El Raval

History of El Raval

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El Raval is the most vibrant and contradictory area of Barcelona, and probably one most densely populated urban areas in Europe. One of my greatest pleasures is wandering through its colourful, chaotic and cacophonous streets with my young son. I also give guided tours of El Raval.

It is curious that although the Arabs were in Barcelona for a scant 70 years, and left no great monuments, they did leave two of the city’s essential names: Rambla meaning dry stream or sandy bank, and Raval meaning “outside”. The old medieval city of Barcelona was defined on its western side by walls running roughly along along Les Rambles. El Raval lying outside the wall was a patchwork of fields and orchards dotted with a few churches and monasteries, which owned much of that land not owned by the crown. In the 14th Pere el Ceremoniós built a wall encircling the district, which Robert Hughes described as a very expensive garden fence. A small stretch of these walls still exist along El Paral.lel side of the Drassanes shipyards. The city also used the area to place everything it did not want inside its walls, as we shall see. Prisons, hospitals, leper colonies and more were all built here.

In the 1830s El Raval began to attract an incipient industrialisation in the form of textile factories worked by a new labouring class: the working class, whose birthplace in Spain was here. To house them, the fields and orchards were filled in with insalubrious, overcrowded tenement blocks, high-rise slums, many of which still exist today. The spires of churches still dominated the skyline of the old Gothic quarter and Born but here the spires of factories spewed out smoke, leaving a permanent smog hanging over the area, and shortening lives. The great Catalan poet Joan Maragall described old Barcelona’s poorer appendage in his Oda a Barcelona (1909):

You have this Rambla, a beauty –
And there four steps away,
feverish with excess,
Wilder than the other, the Rambla of the poor,
Tembles in the gloom of hellish night

Likewise in 1916, Leon Trotsky, who had briefly seen the city under escort, seemed to have El Rava in mind when he noted succinctly in his diary:

Big Spanish-French kind of city. Like Nice in a hell of factories. Smoke and flames on the one hand, flowers and fruit on the other.

The terrible overcrowding and lack of anything but the most basic sanitation led to the district becoming a haven for disease and infection, and a life expectancy at the turn of the century of some 30 years. The full range of diseases were rife here: malaria, cholera, small pox and the rest, including half a dozen outbreak of bubonic plague between 1900 and 1936.

Barrio chino – Chinatown

Barcelona is of course a port city…more later…


The Route is divided into two sections



El Raval

Places in El Raval

  • A sad hole in the wall
  • Bar Marsella
  • Birthplace of Manuel Vázquez Montalbán
  • Boadas cocktail bar
  • Can Lluis restaurant
  • Casa Leopoldo
  • From Carrer St Pau to Drassanes
  • From Carrer Tallers to Carrer Hospital
  • La Boqueria market
  • Old Hospital de Santa Creu i Sant Pau
  • Rambla del Raval
  • Sant Pau del Camp
  • The Raval cat