La Rambla (or Las Ramblas) is the major artery of Barcelona. It is the most popular street in the city among both tourists and locals, and buzzes with atmosphere day and night. Beloved Spanish poet Federico García Lorca once called it ‘the only street in the world which I wish would never end.’ La Rambla makes for a pleasant walk; it is lined with lush plane trees from its starting point at Plaça de Catalunya in the city centre all the way to the Christopher Columbus monument on the seafront. It borders two of the city’s most historic neighbourhoods, the Gothic Quarter to the east and El Raval near the port.
The pathway which La Rambla follows was originally a sewerage bed designed to take drainage and rainwater down from the Collserola hills, and also formed a barrier between the old walled city and the smaller settlements in El Raval. In the late 14th and early 15th centuries the old city expanded to incorporate La Rambla and El Raval into its borders, and by 1440 the stream was diverted to run outside the new city walls, leaving the track free for development. Soon it had become the thriving centre of city life with markets and festivals being held here, as well as the site of a number of religious institutions. The first trees were planted in 1703.
Barcelona old and new
The pattern of the modern La Rambla’s rippled paving stones hints at the street’s origins as a rainwater channel. Stroll down La Rambla today and you will see plenty of cafés, restaurants and bars where you can sip Sangria into the late hours, as well as numerous clothes shops and kiosks selling trinkets and souvenirs; on Rambla de Sant Josep there is a lovely flower market
. There are also dozens of artists and street performers (many of them human statues) plying their trade. It should be noted that the southern end of La Rambla is its seedier side, and becomes something of a red light district at night.
Notable buildings include the austere Bethlehem church, which is the only remnant of the prominent Jesuit College which existed here during the Renaissance; Barcelona’s prestigious opera house the Gran Teatre del Liceu and the ancient Teatre Principal are also both located on La Rambla. It is home too to various museums, like the Centre d’Art Santa Mònica for contemporary art and the Palau de la Virreina, a striking Baroque palace which hosts short-term art shows and public events. Despite its more garish tourist attractions, the beautiful and vibrant La Rambla has endured as a cultural centre in Barcelona. Look out for the huge 1971 circular mosaic by Joan Mirò
near the Liceu, and the Font de Canaletes, a 19th century fountain designed around a Victorian lamppost: according to tradition, whoever drinks from the fountain will return to the city.