The Old Port stretches from the Drassanes Reials, or “Royal Dockyards”, on the right of the Cristòfor Colom statue as we look towards the sea, all the way round to the left until we get to the neighbourhood of Barceloneta on the opposite side. The whole area has been redeveloped with leisure in mind – there are pleasant open spaces and the historic buildings have been converted into interesting museums
The Maremagnum centre in the middle of the porthas a lively mix of bars, restaurants, and shops. A Maritime Vocation The Drassanes Reials are the former shipyardswhere the boats of the powerful Catalan-Aragonese fleet were built in medieval times. Although the site contains Roman remains the present building, which is home to the Museu Marítim, dates back to the 16th century and is a fine example of Catalan Gothic architecture.
Just across the road from this building is an outsized steel sculpture by the Valencian Andreu Alfaro set in the square leading to the World Trade Centre. Called Onades, its 42 metres height and15-ton weight reproduce the waves of the Mediterranean. A wonderful example of wooden boat construction from the beginning of the last century can be seen moored at the Moll de la Fusta very close to the Columbus Monument.
A visit to the paquebote Santa Eulàlia will inform us on sailing techniques and what it was like to live and work on a boat of this type.
Pop Art and Comics
In the Passeig de Colom, which runs parallel to the port, there is an elevated open space with a series of pergolas. Perched on one of these structures is an attention-grabbing scaled-up sculpture of a crustacean, the work of designer Javie Mariscal. This artist who conceived Cobi, the mascot of the 1992 Olympics, and who more recently co-created the Oscar-nominated animation Chico and Rita.
There is another original work of art just a bit further on in one corner of the port called La cara de Barcelona. This “Face of Barcelona” is a 15 metres-high sculpture by Diego Delgado, which aims to reproduce a work by the North American graphic designer and sculptor Roy Lichtenstein.
Pla de Palau and El Born
Leaving this corner of the port behind us for the moment, the neighbourhood of the Born is a magnificent example of medieval Barcelona, where years ago the great market of Barcelona was situated. These days it is a much-frequented area of lively tapas bars and pleasant restaurants.
The Museu Picasso is in the Born,but is not the only building worthy of admiration. The Basílica de Santa Maria del Mar 9 is noted for its fine façade and the impressive scale of its interior, and is a wonderful example of Catalan Gothic architecture. At one side of the church, we will find a place called Fossar de les Moreres, and here is a monument to the defenders of Barcelona in the siege of 1714, during the War of the Spanish Succession. The monument has a constantly burning flame to remember those who fell defending the freedoms of Catalonia.
The Pla de Palau is between the Born and Port Vell. This wide square is flanked by emblematic buildings, with an attractive fountain at the centre, and it was the entrance gateway for all the goods that came in by sea. One such building is the Llotja de Mar, dating from the 18th century, which was the Barcelona stock exchange until recently being converted into a business and conference centre.
Another no less attractive construction just opposite is the Casa de Xifré, whose arched gallery was inspired by Parisian squares. Dating from the nineteenth century, it is home to the Restaurant 7 Portes, one of the oldest in Barcelona, which offers a high quality seafood menu inspired by the recipes of Catalan cuisine.
Heading towards Barceloneta, some large red-brick buildings remind us of the city’s mercantile past. These are the Former General Warehouses for Commerce, now known as Palau del Mar , and which currently house the Museu d’Historia de Catalunya and numerous restaurants. The buildings were restored some twenty years ago, providing a very useful space for leisure and culture.
The Museu d’Historia de Catalunya has a very interactive and innovative way to display and explain the history of the country from its origins to current times. The ground floor of these buildings is occupied by restaurants offering Mediterranean cuisine. The terraces looking onto the port mean we can enjoy the sea air while sampling fine cuisine.