No city in Europe has an ancient quarter to rival Barcelona’s Barri Gòtic in its historic atmosphere and the sheer density of its monumental buildings. It’s a stroller’s delight, where you can expect to hear the strains of a flute or a classical guitar from around the next corner. Thronged with sightseers by day, the quarter can be eerily quiet at night, a stone oasis of silence at the eye of the storm.
A labyrinth of medieval buildings, squares, and narrow cobblestone streets, the Barri Gòtic comprises the area around the Catedral de la Seu, built over Roman ruins you can still visit and filled with the Gothic structures that marked the zenith of Barcelona’s power in the 15th century. On certain corners you feel as if you’re making a genuine excursion back in time, and, for a brief flash, suddenly the 21st century, not the 15th, seems like a figment of your imagination.
The Barri Gòtic rests squarely atop the first Roman settlement. Sometimes referred to as the rovell d’ou (the yolk of the egg), this high ground the Romans called Mons Taber coincides almost exactly with the early 1st- to 4th-century fortified town of Barcino. Sights to see here include the Plaça del Rei, the remains of Roman Barcino underground beneath the Museum of the History of the City, the Plaça Sant Jaume and the area around the onetime Roman Forum, the medieval Jewish Quarter, and the ancient Plaça Sant Just.