From Carrer Tallers to Carrer Hospital
Let us begin our tour taking the first right coming down Les Rambles into C/Tallers, whose means “cutters”. Straightaway, we see how the city used the El Raval for dirty business: here in the Middle Ages was where the butchers congregated, as the cutting of meat inside the city’s walls was banned.
This first stretch of C/Tallers was also home to the first steam-powered factory in Spain: La Bonaplata, which was burnt down on 6th August 1835 by Luddite workers who felt their artisinal skills threatened by the new infernal machines. These new Satanic dark mills were competing with the older medieval industries and employment practices Four men were executed for the sabotage. Unperturbed, El Raval continued to industrialise leading the authorities to eventually ban the building of more factories so close to wealthy areas of the city: from now on new mills were sited in the growing industrial towns/suburbs of Sants and Poble Nou. By 1850. Spain was the third largest textile producer in Europe after Britain and France, and much of this was concentrated in Barcelona, prompting Hispanophile Richard Ford to observe in his handbook to Spain:
Barcelona is one of the finest and certainly most manufacturing cities in Spain. It is the Manchester of of Catalonia, which is the Lancashire of the Peninsula.
But what made the city’s early industrial devlopment unique was that it took place inside the city’s medieval walls. This was partly because the Carlist Wars made building in unprotected areas hazardous. Anyway, I digress. on your left is Boadas, the oldest cocktail bar (1933) in Barcelona.
You could take C/Sitges and visit the Whisky Museum, a bar with an unbelievable selection of malts which is never open. Instead, carry on and take the second left down C/Ramalleres which opens up onto the elegant Plaça Martorell. The square has several agreeable cafés, and as you move through the square on your right, one of Barcelona’s best bookshops, La Central del Raval, installed in an old religious institution, La Casa de Misericòrdia (The House of Mercy). Part of the latter’s function can be seen in the round hole in wall (El torn dels ofres – the orphan’s hole) which allowed mothers to anomynousy abandon their babies here as late as 1931. The bookshop itself stocks a decent selection of English novels and a superb range of history, art and philosophy, some of which are also in English. Easy to wile away an hour or so here.
Moving on, come out of Plaça Martorell (or cut through La Lliberia del Raval) and either turn right onto C/Elisabets which will take you to Plaça del Angels or do a bit of a dog’s leg onto C/Xuclà, which is what we shall now do. On your right is the lovely little cheese shop Manteguerias y Formatges, one of Barcelona’s oldest and finest, though sadly it no longer stocks a decent selection of lards (mantega). It moved to its present location in the 1940s after being bombed by Mussilini’s aviation during the Civil War. Try the Leonese Montenebro, one of my favourite goat cheeses in the world.
Cross over Pintor Fortuny named after 19th century Catalan painter Marià Fortuny and continue down Xuclà. On your left is the yummy Granja Viander, which was founded in 1870 and whose owners invented and first sold here Cacolat (sold in the 1960s to a multinational), still sells supurb cakes, curd and hot chocolate. This is a stop on my food tour, but we should continue. The Toreros on your right, still an occasional meeting place for bull-fighting enthusiasts, makes an interesting though these days touristy stop.
We now emerge onto C/Carme. Cross over and on your right take the tiny side street which takes you into the side entrance of La Boqueria, probably the greatest food market in Europe. Before entering La Boqueria proper, cross the small square. From Tuesday to Friday, the open square hosts a farmer’s market, selling local produce from the Llobegat Delta. Facing the square, xxxx offers excellent though not cheap freshly-made tapas and raciones.
Come out of the market on the right hand corner of Les Rambles and have a gawp at the gorgeous prohibitively priced cakes and choccies showcased at Escribà, a chocolate lover’s Mecca.
Walk a few metres down Les Rambles and take the first right at C/Hospital back into El Raval. On your left you’ll see Plaça St Agustí with its uninspiring church of the same name, which ran out of funding in the 18th century and was never finished. The funeral of Savador Puig Antic, one of the last people to be executed (by garrote vil) by the Franco regime, was held here in March 1974. Earlier in 1971, the Asemblia de Catalunya was also formed in this church, which brought together all major anti-Francoist groups from the Catalan nationalists to the communists in a single oppoition platform.
Continuing down C/Hospital, turn into the courtyards of the 14th century Hospital de Santa Creu, one of the most beautiful buildings in El Raval.
Plaça dels Angels
The Plaça dels Angels is brimming with urban cool and skateboards, but what will probably first catch your eye is the MACBA, Barcelona’s modern art gallery designed by Richard Meier. I am ignorant to its contents.
Behind it is the excellent CCCB a kind of contemopary arts and media centre, and home town of the world famous Sonar music happening. The building is a very successful, in my opinion, adaptation of an old alms house (parts as old 1362). Stroll through el Pati de Dones, the courtyard with a spectacular jusposition of old and new. The CCCB also has good bookshop. At the back there is nice café and terrace with Wifi. They do reasonable, inexpensive menus del dia.
Rambla del Raval
Back on C/Hospital, continue until reach the wide palm lined promanade that is La Rambla de Raval.
Towards Sant Antoni Market
If you continue down C/Hospital you reach the Plaça del Padró, where tradition has it that Santa Eulalia, one of the city’s two patron saints, was crucified after undergoing horrific ordeals at various points around the city. Note, the façade of the tiny and disused Romansque church of Sant Lázaro, patron saint of lepers. Photo by Marta Roig.
Further towards Ronda de Sant Antoni are the unusually named triad of streets Tigre (Tiger), Lleó (Lion) and Paloma (Pigeon). Their origin lies in a dispue between the original landowners of these corner of El Raval, who when the streets were being laid out, argued about who should have the largest of them named after them. Finally, unable to come to an agreement, their compromised by naming them after their dogs: Tigre, Lleó and Paloma. C/Paloma is also home to one of the oldest nightclubs in the city: 100-year old La Paloma music hall. These days, early on the evening kicks off in an old style with the band playing cha-chas and tangos to a fun middle-aged and retired locals. After midnight, the crowd and music morph into one of the hippest dance clubs in the city.
Places in El Raval