La Rambla de Santa Mònica

The Last Section down to the Port of Barcelona

Once past Carrer Escudellers on your left with the recently refurbished Teatre Principal on your right, you have reached La Rambla de Santa Mònica.

This is the bottom section of La Rambla and in many respects you've left the bustle of the city centre behind you and you're on your way down to the seafront and the Port of Barcelona.

The backstreets to your right are what used to be known as the Barri Xinès or China Town, which being so close to the port was part of Barcelona's red light district until quite recently.

The area has been cleaned up but there are still a few sex shops and peep shows on your right and wandering around the backstreets after midnight, if you care to look, you will still encounter a myriad of sexual wares on offer.

By day, this is a bright and open section of La Rambla and it is here that you find the famous human statues and the talented artists, who'll do you a 10-minute portrait for a few euros

Rambla de Santa Mònica is also an extraordinarily historic section of The Ramblas with its most obvious crowning glories being the Columbus Monument and the old royal shipyards at Drassanes, which now houses the Maritime Museum of Barcelona.

Children will love the wax museum and the recently restored and reopened Teatre Principal has brought new life and a more select kind of evening visitor to this section of La Rambla.

This section of La Rambla is conveniently served by Drassanes metro station, which is on the Green L3 Metro Line.


Carrer Escudellers

The first street to explore once you reach the Rambla de Santa Mònica is Carrer dels Escudellers, which is on your left at the start of Plaça del Teatre.

The name means 'Street of Potters', which is what Carrer dels Escudellers was in the Middle Ages.

In the 18th century it was the main centre for hotels in the city and by the mid-19th century it had become a fashionable area for social gatherings and discussion groups, even attracting the French avant-garde.

Frederic Soler, the founder of modern Catalan theatre and whose statue graces the entrance to the street in Pla del Teatre, was heavily influenced by their ideas.

By the 20th century, Escudellers had fallen into disrepute and, by the the time I arrived in Barcelona in 1988, its proximity to the port meant that its seedy bars were home to some rather insalubrious lowlife characters.

In fact, at the far end of the street, quite a long way from La Rambla now, you come to Plaça de George Orwell,which ironically considering who it's dedicated to was the first square in Barcelona to have CCTV cameras installed back in the 1990s.

As I say over and over again in this article, the area is much improved since those days but just like in any modern city centre full of tourists, you should have your wits about you and not make life too easy for pickpockets.

Today Carrer dels Escudellers is best known for its restaurants serving traditional food and its taverns and bars, which have kept its lively nightlife very much alive.

In fact, if you want to spend an evening having a truly authentic culinary experience at one of Barcelona's most famous and long-standing traditional restaurants, you should definitely book a table at Los Caracoles on the corner of Escudellers and Carrer Nou de Sant Francesc.

Pla del Teatre and Teatre Principal

Back on La Rambla de Santa Mònica, you come to square known as Pla del Teatre,which is dominated by a large white statue seated on a massive plynth.

This monument is dedicated to Frederic Soler, also known as Serafí Pitarra, who as I mentioned earlier is considered the man responsible for bring Catalan theatre into the modern age in the late 19th century.

You'll find references to him all over the city and although his main work was at Teatre Romea in El Raval, here he sits contemplating Teatre Principal with his back to Carrer Escudellers, which was where he lived for much of his early life.

Before crossing La Rambla, it's worth mentioning the entrance to the Pompeu Fabra University, which occupies a partly restored building, to which another floor has been added.

Behind the University building is a new square named after Joaquim Xirau, opened up, like many new spaces in the old town, to alleviate congestion in this part of the city.

Immediately opposite Pla del Teatre at Rambla de Santa Mònica 27 is the Teatre Principal itself, whose long history dates back to 1568 when it was a wooden building called El Casal de les Comèdies.

The theatre belonged to the Hospital de la Santa Creu and shows were put on in order to raise funds for the hospital.

After a fire at end of the 16th century, a stone construction was built, which also burnt down in 1787.

By the start of the 19th century, now called the Teatre de la Santa Creu, it was Barcelona's main opera house and finally became the Teatre Principal in 1847 in order to establish that it was Barcelona's main theatre after a major competitor, El Gran Teatre del Liceu opened the same year.

However, rot soon set in and a century later it became a cinema and ,by the time I arrived here in 1988, even that was closed except for a small room showing porn films.

Consequently, it's fantastic news that after a full renovation, Teatre Principal reopened in 2013 and is beginning to establish itself again as one of Barcelona's main theatres.

Santa Mònica And Around

A little further down is Carrer de l'Arc del Teatre, a street that is characteristic of the old Barri Xinès or China Town as this part of Barcelona was known until quite recently.

This certainly used to be one of the centres of prostution and I imagine that to this day, you will still find certain pleasures or displeasures available at a price, particularly after dark.

The next street down is Carrer de Santa Mònica, home to one of the city's most famous bohemian bars - Bar Pastís.

The Bohemian atmosphere of this section of Rambla de Santa Mònica is confirmed by the fact that this is where local artists to set up to exhibit their work and offer quick portraits to tourists.

On the corner of Carrer de Santa Mònica is the old Convent of Santa Mònica, which belonged to the Agustins Descalços order or Barefoot Augustinians, and dates from 1626

The building now houses Arts Santa Mónica, an arts centre run by the Generalitat of Catalonia, which is well-worth a visit not only because of the interesting exhibitions, which are often free but also because you can visit sections of the old convent.

Directly opposite Arts Santa Mònica at number 18 La Rambla, you'll see a fine house built by Elies Rogent in 1892, which used to be the home of a photographer Napoleón, who was one of the pioneers of early-20th century photography in Barcelona.

His studio is now a sports centre called Frontó Colom, where the Basque pelota game frontón is played.

The old marble Banca de Crèdit i Docks building, which was built by Elies Rogent in 1882, at the far end of Passatge de la Banca is another likely stop.

It now houses El Museu de la Cera, the Barcelona Wax Museum, which along with the theme bar El Bosc de les Fades, the Fairy Wood, is an almost obligatory stop on a family day-out in Barcelona.

Incidentally, you get a reduction on entrance to the Museu de la Cera if you have a Barcelona Card.

On the corner of Passatge de la Banca at Rambla de Santa Mònica 18, you'll Palau Marc with its austere late 18th century classical façade.

It was built between 1776 and 1780 for Francesc March, an eminent merchant from the town of Reus near Tarragona, by the architect Joan Soler i Faneca, and now serves as the head office for the Department of Culture of the Catalan government, the Generalitat.

Les Drassanes Reials and the Museu Marítim

There are more fine buildings and the entrance to Carrer Josep Anselm Clavé, which takes you down to La Mercè, but for me the main reason for coming to this section of Rambla de Santa Mònica is to visit Les Drassanes Reials, which are anout 50 metres off to your right at the very bottom of The Ramblas.

The Drassanes, the largest and most complete medieval shipyards to be found anywhere in the world, and also the largest Gothic civil building in Barcelona.

Built over the 13th and 14th centuries, the Drassanes were recovered for public use after the Spanish Civil War and opened in 1941, and are in an excellent state of preservation thanks to the meticulous restoration work carried out by Barcelona Provincial Council - La Diputació. .

Part of the building is occupied by the Maritime Museum, which also dates from the Civil War, and is definitely worth a visit because not only do you get learn about Catalonia's maritime history but seeing these Gothic shipyards from the inside really is something quite speacial..

On your way back to the Rambla, you pass some rather imposing-looking government buildings, which are the Naval Sector of Catalonia.

These stand on part of the land previously occupied by the old shipyard barracks, which were built in 1792 for the artillery service and subsequently demolished when the Spanish army abandoned the site.

The Columbus Monument

Finally, at the bottom of the Rambla de Santa Mònica is the Porta de la Pau or Peace Gate, but the dominating feature is the monument to Christopher Columbus, one of the great icons of Barcelona.

The Columbus monument was built in 1886 by the architect Gaietà Buigas and is a great iron column on a stone base topped by a statue of the navigator.

It was built to commemorate the fact that Barcelona was the port of arrival after his first return voyage from America and the site of his first audience with King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.

Although the statue is pointing out to sea, it is actually pointing towards Libya rather than the Americas but the important point is that Columbus has his back towards Castile.

Back in the 1880s and even more so today, Catalans believed that Columbus was in fact a Catalan noble rather than a Genoese as official histories tell us and I discuss the question at length in Was Christopher Columbus Catalan?, Chapter 10 of my book Catalonia Is Not Spain: A Historical Perspective.

At the bottom of the monument, there's a Tourist Information Office, which is particularly good because it is not as busy as the ones further up The Ramblas and in Plaça Catalunya.

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