Downtown market | Barcelona

This Christmas, Maremagnum has dressed up in its finery. Apart from its cheerful festive decorations with golden Father Christmases welcoming visitors, it offers a street market where you can find the most original presents for these dates; known as the “Downtown Market especial Navidad”, a market that is held during the first weekend of each month, but at Christmas the market lasts for 13 days, from 20 December to 4 January.

Down Town Market, Barcelona

This morning we’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy a sunny day  in this small urban market full of all sorts of things; men’s and women’s clothescomplementsjewellerycosmetics, dolls and even small pieces of furniture.

The market is held on the centre terrace of the second floor of the Maremagnum. It is a pleasant place where you can walk around easily, accompanied by good music with a live DJ, who plays Christmas songs now and again.

Downtown market barcelonaThe stall that caught my attention the most (and the one that gets my vote) was one that sold rag dolls. Although it isn’t the most fashionable stall, in my opinion it is the cutest and stands out from the rest. It’s called Sweet Whimsy, with funny fluffy toys that are also really cuddly and handmade by Shannon. You can also order customised toys, which cost between €6 and €15. I thought they were so lovely I couldn’t resist buying a small Geisha cushion that will keep my daughter company in her cot! LOL! In addition, they gave me a little mouse that will join the “troupe” of fluffy toys that live at home.

Although I’m not into creams, I have to say that I fell in love with the recently created brand of natural cosmetics Mare Mae, based on minerals from the Dead Sea. They have started with a small range that doesn’t contain artificial dyes or preservatives and comprises face creams, body lotions, face packs and peeling. Their creator told us with enthusiasm that the creams are of exceptional quality but are sold at a reasonable price.

It’s evident that no street market would be complete without sun-brushed sunglasses, which are so popular at the moment, scarves, bags, jumpers, bracelets, necklaces, hats, socks, Christmas decorations… and lots of interesting items that could make good presents to give someone at Christmas.

My visit started and ended in Restaurante Alegra that opened only recently and which offers some marvellous views of the city. I’m looking forward to trying it one day.

Make a visit to Downtown Market and find everything you need to liven up your Christmas! 🙂

Downtown Market Christmas 2014: from 20th december to 4th january
Horario: from 12h to 20h
Ubicación: Maremagnun 2nd floor

Gothic Quarter, Barcelona – Myths and Legends

Today we’re going to talk about a short tour around the Gothic Quarter based on myths and legends of Barcelona.

We’ll start off with the remains of the four Roman columns (three are from the original temple) which are in the building that houses the headquarters of the CEC (Catalan Excursionist Centre), located in a small street, Carrer Paradís, which joins Plaça Sant Jaume and Carrer de la Pietat. These columns, remains of the ancient Temple of Augustus, are found at the highest point of the city (16.9 m) on Mont Tàber, which is where the Roman city was established. These remains, and many others which have been found around Barcelona, help us learn about our earliest origins after the Íbers.

Gothic Quarter, BarcelonaIn order to prevent Barcelona from having such ‘banal’ origins, over the years several legends have appeared which have endowed Barcelona with a more original history.

On the one hand, it is said that the city is of Greek origin and that it was founded by Hercules. On one of his numerous journeys, nine ships became separated, of which eight managed to group back together and they set off to search for the ninth ship, which they eventually found moored at the bottom of the hill of Montjuïc. The members of the crew fell in love with the area, so they decided to found the city which they named Barca (boat) Nona (ninth), Barcanona. It is also said that Hercules met a beautiful girl, Pyrene, with whom he madly fell in love. However, they were unable to share their love for more than two months because their journeys prevented them from staying together any longer. And this where the name ‘Pyrenees’ comes from.

On the other hand, the city’s origin was attributed to the Carthaginians, to Hamilcar Barca, Hannibal’s father. He arrived in this area and founded the city, then gave it his surname, Barca.

At an etymological level the theories of these origins are totally acceptable, although they lack historical or archaeological grounds.

Gothic Quarter, Barcelona

Carrer Hercules is the street that takes us to Plaça Sant Just, a quiet square with a great deal of history to tell. There we find a Gothic water fountain, which dates back to the 14th century; legend says that it was created by Joan Fiveller, who was hunting in the forests of Collserola when he came across a spring whose water he channelled to where the fountain is today, near his palace, and which still works today. It was the first important public fountain in the city and it is the oldest one in Barcelona. At the top of one of the sides, it is possible to make out a falcon catching a partridge in honour of its creator and his hunts.

Situated in the same square is the Church of Sant Just i Pastor, a Gothic church dedicated to two boys, Justus and Pastor, who are venerated as Christian martyrs. Some authors affirm that the myth of the two martyrs is the conversion to Christianity of two brothers, Cástor y Pólux. On the other hand, it is said that the church was built on an ancient temple for a religious cult that worshipped Mithras. Mithraism was a mystery religion of an initiative kind that was popular during the Roman Empire. Inside, there are some valuable Byzantine-style fonts of blessed water that come from an ancient Visigoth chapel that once existed in the place. It is interesting to note that until 1995, the church maintained a curious privilege for the citizens of Barcelona: anyone in danger of death could make their will before another person who would then go to the church and, in front of the altar, could state under oath what the dying person had said, and it was considered to be a legal Last Will.

Gothic Quarter, Barcelona

And finally, Palau Moxó, the palace of the Marquises of Sant Mori from the 18th century, which stands out for its floral decoration on the façade.

It is said that under the square there is an underground river, which lets you feel the heat it gives off and fills you with renewed energy.

If we take a walk around the narrow streets of the Call, the old Jewish Quarter during the Mediaevel period, we’ll see that the streets conserve their original narrow and haphazard structures. Nestled among the streets is the Sinagoga Major (Main Synagogue), which is said to be the oldest in Europe. On the right of the door lintel we can see a hole, Mezuzah, which identifies a Jewish home and reminds us that we need to remember to pray when we enter or exit a home. For many years, this district was where Jews lived during the Middle Ages. The protagonists of a great number of injustices, in Barcelona they were also victims of expulsions and assassinations. When the district was dismantled, the stones from the houses and cemeteries were used for other buildings, which is why in some areas of the Gothic quarter (for example, Carrer dels Comtes) we can see walls with inscriptions written in Hebrew.

Before reaching the Plaça del Rei (King’s Square) we pass under the Pont del Bisbe (Bishop’s Bridge). A bridge of a Neo-Gothic style that joins the Palau de la Generalitat with the Casa dels Canonges (House of the Canons). Another more recent legend is that if we look at the skull located right in the centre, under the bottom of the bridge, it will bring us bad luck. We will explain how to rid ourselves of this curse later on. 😉

Gothic Quarter, Barcelona

We’ve arrived at the Plaça del Rei. This square was where the Palau Reial Major (Grand Royal Palace) stood. It was the residence of the Counts of Barcelona, where the Saló del Tinell (Tinell Hall) is found. In the same square, on the right, we find the Chapel of Santa Àgata and on the left, the Palau del Lloctinent (Deputy’s Palace), historical buildings that date back to the 14th century.

For many years the square was used as a marketplace until the king suddenly got tired and decided that the market would no longer be held in the area due to the daily hullabaloo that prevented him from sleeping. The executioner lived in the same square. His job was very hard and no one wanted to exercise the profession. For a long time, a small bag containing money was left in a corner next to the tools needed for the execution and a volunteer used to take the money and appear the next day to carry out his task. There were occasions when nobody used to appear because if you were an executioner you would be rejected by everyone. During that period, butchers were appointed to be official executioners since they were experts in handling the tools that were required for performing an execution. After a number of suicides committed by people who did not want to perform the execution, the guild decided that they would stop being responsible for carrying out such a task. This eventually meant that an official post had to be created for the executioner, who would work as a royal employee and receive some additional benefits, including the right to live in a small house attached to the Chapel of Santa Àgata and the possibility to sell the possessions that had belonged to the people who had been executed. In this sense, the executed people’s shoes were coveted items because it was believed that if the shoes were placed in the entrance to a home, they would protect it from bad spirits.

Before reaching the Plaça de Sant Felip Neri, and bringing our tour to an end, we will take a look at the Casa l’Ardíaca (Archdeacon’s House), in Carrer de Santa Llúcia, which was the home of the ecclesiastical hierarchy of the archdeacons in the 12th century whilst the cathedral was being built. The house was reformed in the 15th century to the style of contemporary palaces. Given that the house was limited by the Roman wall and the interior Cloister, which at that time was usually in the centre, it was necessary to rebuild the the entrance. In the small Cloister there is a small fountain where every Corpus Christi an egg is made to dance over the jet of water: it corresponds to the actual tradition of “l’ou com balla” (the dancing egg). Before entering inside the house, on the right side of the entrance, there is a modernista letter box, designed by Domènech i Muntaner, dating from when the house was used as the seat of the Bar Association. The letter box is decorated with swallows that remind us that the post should ideally fly but the tortoise symbolises the pace at which it really moves. Anyway, if you stroke the tortoise’s shell, we get rid of the bad luck the skull gave us earlier.

Gothic Quarter, Barcelona

Now, to end the tour, we will visit the Plaça Sant Felip Neri, the most enchanting square in Barcelona. The Church of Sant Felip Neri, from the Baroque era, stands in this square. The Shoe Museum is also in the same place, since it was an area where there was a concentration of guilds.

A false legend, which began in the 20th century to explain the holes that can be seen in the walls around the square, is that they were caused by the executions made by firing squads during the Civil War. After inspecting the holes, pure logic and reasoning causes us to discard this idea, mainly because the holes are of a variety of sizes, shapes and heights, although human brains are capable of conjuring up anything, LOL! In reality the holes were caused by the shrapnel from a bomb that exploded near the area. Just for interest, one of the scenes in the film ‘The Perfume’ was shot in this square.

Gothic Quarter, Barcelona

Although there’s much more to discover in the Gothic Quarter, we’ll finish our tour of myths and legends here.

We’ll talk about the cathedral of Saint Eulalia another day, because she has many things to tell us.

View the Route of the Myths and Legends of the Gothic Quarter in a larger map

Barcelona and the Civil War air raid shelters (refugis aeris)

Hidden under the surface of Barcelona lie many remains of the city’s history. Including about 1,400 bomb shelters built during the Civil War.

Because of its strategic position, Barcelona was the target for the attacks made by the Italian Fascist air force, which collaborated with the revolutionary forces that were fighting against the Republic. The city was one of the first places where non-military targets were bombed, attacking the civilian population. Madrid and Gernika were also brutally bombed, but while these two cities were near the front-line fighting, Barcelona formed the rearguard.

Bomb shelter in Barcelona

Prior to the bombings, the city council made the citizens aware of the threat and orders were given to build 30 shelters, which would not be sufficient for even 5% of the population. Everyone laughed at the first shelters because no one could ever imagine that Barcelona would be a victim of air raids. Sirens were also placed all over the city and pamphlets were issued giving instructions about what to do in the event of bomb attacks.

On 13 February, 1937, Barcelona underwent the first of the 192 attacks and when everyone realised that there were not enough shelters they began to build many more that were gradually registered. Resources were scarce and the strongest people were away fighting on the front, which meant it was mostly elderly people, women and children who were responsible for building the underground tunnels. There are records of about 1,400 shelters, although there could easily be as many as 2,000.

Most of these shelters were built using the Catalan vault (volta catalana), an architectural technique used in Catalonia to make arches stronger and wider. In this way, the passage could be wider and throughout its length there was enough room to place benches on both sides, so people could sit down whilst they waited. Usually people had to wait about two hours: the time an attack lasted and also the length of time the battery could supply electricity to the underground area. We need to take into account that during the attacks the city’s electricity was cut off, thus making it difficult for the planes flying overhead to identify their clearly marked targets, because, among other things, the aim was to destroy historical monuments in order to demoralise the citizens, create an atmosphere of bewilderment and open a new front of internal war.

Bomb shelter in Barcelona

Due to the lack of radars at that time (they were discovered for World War II), there were ‘lookouts’ who patrolled out at sea with the mission of observing the sky and if they saw planes, they warned the whole city. From that moment, the citizens had between one and two minutes to reach the shelter before the bombing commenced.

The tunnels had several entrances as only one would have acted as a bottleneck, especially when taking into account people only had two minutes to enter inside, and also for prevention, because in the event one door caved in, it would be possible to exit through another.

Today it is possible to visit several air raid shelters, including number 307, the Bomb Shelter (Refugi) in the Plaça de la Revolució and the one in the Plaça del Diamant.

Fastvínic Restaurant, organic bocadillos

Fastvínic RestaurantUpdate: this restaurant no longer exists. But we keep the post to remind it.

The Fastvínic Restaurant, situated in the centre of an office area in the Eixample district, is one of the restaurants that prepares the best bocadillos (sandwiches made with Spanish bread cut lengthwise) in Barcelona. Delicious recipes, carefully prepared by Sergi de Meià and which can be paired with excellent wines selected by the sommelier, César Cánovas.
They offer 24 varieties of wine, all of which are Catalan. I was surprised at the curious way they serve them, with a vending machine which works by inserting a card.

Of all the bocadillos I have tried, I just loved the aubergine bocadillo with cheese and tomato. AMAZING! But I have been there several times and I liked all the ones I’ve tasted.

To choose the one you fancy the most, there is a giant screen displaying all the bocadillos they offer. There are icons or colours to indicate whether the bocadillo is cold, hot or vegetarian. They also serve gluten free bocadillos.

Fastvínic is special, not only because of the wines it offers and the creativeness of its bocadillos, but because it gathers together a series of characteristics that we should expect to see in all establishments: sustainability and quality.

On the one hand, the restaurant belongs to the Slow Food movement which refers to using organic, seasonal ingredients which have been obtained locally. On the other hand, the interior design, which is the work of Alfons Tost, is based on the use of ecological materials and furniture and, among other features, it is worth mentioning that the plants have not been placed around the whole premises without a reason; they help to control the air inside. All this has led to Fastvínic being awarded the LEED certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).

The access to the toilets is downstairs, where they keep the air purification system and where there’s a room with controlled temperature which houses one of the wine cellars belonging to the Monvínic Restaurant, Fastvínic’s first cousin.

There is a peaceful atmosphere and the background music is pleasing to the ear. From Mondays to Wednesdays they play classical music and from Thursdays to Sundays, they play chill-out.

Opening hours: Monday to Saturday from 12h to 24h

Average price: €15.00

Address: C/ Diputació 251, 08007 Barcelona

Telephone: (34) 934.873.241

Fastvínic Restaurant website

Hotel Terrace Experience, barcelona & rooftops

Yes! I like roof-top terraces in Barcelona. I like Barcelona’s skyline from wherever I can see it, and in Barcelona there are many places where you can enjoy magnificent views as I already said in my last post, “some hotels with rooftop terraces in Barcelona“.

Until September 11th a selection of 10 emblematic hotels in the city gives you the chance to see the Barcelona skyline tasting 4 mixed drinks for only 18euros. The event is called “Hotel Terrace Experience”. Choose your hotel and enjoy the views of Barcelona savouring your favourite drinks.

Diagonal Silken Rooftop Barcelona

I enjoyed having a Hendrick’s & Nordic Mist drink in the Silken Diagonal Hotel seeing the Agbar tower from few meters. It seemed that I could touch it!


Nuts roasted on a wood stove

Roasted nuts, shop in BarcelonaIn one of the streets adjacent to Santa Maria del Mar, Sombrerers 23, there is a small shop that sells home-made products and which specialises in roasting nuts. The owners have been working in this trade for over a century and a half, since 1851. Its name was originally Casa Gisbert (the house of Gisbert), then they added the initials of the founder’s sons, Enric y Alfons, and later on, the words ‘mestres torradors’ (master roasters), which has remained as the definitive name and current brand name of the products sold by ‘E&A Gispert Mestres Torradors’.

It was originally a warehouse for colonial products: coffee, tea, cocoa, spices and saffron that came from the Americas, which were then sold wholesale under the brand name ‘SABOR’ (flavour). Later, it specialised in roasting nuts and coffee.

Today, although the shop has undergone minor changes, it still has the original furniture, which gives it an air of the olden days. In a glass case there is a pair of scales, which they used for weighing the nuts before and after they had been roasted and the difference in weight was then returned to the tradesman.

But in particular, the most valuable item, and responsible for giving the nuts a special flavour, is the wood stove which was used for roasting our great grandparents’ almonds. The stove has an iron cylinder, which had to be turned by hand, although about 70 years ago they bought an automatic device which makes it easier for the shop assistants. Piles of oak firewood lie next to the stove and baskets hang from the walls waiting to be filled with steaming nuts.

Roasted nut shop, Barcelona

Hazelnuts, almonds, pistachios, walnuts repose in wicker baskets waiting to be sold. On the shelves and in corners of the shop there are other kinds of products, such as coffee and spices, which are marketed under the brand name ‘E&A Gispert mestres torradors’. The whole shop has a traditional air, which gives it a unique personality, and it’s not difficult to imagine the original employees at work.

Photos of the shop ‘E&A Gispert Mestres Torradors’.

Address: C/ Sombrerers 23, 08003 Barcelona

Display E&A Gispert Mestres Torradors in a larger map

Some hotels with rooftop terraces in Barcelona

The summer’s drawing to an end but we’ve still got time to enjoy Barcelona’s rooftop terrace bars. In an earlier post I mentioned a series of hotel rooftop terraces in Barcelona that offer a spectacular view of the city. But the list doesn’t end here… I’m now going to name a few more hotels with rooftop bars, where you can soak up some wonderful views with a drink in your hand.

I’ll start off with two terraces that opened recently and which are really worth mentioning.

'The Top' terrace of Hotel Gallery, BarcelonaIt is a terrace that looks over both sides of the hotel. A hospitable and pleasant atmosphere with a small pool, sun beds, restaurant area and cocktail bar. The views show an alternative version of Barcelona but, none the less, the sights at sunset are amazing. During the summer, every day of the week ‘The Top’ terrace offers an agenda full of activities which we can consult on their website.

Curiously, this hotel stands where my old offices used to be! What memories… So mentioning it now makes me feel twice as happy. To tell you the truth the rooftop bar, which opened only recently, like the one I have just mentioned, offers marvellous views. It has a cocktail list and it specialises in mojitos.

The rooftop bar of the Hotel Royal Passeig de Gràcia, Barcelona

  • The rooftop, rather than the terrace, of the Hotel DO

The rooftop of this hotel has been turned into a terrace with a pool and restaurant. It offers a charming view of the Plaça Reial and the Gothic district in general, where you can spot the odd bell tower standing among the old buildings.

Views from the rooftop terrace of Hotel Do Barcelona

Hotel Miramar, standing half way up Montjuïc, gives visitors the chance to see some beautiful views of the Port of Barcelona, the cable car and the sea. It has a pool and terrace, but the views can be seen from the hotel gardens.

A terrace with a bar, pool and solarium with views of the open sea and the Golden Fish, by Frank Gehry, to keep you company.

Rooftop in Hotel Pullman Barcelona Skipper

Well, now you know where to find a few terraces with views of different perspectives of Barcelona. If you spend your summer in Barcelona, it’s impossible to get bored! 😉

Bomb shelter in the Plaça de la Revolució

During the Civil War, about 1,400 bomb shelters were built in Barcelona. The most well known, and which can be visited today after booking in advance, are the bomb shelter number 307 (refugi 307) in Poble Sec and the one in the Plaça del Diamant, in the district of Gràcia. But there is a third, unknown to most people, located in the Plaça de la Revolució, also in the district of Gràcia. The shelter can be visited free of charge and the most curious thing is that visitors have to go through the underground car park in the square to access it, after asking the cartaker for the keys.

Bomb shelter in the Plaça Revolució, GràciaIt’s really exciting! If you decide to go, make sure they don’t give you the wrong key, which is what happened to us today. Check the key ring says ‘Llave del refugio’ (shelter key). We were really excited about opening the door but after going down four levels (it’s on the bottom floor, 4B) we had to go all the way back up again to get the right key.

Once you’ve opened the door, the light switch is on the left. However, there are two rooms in darkness so you’ll have to bring a torch if you want a clearer view of this area. There’s not much left of the bomb shelter: an L-shaped passage with a bench where the refugees used to sit and two small rooms, which might have been the infirmary. On the ceiling it’s still possible to see what’s left of what used to be the shelter’s electricity supply. There was enough electricity to light the room during the air raid, which went on for about two hours, the time the battery lasted.

Civil War bomb shelter, BarcelonaApparently the shelter used to be longer but whilst they were building the car park, part of it was destroyed.

It’s really worth a visit so you can try and listen to the echoes of bygone days. Aah, if only walls could speak!

View Civil War bomb shelter on a larger map

Bellesguard Tower

Gaudi's Bellesguard Tower or Casa FiguerasLying on the mountainside of Collserola, not as well known but just as precious as any other of Gaudi’s works, is the Bellesguard Tower (Beautiful view in Catalan).

A magnificent small palace that reminds us of the castle where Martí l’Humà, a Catalan monarch who ruled in the 15th century, used to live during the summer months and which used to stand in the same place.

It was not until 1900 when María Sagués Molins, the widow of Jaume Figueras, asked Gaudi to redesign the neglected castle. This is the reason for its official name, Casa Figueras (the House of Figueras), although it is commonly known as the Bellesguard Tower.

Today, though it belongs to another family, the house is still private property. However, the garden gates are open to anyone who wants to peep inside. Especially this August, on Tuesdays, there are guided tours around the outside of the house and visitors are treated to a glass of cava and a concert for two violins, whilst on Thursdays, it is possible to enjoy a mojito listening to chill-out music in the background, allowing visitors to calmly contemplate the tower.

Visiting hours: Tuesday and Thursday from 18h to 21h (August).
Price: €20
Bookings: + 34 646 800 127 or [email protected]

From September there will be guided visits every day.

I’ve had the chance to visit the place once and I’ve had no doubts about making a second booking, so they can give me a detailed explanation of the house with all its nooks and crannies.

As a matter of interest, the day was extra special because the clouds occasionally let the sky through, which lit up the Bellesguard Tower like an apparition. Until the rain suddenly appeared and finally a double rainbow filled the sky, crossing the house. Spectacular.

Rainbow over Gaudi's Bellesguard Tower

Click here to view more photos of the Bellesguard Tower.