep their dead inside the city walls, so several sarcophaguses can still be found in the Gothic Neighborhood. Holes were cut into the tombs so relatives could continue to “feed” their loved ones.

Based on artifacts uncovered from the era, it’s clear that the city thrived later in the Roman Empire. The first amphoras, or ceramic containers, were used to ship fish and other products from Barcino.IMG_2025
Today, all that remains of the ancient Roman city in Barcelona are three columns from the Temple of Augustus, a large temple dedicated to Caesar Augustus, and the archeological site of the Museu d’História de la Ciutat. The temple was built on Barcino’s highest point, Mount Táber at 16.9 meters.

Walking through El Barrio Gótico today, locals and visitors are reminded of Barcelona’s Roman history through street signs and Joan Brossa’s sculpture in the plaza of the Cathedral of Barcelona. A portion of the city’s arched aqueduct is also visible, along with small portions of the Roman walls.

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Ruins are something I find extremely fascinating, and when I came to Spain I did not realize the country was founded on such a strong Roman base. Marks of the ancient community are everywhere, if you just take the time to look.

 

So, what exactly is El Barrio Gótico?

The Gothic Neighborhood marks the center of Barcelona’s “old city” or Ciutat Vella. It stretches approximately from the Mediterranean seafront in the east, to Ronda de Sant Pere (west of  Plaça de Catalunya), to Via Laietana in the north and La Rambla in the south.

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A view of the Gothic Neighborhood from the Cathedral of Barcelona’s terrace.

Its architecture includes ancient Roman, Medieval and modern, which creates the neighborhood’s dynamic appearance. Because it is the center of the old city, El Barrio Gótico’s roadways appear maze-like. Also renowned as an area of cultural significance for residents of Barcelona, it sustained damage during the Spanish Civil War that can still be seen today.

The open spaces scattered at the ends of winding roads serve as meeting places for locals to catch up or locations to show their disapproval through protests.

The neighborhood, understandably, draws more than 7 million tourists annually who wander aimlessly along La Rambla and get confused by the dozens of souvenir shops that all look the same.

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Morocco, Marruecos, المغرب (al-Maġrib)

This past weekend I was able to travel somewhere I never thought I would be able to reach. My friend and co-worker in my internship in Barcelona (Megan) and I found a Spanish tour group that offers guided visits through Northern Morocco. Now, why Morocco? Arabic culture has fascinated me for a long time. Maybe it’s because it’s so difficult for Americans to experience or because so many Americans completely misunderstand it. Regardless, I want to try to understand.

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Madrid

Despite most vocal Barcelona natives’ aversion to Spain’s capital city, some of my fellow study abroad companions and I felt obligated to explore Madrid. So, living up to our stereotype of cheap college students, we booked a roughly 7 and ½ hour one-way bus ride to and from Madrid. While globetrotting might appear glamorous from behind a computer screen, the physical traveling aspect is straight up difficult.

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FC Barça

Alright I’m going to be completely honest and say that I didn’t know Barcelona’s fútbol team was called the Barça when I applied to the program. During my entrance interview with our program director, she threw “Barça” into the conversation and I nodded and smiled and made a mental note about Googling it as soon as I left the room. Once I arrived in Barcelona, however, there was absolutely no doubt in my mind what the Barça was…

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