La Rambla is a busy street in the center of Barcelona, usually considered to be the city’s most famous boulevard. It runs for three-quarters of a mile between the Christopher Columbus Monument at the waterfront and the central Plaça de Catalunya. The road is lined with trees and is closed to cars, making it a popular place for tourists to walk. It is lined with shops and kiosks selling snacks, newspapers, and souvenirs.
In the Middle Ages, the La Rambla area was occupied by a stream. This only contained water after heavy rainfall, but was then important for drainage. It was inadequate for the growing city, however, and it was also highly polluted and filled with sewage. The stream marked the boundary between the main walled city of Barcelona and El Raval, a suburb to the southwest. The city’s walls were extended in 1377 to include El Raval, and therefore the site of La Rambla. The course of the stream itself was diverted in 1440 so that it flowed outside the walls. From this point onward, the area gradually took on the characteristics of a street.
As the centuries passed, the area became increasingly important to the civic life of Barcelona. Its long, wide dimensions made it the perfect spot in which to hold markets and festivals, as well as sporting events. A number of churches and monasteries were added during the Renaissance period, including a Jesuit college and monastery in 1553. These are no longer in existence, although the associated church of the Jesuit building has survived. The first of the trees which have come to be so closely associated with the street were planted at the beginning of the 18th century.
The boulevard has seen several instances of serious public disorder. In 1835, riots on St. James’s Night saw revolutionary sympathizers running wild, killing many of the nuns and monks. They also burnt down almost all the churches and monasteries. A hundred years later, the Spanish Civil War saw the return of violence to the area. Nationalist forces loyal to General Franco also caused some damage with bombing raids and artillery attacks.
Layout and Prominent Features
Although usually referred to as one street, La Rambla is made up of several linked, shorter roads. These begin with Rambla de Canaletes at the Plaça de Catalunya end, and conclude at the harbor end with Rambla de Santa Mònica. In the 1990’s, a wooden walkway was added, extending the street a little way out into the harbor itself. The city’s Maritime Museum stands nearby, as well as a number of other facilities including an IMAX theater, an aquarium, and a selection of restaurants. Closer to downtown is the Gothic cathedral, restored in the 1960’s and 1970’s.
The street is lined by kiosks, selling a wide variety of items ranging from souvenirs to flowers. The sale of live animals also occurs, although this has been officially prohibited since 2003. Several small shops and market stalls lie at the port end of the street. Historic buildings lining this part of the city include the Liceu Theater and the Palace of the Virreina. A mosaic by the artist Joan Miró was added at Pla de l’Os in 1971.