El Born is one of the trendiest and hottest neighborhoods in Barcelona. Popular with tourists? Yes. But that doesn’t make it ‘touristy’ – quite the contrary, it is full of shops, restaurants, cafes, and bars that make it one of the best places to visit while on a culinary tour in Barcelona.
El Born is actually the southern part of the larger neighborhood known as “La Ribera” that runs along the southeastern side of the historical center. Its medieval roots are evident in the narrow, winding streets and stone buildings. It is easy to imagine being back in the Middle Ages when strolling around. Many of the street name come from the ancient guilds that worked there, and the name “el Born” itself refers to the joust, as there used to be jousting tournaments held in the oval-shaped plaza now called the “Passeig del Born.”
Looming over the medieval burg is the majestic Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar. Also known as the “Cathedral of the Sea,” the building of this monumental work of Gothic design and craftsmanship is the backdrop for the famous novel of the same name by Ildefonso Falcones.
The basilica is remarkable, and one of the best examples of a medieval church that I have seen – and I have seen plenty. You can barely see it until you are on top of it, as it is nestled into the tight streets of the Born district, and there is no easy way to get a full perspective of it from the outside.
From the inside, however, it is simply stunning. It seems higher, lighter, and airier than many gothic structures I’ve seen. An architect or architectural historian could undoubtedly tell you why, but even to my eye the spacing and construction of the columns and vaults give one a feeling of light “upwardness.”
The basilica is also unique in that it is lacking almost any of the baroque adornments so often found in Gothic churches. This was evidently due to a fire that was set during anti-clerical riots in 1936, but the result is an entirely Gothic aesthetic. One exception – a haunting, modern sculpture by Catalonian artist Lau Feliu dedicated to Saint Ignatius of Loyola, and placed precisely where the saint purportedly used to beg for money during his years as a student in Barcelona.
Besides the Cathedral of the Sea, what El Born is most known for these days are the wonderful shops, restaurant, and tapas bars, which makes it a favorite among anyone interested in foodie travel. Many of the shops are tiny – hardly more than closets at times – but with unique, locally designed and produced jewelry, clothing, and other goods.
Not interested in shopping? Then you can do like our culinary travelers participating in a cooking vacation in Barcelona and bar hop from tapas bar to tapas bar enjoying the local vermut or sangria (or wine, or cava, or cocktails…. you get the picture!) with tapas and pintxos.
There are numerous wonderful restaurants to discover as well. We stopped at El Chigre, a small eatery specializing in Catalan and Asturian cuisine (Asturias is a region in northwestern Spain), and it advertises itself as a vermut and cider house. We stopped for a drink one night and made reservations to return the next for dinner, and it was one of the best meals I’ve had in recent memory. But more on that in another blog!
Still not convinced that you want to visit El Born on a culinary tour of Spain? There is also a beautiful market, Santa Caterina, housed under a flowing, waved roof tiled with mosaics the colors of fruits and vegetables. There locals go for their groceries, and also to eat the fresh, simply prepared foods found there.
If you are interested in Art, there are 3 wonderful museums:
- The Picasso Museum
- The Museu Europeu d’Art Modern (MEAM)
- The Museu d’Història de Catalunya
The first holds over 4000 of the artist’s sketches, paintings and even ceramics. Most of the works are from his early days when he was an art student in Barcelona. A visit here gives one a clearer understanding of Picasso’s evolution from early protege into his Blue and Rose periods in the first decade of the Twentieth Century.
The MEAM, like the Museo Picasso, is housed in a Medieval Palace, which forms a perfect foil for the modern art on display. It features 20th and 21st-century sculptures and paintings
Finally, the Museu d’Història de Catalunya gives one a glimpse into the past of Barcelona. When the local government started renovating the ancient market space to make it a public library they unearthed ruins of 17th century Barcelona. They decided to preserve this, and make it into a museum that shows the history of Catalonia from the Stone Age to the present.
You can visit El Born – and the rest of Barcelona – on our Barcelona culinary vacation. There is plenty to see, do, and eat in this wonderful Spanish city!
Read more about Barcelona in our blog:
By Peg Kern
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