Just off the Rambla there’s a pretty area with interesting and curious shops, one of the finest Gothic churches in Barcelona and quite a few places for a pleasant drink or snack. In mapping out the route below I've created a pleasant walk taking in some of the best the sights and flavours to be had in Barcelona.
Just a quick reminder to anyone who likes the old traditional shops in Barcelona: the rental law governing old commercial premises expires in 2014. This means places with ancient rental contracts like Pompeia, Piera, Roca, El Rey de la Magia, La Colmena pastry shop, Subirà –candle makers selling on their premises in Baixada de la Llibreteria since 1761– and a great many more will all have their rents brought up to 2014 values. How many candles do you have to sell to pay 8,000 euros rent each month? They will all disappear, so catch them while you can …
Start on the Rambla, by the Liceo metro, at the place where Carrer Sant Pau, Carrer Hospital and Carrer Boquería all meet at a spot known as the Pla del L’Os
. You’ll know it when you see it because it’s where the Miró mosaic appears in the dull paving of the Rambla. The mosaic, made of white cement and ground glass, was laid in 1976 and restored thirty years later.
The name Pla del’Os
actually means the Idlers’ Square
and the name was given in fun because people would laze around on the benches that at one time occupied the centre of the Rambla. Before that it was known –and still is known– as the Pla de la Boquería
, the place where goats were killed and their meat sold. This eventually gave the name to the market just across the Rambla, popularly called La Boquería, but whose true name is el Mercat de Sant Josep as it stands on the site of the old Sant Josep Convent.Casa Bruno Quadros
On the eastern side of the Rambla you’ll see one of Barcelona’s most photographed buildings, the Casa Bruno Quadros or, to give it its popular name, the House of Umbrellas. The ground floor of the building –now a savings bank– housed until 1980 a shop selling… umbrellas. The building was redesigned and decorated in its present form in 1883, just before the Universal Exhibition, by Josep Vilaseca, the architect who designed the Arc de Triomf at Passeig Sant Joan. Don’t let the spectacular dragon or charming umbrellas make you overlook the fine sgraffito work or the Egyptian inspiration of the upper floors.Take the narrow street to the right of the House of Umbrellas; this is Cardenal Cassanyes. Gallisa
One of Barcelona’s several traditional candle shops and located at number 5 since 1826. There are the traditional votary candles, fancy ones for baptisms and communions, candles you have personalised with your loved-ones names, anti-mosquito candles and modern designs to tempt the traveller. Gallisa also sells religious figurines and the traditional Christmas statuettes.
Cardenal Casañas, 5, 08002, Barcelona
+39(0)93 302 69 87Google map
: bit.ly/kJzGMjJuicy Jones
The first stop for vegetarians and others overwhelmed by an excess of Iberian ham, fuet –cured Catalan sausage– and all the other delicious local food that can be a little resource-intensive is Juicy Jones: great for Vegan salads and a variety of juices. Service is good, prices are too, and most people I know who’ve been there are keen to go back. The guacamole is very popular and the noodles and veg done in the wok are a great favourite. Try calling before going if you want a sit-down lunch, the place is quite small.
Cardenal Cassanyes 7, 08002 Barcelona
+39 93 302 43 30Google map
: bit.ly/jXp88rCasa Piera
Anyone who likes sketching or painting on their trips can find everything they need in Casa Piera, one of Barcelona’s most popular and comprehensive art shops. Many of the artists working and displaying in the nearby square get their materials here. A classic Barcelona shop.
Cardenal Cassanyes, 13, 08002 Barcelona
+39(0)93 301 66 80www.casapiera.com/Google map
Right next door is Irati, one of a Basque chain serving tapas and cooked dishes. The bar is laden with pintxos tapas stuck on slices of bread, or stuck together with toothpicks. You make your choice, putting your pintxos on your plate. When you’ve finished the waiter asks How many?, you count your toothpicks and pay for the number of pintxos you’ve devoured with your txacolí, the light, white wine from the Basque Country.
Cardenal Cassanyes 17, 08002 Barcelona
+39 (0)93 302 30 84Google map
On the right hand side of the street is Jover, a haberdasher’s shop established in 1897. The shop is very popular with young people looking for interesting items to personalise their wardrobe. French ladies in particular also flock into Jover, delighting in the colours, textures and design of the ribbons, tapes, braids and other materials on display. The shop itself is very pretty and the assistants seem to know exactly which drawer or box to open to satisfy each request. Worth a peek at least.
Cardenal Cassanyes 14, 08002 Barcelona
+39(0)933 178 993Google map
Fira del Colectiu d’Artesans de l’Alimentació
In other words, the street market for artisan food producers. There’s something for everybody here:
- Honey- A great variety of honeys, my current favourite is the orange blossom honey with its subtle citrus tang and fine nose. In winter when its cold and wet, I like to settle down of an evening with a glass of hot milk liberally dosed with thyme honey and brandy – great before bed when you have a touch of cold, or even if you don’t.
- Handmade honeycomb candles and moulded beeswax
- Marmalades and jams made from fresh local fruits
- Dried wild and cultivated mushrooms and truffles from the foothills of the Pyrenees. Monbolet specialises in wild and cultivated mushrooms and also prepares pre-mixed, ready-to-cook rice and pasta dishes flavoured with several kinds of wild mushrooms. If you fancy trying your hand at making a Catalan fricandó –a braised steak stew– buy some moixernons, tiny button mushrooms.
- Goat and cow’s milk cheeses. Cheese lovers are spoiled for choice. I’ve tried lots of these and every one has been first class, some are drier and stronger, some more softer and smoother, but all first-rate. My all-time favourite is the creamy goats’ cheese called Formatge mantegós de cabra.
- Wines. Ecologically produced wines and sparkling wines from the Tenes valley.
- Pastries and biscuits. Typically Catalan pastries and biscuits all made using ecologically produced flour: deliciously crunchy and crumbly carquinyolis, made with eggs, sugar and almonds; chocolate, orange and almond biscuits; savoury cookies made with olive oil, eggs, herbs and spices; wholemeal and fibre rich biscuits …
- Dairy produce. Fresh cottage cheese, yoghurts, kefir, honey, marmalades, crème caramel from Can Corder, pioneer in high-quality, kilometre 0 dairy production.
- Herbs. Single herbs and mixtures to alleviate all conditions. Galangal to stimulate appetite, camomile to help digestion, herb mixtures for calming burns, easing pain; artichoke and bitter herbs for detoxing your liver, thyme for clearing your chest …
Plaça del Pi
The first and third Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays of each month.
11.00 – 14.30 and 17.00 – 21.30Google map
: bit.ly/j3LF4bGaniveteria Roca
This fine shop selling knives, cutlery and razors of all kinds is celebrating its 100th anniversary. Ramón Roca learned his trade in Germany and France, came back to Barcelona to open his shop in the plaça de Sant Josep Oriol. Ramón was one of the few craftsmen of his day capable of making fine blades and scalpels to the standards demanded by surgeons and he brought a special anvil from Paris to make them on. You can still see it in the shop in la Plaça del Pi, which dates from 1916.
Nowadays Ganiveteria Roca has a range of over 9,000 cutting tools of all kinds.
One of the things I like to buy for my friends who enjoy cooking is one of Roca’s own branded knives. Made of fine, non-stainless steel the knives hold a keen edge and their rounded wooden handles give them a pleasant feel. They look good too. I bought mine in 1978 and providing I continue to keep it clean and sharp it should last for ever.
Personal preferences apart, Roca has fist class knives from the world’s most prestigious manufacturers of Japan, Finland, France, Germany, Switzerland… collectors will always find something of interest and so will yachtsmen and outdoor enthusiasts. The new range of ceramic knives is attracting a lot of attention.
Catalunya’s finest and most well-known chefs are regular customers at Roca.
There are scissors for every conceivable application, even ones with double eye rings for people who work with the disabled, spring-loaded scissors for people suffering from arthritis and an astonishingly wide range of nail cutters.
The traditional cut-throat razor and its accessories are still one of the best sellers.
Roca is in the building that housed the shopkeepers guild and was probably the first to be decorated in the sgraffito style. The façade bears the date 1613.
Plaça del Pi 3,08002 Barcelona
+39 933021241www.ganiveteriaroca.cat/Google map: bit.ly/lO9zmv
La Plaça del Pi
Many years ago, the square itself was, as all squares by churches were, a graveyard. A pine tree has been planted in the square time out of mind. It is said that the Easter custom of blessing a pine and raising it to the bell tower of a church began here. In the middle ages the pine was so high it towered over the neighbouring houses. The present tree dates from the eighties.
There’s a curious story about the Square and how it got its tree.
It’s said that many years ago, a poor local man who could not speak was to be seen in the square and church every day. The man could only utter the same meaningless sounds over and over again, but in such a way and in such a tone as to suggest he was praying or trying to prey. The priests tried to talk to him but, struggle as he might, the poor man could only repeat the same strange utterance.
Unkind people laughed at him and taunted him publicly. Others, more malicious, said such a person –incapable of confession– would be bound straight for hell on death. When he heard this the poor man would tremble with anguish and feverishly mutter his sing-song nonsense over and over.
After some years, the man died and, like all neighbourhood people, he was buried in the Square in front of the church. Some months later a pine tree began to grow in the middle of the square. But this tree had something different about it, its needles were curled and twisted into curious shapes. Experts in trees examined the leaves but were baffled, finally one man –more observant than the rest– realised that each needle was inscribed with the unintelligible uttering of the poor man. Everyone was so intrigued by this that the square was immediately dug up until the tree’s roots were plainly visible. There, as whole and fresh as the day he was buried, lay the uncorrupted body of the poor man. From his mouth grew the roots of the pine tree. Heaven, the priest said, was showing the people who had laughed at the inarticulate man that, no matter what rude form the words may take, God will always hear a prayer made from the heart.
On the left of the square, entering from Cardenal Cassanyes, is the building of the Congregació de la Purissima Sang, the Holy Order that once accompanied condemned criminals to their sorry fate. Until a few years ago, the ground floor held a curious shop selling “Pedagogical Postcards of Universal History” and “Scientific, Instructive and Educational Postcards”. This is sadly no more and the building is currently being restored.Santa Maria del Pi
Santa Maria del Pi embodies all the strength, solidity and creativity of the Catalan spirit. The huge single nave transmits a sensation of spirituality, space and mass all at once and its sheer width is striking.
Even the chapels between the buttresses contribute to the expanse instead of chopping it up as they do in some other churches.
The rose window, set in its cliff-like wall of stone, is said to be the largest in the world; seen from inside the church when the afternoon sun falls on it from over the buildings, it is spectacular.
Beneath the rose window and above the door is another outstanding feature and evidence of the great vision and skill of the Catalan architects and builders of the middle ages: the shallow stone arch supporting the choir. It spans the entire width of the church and its rise is so little as to make the arch itself seem an impossibility. It looks far too flat to stand, let alone bear the weight of the choir. Yet its shape is so harmonious and effortlessly elegant it leaves you breathless with admiration.
Building began in 1319 and was completed in 1391 meaning the church was one of the many Gothic buildings started during a period of prosperity but completed during the successive ravages of epidemics, plague and violent unrest.
The tower, finished off flat like most Gothic towers in Barcelona, (Why is the one in the Plaça del Rei different? That story is yet to come…) was probably finished around 1461. Designed by master architect Bartomeu Mas, work began in 1376. It is said that the master builder, desperate to find funds to complete the church, made a pact with the Devil. But the Devil only agreed to provide him with the materials required in exchange for the builder’s soul, to be delivered when the 100th step of the tower was laid. “Right-ho”, said the builder and promptly built up to the 99th and then went on to finish the rest of the church. This took so long he died of old age before getting round to laying the 100th step thus cheating the devil of his dues.
C/ Cardenal Casañas, 16, 08002 Barcelona, Spain
+34 933 18 47 43www.labasilica.esGoogle map: bit.ly/kvEPPm
I hope you’ve enjoyed this section because it will continue with more stories of this interesting area, more information on shops, places to stop and have a drink or a bite, photo opportunities…
Coming soon: Plaça Sant Joan Oriol, Carrer Petrixol, Carrer de la Palla and Carrer Banys Nous.
Peter Guest is Been there's Barcelona local. He also has his own website and blog: www.barcelona-tourist-information.info
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