“Welcome to the most famous street in Barcelona, La Rambla. Strictly speaking it should be called Las Ramblas because its not one street an a collecting of streets that winds all the way down to the beach. There’s a lot of shops selling tourist trinkets, cafes and over-priced low-quality restaurants ready to take your money. But none of it is authentic, so we are going to walk and take a turn at the traffic light and out of Las Ramblas.”
That was it, that was all the introduction we go to Las Ramblas, we were shipped out faster than it took for us to reach the starting point. It could be the fact that Las Ramblas has become a tourist trap and a hotbed for pickpockets, but to be fair the crowd was daunting, and if I was a tour guide I would not want to bring guide a group with me and risk them getting pickpocketed amid the sea of humanity.
So I went back myself on another day.
Maybe its because I’m not a Barcelona fan, or enough of a football fanatic (I like the game, but I’m not an ultra, that’s what I mean), but at some point, seeing stall after stall sell fake FC Barcelona jerseys get boring, and seeing other tourists bargaining is not exactly why we came to Barcelona or Las Ramblas.
I mean seriously, how many Messi jerseys is enough? But enough ranting, because there is a reason why Las Ramblas is the heart of the city centre and is important to the city, there are things that are still notable about this long promenade. First its geography. To its east and west, it is the boundary that separates the historic Gothic Quarter from the more shady El Raval district.;
(If you can understand the language)
to its north and south it leads from the Placa Catalunya and ends at the iconic Christopher Columbus monument (leave aside the fact that Columbus is pointing in the wrong direction here – he’s pointing to the Mediterranean/Old World and not the New World). It occupies this central position because Las Ramblas was once the divide between the city walls (where the Gothic Quarter is) and the suburbs (where El Raval is located). It was at that time, not a street but a sewage system and was only converted into a street when the city walls were extended to what is El Raval.
It took generations for Las Ramblas to reach its special status. Trees were planted to beautify the boulevard and the wide street was perfect for festivals and markets, making it the place to be and be seen. Intellectuals had buildings there, such as the society of science and arts, the poet Federico Garcia Lorca went as far as to describe Las Ramblas as “the only street in the world which I wish would never end.”
You can catch a glimpse of the popular promenade in the 1930s in this video.
Las Ramblas was therefore the sight of many important events in Barcelona’s history including the 1835 St. James’s Night riots targeting religious institutions in the area, and a similar event a full century later. Most recently it was the sight of a terrorist attack in 2017 and protests earlier this year demanding that Madrid release Catalan politicians who were placed under arrest after a disputed referendum (more on this much later on in a separate post, but here is are a few taster videos).
The beautiful winding promenade is laid with tiles that remind the visitor of is past – with tiles that have a wavy ripple-like structure. Popular social institutions still remain such as the famous Liceu Theatre, built in the 1840s to be the location for musical education and public recitals of students from the music school in Barcelona. It has evolved into one of the centres of musical taste and performance of all Spain.
There is in the midst of all this however, another rather important institution that had stood the test of time – La Boqueria Market. A market place that can trace its localisation back to the 1200s.
As you would expect, La Boqueria is a tourist magnet, and with good reason. It is a riot of colour with all sort of fruits and food on offer.
The sheer profile of items on display was mesmerizing, sweets, preserved fruit, nuts, spices, flavoured olive oil, chocolates all things that a tourist would be enticed to buy as a gift or just a quick snack.
Then there was the food from the eateries all around the market as well as stalls selling snacks of jamon and cheese or deep-fried anchovies/white-bait which are considered local snacks.
According to these food bloggers the food at La Boqueria is also quite good.
Although one thing did throw me off a bit, especially when I realised that there were stalls selling fresh seafood (not as a restaurant but a standalone fishmonger), did people actually do their grocery shopping in this market?
It may not be the same street that Garica-Lorca wished would never end, but it is certainly an experience the modern tourist in Barcelona has to see, because it still matters to the city.
ON THE MAP (Las Ramblas)
ON THE MAP (La Bouqeria Market)