Among our Barcelona City Tours, we often visit a unique place in Barcelona, a peninsula that its inhabitants describe as independent from the rest of the city. Lots of seafaring tales about it, a history of war, famine, challenges, overcomings, and transformation. Nowadays, a post-olympic beach paradise, an oasis in the middle of the city, a place to enjoy the sand and the narrow little streets, the traditional and delicious seafood restaurants, trendy bars and popular clubs. And yet, the spirit of la Barceloneta neighborhood is still… alive.
A small island in front of the coast
Once upon a time, what today looks like a triangular peninsula used to be a small island exposed to the wind and detached from the shore. The story begins back in the 8th Century AC, when all the sediments coming from the Besòs river up north began to build up and created the sandy body that started to be known as the Island of Maians.
Pirates of the Mediterranean
In the beginning, the locals were not interested in such a place. However, it began to appeal to a different type of people, that would turn it into their operational center: the muslim pirates. Harrying and sacking most of the Mediterranean shores, they became one of the main threats for the locals.
The end of the Pirate age
Under the reign of Joan II of Aragon, the need for a proper harbor became urgent. In 1477, a galleon unloaded tons of stones in order to create a dock connecting the Island of Mayans with the city.
The island, located in the nowadays Plaza Pau Vila, where the Nautical Faculty is, became one thing with the city and set the foundations for what it would be the future emblematic port of Barcelona. In a time when the Kingdom of Aragon was expanding and dominating many areas of the Mediterranean, the Muslin Piracy came to an end.
The construction of the port
It was only in 1660, with the construction of the present Paseo Juan de Borbón, when the birth of the new port really happened, and its development continued throughout the following centuries.
The Bourbon age
After the defeat of 1714 in the War of Succession, the ancient district of La Ribera was destroyed by the Spanish army and in its place, a military citadelle was built, in order to prevent further rebellions of the citizens against the new Bourbon King. The inhabitants of La Ribera, now homeless, had to look for a new shelter and many of them established themselves in the area surrounding the new port, at that point already quite developed. A new district of fishermen’s huts, called barracas, and poor warehouses, was born: el Barrio de la Playa, alias la Barceloneta.
The 20th century’s melting pot
Through the next centuries, la Barceloneta neighborhood became home to a very interesting mix of people: the traditional fishermen, Gypsies, immigrants from the southern parts of Spain that arrived to work in the flourishing industries in and around the area. But also, bohemian artists, thieves, poets, and more recently expats from all over the world: Italians, British, Chileans, French, Argentinians, Greeks, North Americans, Russians, Swedish etc…
From 1992 till…nowadays
After the big transformation that came along with the 1992 Olympic Games, la Barceloneta neighborhood began its career in a new type of industry: tourism. Benefits and improvements have been many, of course. But together with those, several challenges arose. The coexistence of the traditional way of life of el barrio with the development of tourism and its services has been sometimes difficult: gentrification, noise, loss of the authentic essence and pollution are the counterpart of a spectacular evolution of this amazing part of the city. Walking through the beautiful alleys, sitting in a bar terrace facing the blue Mediterranean, the scent of seafood paella and grilled prawns, the happy giggling of the young and not so young people, locals and visitors. The beach, the laundry drying on the small balconies and blowing in breeze, the elders chatting and arguing under the shade of the trees in the market square, some chilled cañas with pescadito frito. All of that and more keeps giving everyone good reasons to love this magical “island”, connected to and yet independent from the city of Barcelona.
As you know, at Spanish Trails we are committed, by principle, to our small group tour and private day tour system. Not only does it allow us to offer a non-intrusive form of tourism but it guarantees an excellent service while giving us tour guides the possibility to pay attention to detail, sharing historical and anthropological facts that give you an accurate, up-to-date portrait of the city of Barcelona, its people and lifestyle.
If you have enjoyed this article, you will definitely enjoy a tour with us! Be sure to look for Spanish Trails next time you come to Spain.