History of Les Ramblas
The 1.2 km stretch dividing the Gothic area from El Raval is today one of the most famous streets in the world, and perhaps there is no other street which so defines a city.
See also Hotels on or near La Rambla
In Roman and early Medieval times Las Ramblas was a gully with a storm fed stream which ran down from Collserola, and which marked out the medieval walls of the city. ‘Rambla’ comes from the Arabic meaning dry stream. The Arabs were not in Barcelona for very long – and they left no palace or great mosque – but they did give the city two of its essential names: ‘Rambla’, and also Raval, the old working class district to the right of the Ramblas themselves, meaning outside or at the side (ie then, outside the walls). The stream was both a moat and a sewer, and as such became known as the Caganell – the shit stream. Occasionally in torrential weather it will surge back up to the surface and flood what Garcia Lorca described as the only street in the world he wished would never end, with raw sewage. The stream emptied into the Caganell lagoon. In primitive times it teemed with waterfowl. In the Middle Ages, it became a festering cesspool and a breeding place for malarial mosquitoes. Over the centuries stretches of the gully were filled in – hence the sister term of Las Ramblas in reference to the five “ramblas” which make up the street. These are from the Plaça de Catalunya down toward to the harbour:
- Rambla de Canaletes with the font de Canaletes, a fountain from which if you drink you are condemned to return to the city. Barça fan traditionally congregate here to celebrate victories. The tradition dates from the 1930s when fans would gather here to read the scores of Catalan teams written on a blackboard outside the offices of the defunct newspaper, La Rambla.
- Rambla dels Estudis: In reference to an old university that stood here until 1843.
- Rambla de Sant Josep (Or Rambla dels Flors – from the flower sellers)
- Rambla dels Caputxins: in reference to the religious order whose convent had stood here
- Rambla de Santa Mónica
Until the beginning of the 18th century Las Ramblas was basically a path along a stream which ran between convents (Caputxins, etc) on one side and the old city walls on the other. The first houses on the Raval side were built in 1704 and the first trees were planted. In 1775 the old city walls protecting the Drassanes medieval shipyards were demolished, and towards the end of the 18th century the street began to be systematically developed: here on la Rambla became a kind of tree-lined avenue.
The street ends in with the statue of an almost certainly apocryphal Catalan Columbus, built for the 1888 Universal Exhibition, pointing towards Libya, across what, as Robert Hughes has noted, was at least a Catalan sea.
Las Ramblas in the Spanish Civil War
Here for Barcelona in the Civil War
George Orwell famously mentions the Ramblas in Homage to Catalonia
” Down the Ramblas, the wide central artery of the town where crowds of people streamed constantly to and fro, the loud-speakers were bellowing revolutionary songs all day and far into the night. And it was the aspect of the crowds that was the queerest thing of all. In outward appearance it was a town in which the wealthy classes had practically ceased to exist. Except for a small number of women and foreigners there were no ‘well-dressed’ people at all. Practically everyone wore rough working-class clothes, or blue overalls or some variant of the militia uniform. All this was queer and moving. There was much in it that I did not understand, in some ways I did not even like it, but I recognized it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for. Also I believed that things were as they appeared, that this was really a workers’ State and that the entire bourgeoisie had either fled, been killed, or voluntarily come over to the workers’ side; I did not realize that great numbers of well-to-do bourgeois were simply lying low and disguising themselves as proletarians for the time being.
The Ramblas were the scenes of fierce fighting between the communist influenced government, entrenched on the Gothic side of the street (from the roof of the Reial Acadèmia de Ciències, Rambla 115) , and the anarchist CNT and the the POUM on the Raval side. Again Orwell witenessed the events :”
On 3 May, the Government’s ‘Civil Guards’, said Orwell, attempted to take over the telephone exchange from the Anarchist CNT union who controlled it. He recalled:
About midday on 3 May a friend crossing the lounge of the hotel said casually: ‘There’s been some kind of trouble at the Telephone Exchange, I hear’. For some reason I paid no attention to it at the time.
That afternoon, between three and four, I was halfway down the Ramblas when I heard several rifle-shots behind me. I turned round and saw some youths, with rifles in their hands and the red and black handkerchiefs of the Anarchists round their throats, edging up a side-street that ran off the Ramblas northward. They were evidently exchanging shots with someone in a tall octagonal tower – a church, I think – that commanded the side-street. I thought instantly, ‘It’s started!’ From here
Photos from here of La Ramblas during the Civil War
Tourism in La Rambla
Today La Ramba is said to serve as the “emotional hub” of the city, though sadly with the invasion of The Tourist International, the city and its people is fast losing control over its beloved street. A 2007 study in La Vanguardia claims that 81% of the 100 million odd people a year who walked down the Ramblas are now tourists.
And in stunning hypocritical contradiction let me recommend you these hotels on or near La Rambla
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