La Rambla dels Estudis

Just Outside Barcelona's Medieval City Walls

As you walk down La Rambla from Plaça de Catalunya, La Rambla dels Estudis starts just after the junction with Carrer del Bonsuccés to your right and Carrer Canuda to your left.

It continues until you get to Carrer del Carme and the main buildings are Teatre Poliorama, Church of Bethlehem and Palau Moja.

This section gets its name because it was the location of the medieval Estudi General - the original University of Barcelona - which was closed and demolished by the Castilian invaders after the Siege of Barcelona in 1714.

Following his victory in the War of the Spanish Succession in the 18th century, King Philip V of Spain moved the University to Cervera and had the building converted into barracks, which were demolished in 1843 so there's no trace left of Barcelona's original fount of learning.

More recently, this part of The Ramblas was known as La Rambla dels Ocells or The Rambla of the Birds because the section was full of stalls selling birds and other animals.

La Rambla dels Ocells was a cacophony of noise with everything from canaries and chickens to hamsters, rabbits and snakes and, in fact, I once saw a goat on sale at one of the stalls back in the 1980s.

I loved the market atmosphere that the animals created but, unfortunately, after a long campaign by animal rights activists, the animal stalls were closed down in 2010 and replaced by souvenir and fast food kiosks, which have only served to take away much of the personality of La Rambla.


Teatre Poliorama and Reial Acadèmia de Ciències i Arts

The first interesting building to look out for is the Reial Acadèmia de Ciències i Arts de Barcelona or Royal Academy of Sciences and Arts on your right at La Rambla, 115

You can't miss it because the ground floor has been occupied by Teatre Poliorama since 1912, which is one of Barcelona's most popular theatres..

If you look just above the theatre entrance to the first floor, you'll see an old electric clock on the façade with the words Hora Oficial just below it, because the clock has marked the official time in Barcelona since 1891.

For those interested in the Spanish Civil War, it was on the roof of the Reial Acadèmia de Ciències i Arts that George Orwell holed up with the Trotskyist POUM militia and engaged in fratricidal gun battles with the Stalinist communists, who had occupied Cafè Moka, just across La Rambla.

The events are recounted in Orwell's brilliant Homage to Catalonia, which I strongly recommend you read before visiting the Barcelona.

Hotel 1898

Further down, on your right, you come to Carrer del Pintor Fortuny, which is named after the Catalan painter Marià Fortuny, who despite dying aged only 36 is considered one of the great romantic artists of his day.

The corner of Pintor Fortuny and Rambla dels Estudis is occupied by two of the most emblematic luxury hotels on La Rambla, Hotel Meridien and Hotel 1898.

I'm sure it would be wonderful to stay in either but historically, the most interesting of the two is Hotel 1898, originally built in 1880 as family home for the Marquis of Comillas, Antonio López i López, who was owner of the Compañía Transatlántica shipping company.

In 1929, the building became head office of the Compañía General de Tabacos de Filipinas, which was managed by the great Spanish poet, Jaime Gil de Biedma, and an eponymous suite occupies his old offices.

The building was turned into a hotel by developers Nuñez i Navarro, owned by former FC Barcelona president Josep Lluís Nuñez, and somewhat ironically called Hotel 1898 in commemoration iof the year the Spanish empire lost the Philippines as a colony.

L'Església de Betlem

Past the hotel, you'll see the rather imposing exterior wall of the old Jesuit church, L'Església de Betlem or the Church of Bethlehem, whose main entrance is on the corner of the Rambla dels Estudis and Carrer de la Carme.

The original building destroyed by fire in 1671 and work on the present structure started in 1680.

The main façade is on Carrer de la Carme and inside there is a large, single nave with side chapels in Catalan Gothic style.

Until the start of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 it was decorated with coloured marble inlays and brown-coated Italian stuccos, had a magnificent retable, and two large screens in the galleries were adorned with gilt, polychrome figures, all of which was destroyed by anarchist fire.

The building itself was also damaged and underwent a structural restoration after the civil war, essentially leaving the bare bones, giving it a clean uncluttered calm, very welcome on the bustle of the Rambla.

The engraving below gives an idea of what the church and this section of La Rambla was like in the early 19th century.

Palau Moja

On the left-hand side of the Rambla dels Estudis, on the corner of Carrer de la Portaferrissa, is Palau Moja, also known as the palace of the Marquis of Comillas, a title given to its last owner, Antonio López i López, founder of the Transatlantic Company, the Hispanic Colonial Bank and the General Tobacco Company of the Philippines.

When it was built in 1702 by Pere de Cartellà, the building adjoined the old city walls along the side of the Rambla and it was one of the first buildings permitted to have windows cut through the city wall itself.

The facade on the Rambla was altered in 1934 and the porticos of the ground floor were opened up to widen the pavement.

Since 1981 the premises have been used by the Department of Culture of the Generalitat - the Catalan government.

The upper floor where priest-poet Jacint Verdaguer, confessor to the Comillas family and considered Catalan literature's greatest writer, wrote the epic poem L'Atlàntida is preserved intact.

Apart from the offices on the ground floor, Palau Moja isn't usually open to the public except when there's an exhibition, so it's really worth keeping an eye on the agenda as the interior is gorgeous.


Immediately opposite the entrance to Palau Moja, you'll see an old drinking fountain dating from 1680.

Portaferrissa actually means Iron Gate and the here stood one of the main gates of the old walled city of Barcelona.

Although they look very old, the ornate tiles actually only date from 1959.

They are the work of ceramicist Joan Baptista Guivernau and along with inscriptions show Saint Josep Oriol in flight giving protection to Barcelona.

It's definitely worth walking down Portaferrissa and exploring one of the nicest streets in the Barri Gòtic, which also happens to be a very convenient shortcut to Plaça del Pi, Portal de l'Àngel and Barcelona Cathedral.

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