134 – Barcelona Chapter 2 – Catalan Gothic

Another week’s gone by and nothing much happened, as you’d expect in a worldwide standstill. I am pleased to share that the neighbour who was listening to Miserere non-stop last week now switched to the aria of the Queen of the Night from The Magic Flute, informing the entire building that Hell’s rage is now brewing in his (her?) heart. Her, definitely her. Trouble is it’s some weird prehistoric recording where the tempo for some reason shifted from allegro assai as indicated by Mozart to something best described as shinkansen, meaning the Queen sounds like she’s on speed, and it’s driving me barking mad. Still, I am glad that the person responsable for this unfortunate soundtrack stopped feeling suicidal and started plotting vengeance. Whatever the reason, I’m certain the subject of the imminent revenge had it coming.

View over Barcelona from the roof of the Cathedral, with Santa Maria del Pi bell tower and Montjuic in the distance

Last post was an excursion into the masterpieces of Catalan Modernism, this week we are going to venture into another architectonic style specific to the region: Catalan Gothic.

Catalan Gothic is a style that dates to 13th – 15th century, corresponding with the period of late gothic / early renaissance on the rest of the continent. At the time, Barcelona was the economic centre and the most important port of the Crown of Aragon, a seaborne composite monarchy that controlled large parts of the Mediterranean, including southern parts of today’s Spain, France and Italy, Balearic Islands, Sardinia and Sicily, and for a short period of time Athens. It wasn’t an empire in a strict sense, but rather a confederation of independent kingdoms, each ruled by their own laws, united only by the figure of King of Aragon who collected the tax from each constituent part and dealt with each court separately. The rising importance of Barcelona called for showing off the wealth of the newly enriched local families on one hand, and on the other the inflow of people into the city caused the necessity to upgrade existing Romanesque churches. The splendour of medieval Barcelona faded (and with it the apetite for construction) after the discovery of Americas, as Seville became Spain’s most important port.

Although the latest available technologies of the times were employed in the construction, Catalan and international gothic differ substantially. The sacred architecture is austere, does not seek excessive height, the facades are mostly plain and the roofs flat, without ornamental pinnacles and needles or flying buttresses as seen in northern-european gothic cathedrals. Usually there is only one nave, no prominent transept, the interiors are sparsely decorated, the pillars bare and the vaults do not reach the intricacy typical of late gothic elsewhere. Windows are much smaller, due to strong light and high temperatures of the Mediterranean.

Apologies for the heap of essentially identical photographs.

Late afternoon skies from the rooftop of the Santa Maria del Mar (I think)

Santa Eulalia – Barcelona’s Cathedral and seat of the Archbishop. Forget everything what I just said about unadorned facades and absence of ornaments, as neither is the case when it comes to Santa Eulalia. The Cathedral was (unfotunately, I believe) subjected to a flamboyant restoration in the beginning of the 20th century, the three pointed towers above the portal are fairly recent addition. Although the project respects the original (never realised) 15th century design, it is my opinion that completing it five centuries later was unnecessary. This is how the facade used to look like before the face-lift. Less work is sometimes more – look at Donatella Versace.

Santa Maria del Mar (Our Lady of the Sea), is a basilica minor in the heart of the district of Ribera and an outstanding example of Catalan gothic in terms of the preserved purity of style. At the time of construction, Ribera was a buzzing neighbourhood full of fishermen and merchants and the new basilica stood much closer to the sea than today, therefore the magnificent church was the first thing the ships entering in the harbour would see (and the first church the sailors would visit after disembarking). Later, a dam to shield the entrance to the port was built and over the centuries various sediments created a large strip of land, today’s district of Barceloneta, thus situating the “”Cathedral of the Sea” much more inland.

Streets of Barcelona: random shots from the streets of Barrio Gotico.

Sants Just i Pastor & Basilica de la Mercè: The Basilica of the Martyrs Justus and Pastor is, according to popular tradition, the oldest place of christian worship in Barcelona, dating to Roman times, 1st century AD. The gothic church that stands today was built in the 14th century over an older romanesque temple, in a charming little square just off Plaça del Rei. Basilica de la Mercè, on the other hand, is an 18th century counter-reform baroque remodelling of a gothic church built in the 13th century, so while I am very aware that it has nothing to do with the topic of the post, it’s still charming and you should visit it if wandering around the city centre. Some further examples of Catalan gothic, such as Santa Maria del Pi or Plaça del Rei here.

Behind the lens. (By the way, Bar Mut is a fantastic sea food restaurant. There is meat on the menu too, but you really want to go for the fish. Discovered by chance 6 years ago when we spent our 30th birthday in town with my best friend. Still in business (hopefully, once restaurant reopen), still charming, still delicious.)

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