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Barcelona - Around Town - El Raval (part 1)

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The sleek, shiny, white walls of the Museu d’Art Contemporani (MACBA) juxtapose the decrepit, ramshackle tenement buildings; Asian grocery stores sell herbs and spices next to what were once the most decadent brothels in Europe; and smoky, decades-old bars share dark, narrow streets with high-ceilinged art galleries showcasing video installations. The old-town barrio of El Raval is a traditional working-class neighbourhood in flux. Over the last decade it has been undergoing an enthusiastic urban renewal, led by the arrival of the MACBA. The barrio now even has its very own Rambla, a new pedestrian street called La Rambla del Raval. Not surprisingly, all of this has sparked a real-estate boom, with renovated old-fashioned flats now commanding top-tier prices and acting as a magnet to the city’s young, savvy crowd.

Plaça de Joan Coromines

Sights
  1. Museu d’Art Contemporani

    An eclectic array of work by big-name Spanish and international contemporary artists is gathered in the city’s contemporary art museum. Excellent temporary exhibitions feature everything from mixed media to sculpture and photography. 

  2. Centre de Cultura Contemporània & Foment de les Arts Decoratives

    Housed in the 18th-century Casa de la Caritat, the CCCB is a focal point for the city’s thriving contemporary arts scene. It hosts innovative art exhibitions, lectures, film screenings and more, including multimedia and technology fairs during the popular Festival del Sònar. A medieval courtyard is dazzlingly offset by a massive, angled glass wall, which has been cunningly designed to reflect the city’s skyline. Nearby, Foment de les Arts Decoratives is an umbrella organization of art and design groups, founded in 1903 and housed in the restored, Gothic-style, 16th-century Convent dels Àngels. Here you’ll find exhibits, lectures and debates, and a smashing café-restaurant, Fad Food (open Mon–Fri). 

  3. Museu Marítim

    Barcelona’s mighty seafaring legacy comes to life at this impressive museum housed in the vast, 13th-century Drassanes Reials (Royal Shipyards). Wander beneath looming Gothic arches and relive Barcelona’s maritime history through exhibits of model ships, old maps and figure-heads. A highlight is the full-scale replica of the royal galley, commanded by Don Juan of Austria during the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. Entrance also includes a visit to the Pailebot Santa Eulàlia , a restored wooden sailing ship dating from 1918.

    • Av de les Drassanes

    • Open 10am–8pm daily

    • Adm

  4. Palau Güell

    For an artist, a wealthy patron spells survival. The luck of young Gaudí turned when count Eusebi Güell recognized his talents. In 1886, Güell commissioned Gaudí to build a mansion that would set the count apart from his wealthy neighbours. The result is the Palau Güell, one of Gaudí’s earliest works. An imposing façade gives way to an elaborate interior of lavish pillars and carved wooden ceilings, while the rooftop has a melange of mosaic chimneys. The building is partially open due to restoration work.

    • C/Nou de la Rambla 3–5

    • Open 10am–2:30pm Tue–Sat

    • Free

    Central salon cupola, Palau Güell

  5. La Rambla del Raval

    This palm tree-lined, pedestrian walkway is the latest attempt by city planners to spark a similar social environment to that of the city’s famed La Rambla. So far it is off to a creaking start, with barely a fraction of the crowds that ply the original Rambla. Its advocates, however, are quick to point out that La Rambla del Raval is far better than the two dark, run-down streets that formerly existed here. New shops, bars and cafés mean it could well rival its cousin in years to come.

  6. Carrer Nou de la Rambla

    In the first half of the 19th century, El Raval’s main street was a notorious strip of cabarets, brothels and other nocturnal dens. Today it still bustles with transactions, but of a different sort. Frayed-at-the-edge local eateries, ethnic grocery stores, and discount clothing and shoe shops dot the street. And nightspots, such as the atmospheric London Bar, which have conserved their age-old identity and fixtures, lure partying visitors.

  7. Carrers Tallers & Riera Baixa

    Looking for bootleg CDs of Madonna’s European tour? Or vintage blue-and-white French navy tops once favoured by the likes of Picasso? Dotting Carrers Tallers and Riera Baixa, in the heart of El Raval, is a host of vintage music and clothing shops selling everything from vinyl to the latest CDs, original Hawaiian shirts and Dickies workwear. On Saturdays from 11am to 9pm, Carrer Riera Baixa hosts its own market, when the stores display their wares on the street.

    Shoppers, Carrer Taller
  8. Barri Xinès

    The first thing locals will say when you ask about the Barri Xinès is that it no longer exists; the second is that the name has no real connection with the Chinese (Xinès). Both statements are true. This barri, unfolding south from Carrer Sant Pau towards Drassanes, was once one of Europe’s most infamous neighbourhoods, inhabited by the poor and working-class and rife with prostitutes, pimps, strippers and drug dealers. Today, due to enthusiastic clean-up efforts, mere vestiges remain of the barrio’s previous life (though some alleys still hint at illicit activity). As for the name, the area has nothing to do with the Chinese, but was named in the barrio’s early-1900s heyday as a general reference to its large immigrant population. Today you can browse in cheap thrift shops and small grocery stores by day and bar-hop your way through the area by night.

  9. Antic Hospital de la Santa Creu

    A rich reminder of the neighbourhoods’ medieval past is this Gothic hospital complex (1401), which is today home to educational and cultural organizations. Within, you can wander a pleasant garden surrounded by Gothic pillars.

    • Entrances on C/Carme & C/Hospital 56

    • Courtyard open 9am–8pm daily

    • Free

  10. Església de Sant Pau del Camp

    Deep in the heart of El Raval is this Romanesque church, one of the oldest in Barcelona. Originally founded as a Benedictine monastery in the 9th century and subsequently rebuilt, this ancient church reveals a 12th-century cloister.

    • C/Sant Pau 101

    • Church open for mass only: 8pm Sat, noon Sun; cloister open 10am–1:30pm Tue–Sat, 5–8pm Mon–Fri

    • Adm

    Cloister, Església de Sant Pau del Camp

    Columns, Església de Sant Pau del Camp
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