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Plaça del Rei

Plaça del Rei (24)

Coming down the Baixada de Santa Clara, you find the Plaça del Rei on your left.

It is often defined as “the noblest urban unit in old Barcelona”... so what does this mean?

Well, that even though the Plaça del Rei used to be animal pens, it is now one of the most outstanding monumental complexes in the city. Where, within a very small space, we find a great number of buildings. One such is the Palau Reial Major (Main Royal Palace), which you can see at the back. It was the Governor’s residence in Roman Barcino, later that of the Visigoth King Ataülf and then of the Counts of Barcelona in the thirteenth century. Today all these buildings are museum spaces, of which the most outstanding is the Saló del Tinell, a spectacular Gothic hall famous for its great arches and where, it is said, the Catholic Monarchs received Christopher Columbus on his first return from America.

The other corner of the square holds a great stair-case that leads you up to the Romanesque door of the Palau del Lloctinent and the Gothic door of the Capella de Santa Àgueda (St. Agatha’s Chapel). 

The Palau del Lloctinent (Palace of the Deputy) is a noble building where the valuable archives of the Crown of Aragon (currently transferred to the Carrer Almogàvers) were kept until 1993. Over 4 million documents, of great age, some dating from the ninth century.

The front of this building is in late Gothic style with Renaissance details. Notable inside is its wide court-yard with various floors of porticoes on top of each other.

The construction of St. Agatha’s Chapel was ordered in 1302 by Jaume II. The master-builder was Bertran Riquer and he quite literally encrusted the building into the Roman wall. It is a church of a single nave with a small transept, two chapels and a tribune that shows the great beauty and sobriety of Catalan Gothic. The reredos of the Condestable (Commander-in-Chief), work of the painter Jaume Huguet in 1465, considered the best expression of Catalan art, presides over the chapel. Its octagonal bell-tower leans slightly due to an earthquake in the fifteenth century and is crowned by eight triangular facades representing the royal crown.

On the right, on the corner with the Carrer Veguer, stands the Clariana-Padellàs house, home to the Museum of the City’s History. A marvellous Gothic building dating from the fifteenth century, which was transferred to its present site, stone by stone, because of the opening of the Via Laietana. In 1931, during digging for its new foundations, important remains of the former Roman city were found. Now you can visit them and in the cellar you will find remains of the drains, baths, amphoras, mosaics and a Roman street, among other things.

On the left of the square, raise your eyes and you will see a magnificent Renaissance look-out tower called the “Tower of Martí the Humane”, the last king before the accession of the Castilian dynasty of the Trastàmara. This tower with five floors of arches was built by Antoni Carbonell in 1555.

As the square’s most recent piece, you can find a fine sculpture by Eduardo Chillida.

The Plaça del Rei is one of those corners of Barcelona that overflows with history and stories, because, as well as joining together true treasures from the past, it is a unique square that amazes you whenever you walk into it.

Because you can enter and enjoy great silence and peace in midst of the bustle of the Gothic quarter or, on the contrary, you may be surprised by musicians giving a concert, a puppet show or a group of people meeting to dance to folk music. You may even stumble across a photo session of a famous model or a film shoot... you never know.  

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