Barcelona has seven beaches which run 4.5 km along the coast. The oldest and probably the most popular is Barceloneta. The beaches in front of the Olympic port Nova Icària (Bogatell, Mar Bella, Nova Mar Bella and Llevant) were opened as a result of the city restructuring to host the 1992 Summer Olympics, when a great number of industrial buildings were demolished, creating a huge new public space. Spring and autumn storms frequently wash away these artificial creations.
History of the Beaches
Barcelona Council has this excellent if badly translated guide to the history of the beaches from which I have nabbed:
In the 13th century, after overcoming long periods of crisis and decadence, Barcelona became established as a great city and an important Mediterranean capital noted for its cosmopolitan and entrepreneurial character. One of the economic activities which best describes this was sea commerce. Ships from Maghreb arrived at Barcelona loaded with wool, furs, leather and also products from Saharan lands. Wheat, cotton and corral were imported from Sicily; figs, cheeses and salt fish from Sardinia. Spices such as pepper, ginger, incense and cinnamon arrived from the East. Ships set sail from Barcelona carrying manufactured products, woollen fabrics, glassware, lead, copper, rice and wine. It was a time of intense activity which was concentrated on an area of beach which stretched between Puig de les Falsies (today’s Plaça Palau) and the l’Arenal de Santa Clara (Parc de la Ciutadella).
A bustling area
On the beach itself, there was an incessant movement of people who were occupied in a great variety of jobs among which were merchants, trades people, ship owners, boatmen, sailors, rope makers, ship makers, carpenters and crossbowmen. One of these professions was that carried out by common workers or riverside servants, who had their own guild, and who were in charge of organizing and sorting the merchandise.
Another job related to the loading and unloading of merchandise was that carried out by the port transporters, who were better situated than other workers as they had their own mules for transporting merchandise. In this way, the beach of medieval Barcelona became an enormously important place for a city which had made commerce its main economic activity.
The coastline was quite different to what it is now. The sea at Barcelona reached up to what is today the Santa Maria del Mar church. Outside the walls of the city and surrounding the water, there was a humble neighbourhood of huts and shacks called Vilanova del Mar, inhabited by fishermen and other sea tradesmen of the time.
Pirates, Corsairs and Crossbowmen
On the beaches of Barcelona during the middle ages, it was also possible to find pirates, corsairs and crossbowmen (men skilled in archery) among the port workers. One of the most serious problems for the ships leaving or arriving on the beaches of Barcelona was safety, due to the abundance of pirates and corsairs. In the 13th century, Barcelona competed commercially with other cities such as Pisa, Venice and Genoa. This competition often prompted ships from other cities to attack and board each other at high sea to capture the foreign merchandise.
When these activities took place with the blessing of the king or the local authorities, those that carried out the attacks were called corsairs and were even considered to be heroes. Those that acted “illegally”, those that acted on their own without distinguishing between the origins of the boarded ships, were considered to be pirates and therefore, outlaws. Piracy was common around the Mediterranean at that time so, for this reason, crossbowmen travelled on merchant ships.