Barcelona's history began where the Barri Gòtic is today, in between the Rambla in the west and Via Leietana in the east. The Romans founded a settlement called “Colonia Faventia Julia Augusta Pia Paterna Barcino” or short “Barcino” on the hill Mons Taber about 133 before Christ. Soon a city wall was built - 8 metres thick and up to 18 metres high, with 78 fortified towers. By the standards of that time the 1270 metres long wall was an imposing structure.
The land all around the settlement was endorsed to the former legionaries, who had a right to claim a piece of land after 16 years of service. The former main streets, the “Decumanus Maximus” and the “Cardo Maximus”, still run through the district today. The largest Roman digs outside of Rome are located in Barcelona. However the most remaining monuments descend from the 14th and 15th century, the time of the Catalonian gothic and the bloom years of Barcelona as a maritime power. Nevertheless you can find well preserved sights from other epochs of the city's history.
Barri Gòtic's urban image today
Many narrow and winding alleys shape the district's urban image today. The cathedral La Seu forms the centre of the district. Many sunny squares with buildings full of history gather around the cathedral. The district was renovated from the ground up several times, most recently for the Olympic Games in 1992. The old structure is preserved effortful and lovingly even today.
Many of the most beautiful and most famous museums are located in the medieval district. There are only a few roads used by car, so you can discover Barri Gòtic almost everywhere by foot.
The Barri Gòtic is absolutely suited for shopping: uncountable little boutiques, stores with items for the daily needs and chocolate stores make spending money easy.
The district is worth a visit even at night: uncountable bars and pubs invite for a drink or tapa. You will find a lot of classic Catalonian food on the menus of the restaurants.
Barri Gòtic's history
The Romans dominated the city for about 500 years - from its founding about 133 BC until the capture of the Visigoths 410 AD. The Roman settlement was built around the Temple of Augustus located northern of Plaça Sant Jaume. In the 2nd century Barcino had 3,500-5,000 inhabitants. In the 3rd century the first Christians came to Barcino, the persecution of the Christians under the imperator Diokletian started.
In 714 the city was surrendered to the Moors without a fight, that's how Barcelona escaped a demolition. The Early Christian cathedral on the grounds of the cathedral today was transformed into a mosque. The Moorish reign lasted less than 100 years, that's why there aren't any noteworthy testimonials of the era.
In the 12th century Barcelona became the most important power of the Mediterranean. The former shipyard Drassanes is the visible evidence of the time as a maritime power.
Starting in the 19th century, the industrialisation (textile industry) granted wealth and influence once again. In many places you can see the old smokestacks. The city walls were torn down from 1854-1856.
The area around the harbour was thoroughly renovated for the Olympic Summer Games in 1992.
El Call – Barcelona‘s Jewish district
The Jewish district, also called "El Call", is located midst the gothic districts. It starts at the north western corner of the Plaça Sant Jaume. Ell Call means "little street" or "alley". It deduces from the medieval shaped narrow and winding alleys, which form the urban image of El Call. El Call breaks down into the "call Major" with the synagogue and the "Call Menor", a little district towards the Ramblas. The Call Menor was formed after settling outside of the city walls was allowed.
In the 13th century about 4,000 Jews were living in Barcelona, which is about 15 percent of the former town population. A majority worked as doctors, scientists, scholars, merchants or money lenders for the Catalonian aristocracy and the crown. As a result of this and because of trading contacts to the Middle East and North Africa they were an important component of the economy.
In 1424 all Jewish families had to leave Barcelona because of the persecution of the Jews. Valuable trading contacts and knowledge went lost.
By order of the king no Jewish chapels were allowed to be larger than the smallest Christian church in Barcelona, which explains why the most important synagogue of the Jewish district is comparably small. Since 2002 the synagogue Major – Spain's oldest synagogue and one of the oldest ones in Europe – in the centre of the Jewish district is open for visitors.
Today you can especially find little galleries and antique shops in the Jewish district.
Barri Gòtic's sights
In no other district are as many monumental buildings and interesting museums as close to each other as in Barri Gòtic.