The City Walls of Barcelona

Medieval and Modern Constructions

The medieval and modern walls of Barcelona were built as a defence for the city between the 12th and 14th centuries intially by Pere II the Great of Catalonia and Aragon (1276-85).

They were actually the second and third sets of Barcelona city walls and were built to protect the parts of the city that had grown up outside the original Roman walls of Barcelona.

Their perimeter of the second set of walls originally included the current neighourhoods of Barri Gòtic and Sant Pere, Santa Caterina i La Ribera and stretched as far as The Ramblas, whilst the third set was an extension built to include El Raval, which was essentially the city's market garden of the the time.

Once they were complete, the walls remained in place for five centuries until they were demolished in the 1850s when the Pla Cerdà was drawn up and the extension of the Barcelona began.

The only remaining section of the walls is the part that runs from the Portal de Santa Madrona next to Les Drassanes Reials all the way the the bottom of El Paral.lel.



Between the 6th and 11th, Barcelona's main defence were the original Roman walls and the main positions at Castell Vell, Castell Nou and Castell de Regomir had all been reinforced by successive invaders.

The fact that the walls were in such good condition was the reason why first the Visigoths then the Moors and finally the Franks chose Barcelona as one of their capitals.

Towards the end of the Roman period, which lasted until the 5th century, many sections of the walls had been used as part of private buildings.

Outside the walls, there was considerable urban growth with settlements and small farms growing up, particularly in the area around the churches.

It was in the 12th and 13th centuries, though, that Barcelona underwent a major expansion with the new settlements, known as vilanovas, of Codols, Sant Sepulcre, Sant Pere, de la Mar and Carrer Montcada, which were either built on royal initiative or by the new orders of Franciscans or Dominicans.

All this new building had to be incorporated into the structure of the city, particularly at a defensive level, and new gates of Pont d'en Campderà, la Boqueria, Pou d'en Moranta, la Drassana, el Born, la Portaferrissa, Santa Anna and Jonqueres were built outside the Roman walls as main points of entrance to the city.

Although no archeological evidence has been found of the existence of these gates, researchers are convinced that they were built to take advantage of natural geographical features, such as riverbeds, or man-made ones, such as sewers or Rec Comtal.

The Medieval Wall in the 13th Century

Chronicler Bernat Desclot recounts that in 1285, during a confrontation with the French, Pere the Great urgently ordered the construction of wooden fences and towers, and once the conflict was over, the Consell de Cent, in what would be its first major public work, took responsibility for strengthening the walls permanently.

These new defences linked the existing gates of La Boqueria, Portaferrissa and Jonqueres etc and new gates were also built, such as Portal Nou in 1295.

Documentation from the start of the 14th century indicates that the perimeters of the walls ran along the modern La Rambla, Plaça Catalunya, Plaça Urquinaona, Passeig de Sant Joan, Carrer Trafalgar, Arc de Triomf and Parc de la Ciutadella.

Fortifications in the Second Half of the 14th Century

As a result of a war with Castile, in the year 1357, the Consell de Cent decided to strengthen the walls and acquired two quarries on Montjuïc.

Work began at the two extremes of the seafront at Sant Daniel and Sant Francesc as well as at the Monastery of Santa Clara.

However, the defences were still weak and the strengthening work continued throughout the second half of the 14th century.

The Rambla wall, which followed the line of a riverbed, was finally finished and the port was developed with the construction of new buildings, such as La Llotja.

A number of archeological findings at passeig Picasso-Parc de la Ciutadella, la Rambla, Monument de Colom-Torre de les Puces have meant that we now know that the defences comprised two walls with the space between them filled with earth and rubble taken from the external defensive moat.

The towers were of a single storey and either semiheptagonal or semioctagonal, or heptagonal in the case of Torre de les Puces.

Archeological remains from the Torre de les Puces, which was on the corner of the seafront and La Rambla, have shown that the walls were about three metres thick and judging from their orange rust discolouring seem to have had iron adornments on the outside

Excavations at the Portal de Sant Daniel at Parc de la Ciutadella, which gives its name to the gate, surrounding section of wall and bridge, have shown that the gate was flanked by two towers and travellers entered the city via a bridge, which crossed the defensive moat.

Remains found on Avinguda dels Til·lers in Parc de la Ciutadella have permitted documentation of the section between Portal de Sant Daniel and Portal Nou and includes two towers and a section of wall three metres thick and two metres high.

Work at Pla de la Boqueria-Estació Metro Liceu have revealed part of the eastern tower of the Portal de la Boqueria and close to Plaça de Joaquim Xirau another section of wall the was close to the Portal dels Escudellers has been uncovered.

Further sections between La Rambla and Portal de l'Àngel and on the corner of La Rambla and Carrer Roca have allowed investigators to confirm the perimeters of the first wall of Barcelona that can be seen in the map.

In 1368, the Consell de Cent called on the citizens of Barcelona to support a new building project, which now would include El Raval, which had expanded in the 14th century around the Convent del Carme, the Monestir de Natzaret and the Hospital de Colom.

The project initially only include the top section of El Raval but with the modification of Les Drassanes Reials between 1372 and 1378, it eventually included the bottom section as well.

The complete project lasted throughout most of the 15th century and the section at the Portal de Santa Madrona near to Les Drassanes is the best surviving section we can see today.

The Modern Wall of the 16th and 17th Centuries

The development of firearms and artillery meant that in less than 200 years the defensive walls of Barcelona were in need of severe modification.

In fact, the first documentation of firearms in Barcelona ocurred during a naval battle in 1369 during the reign of Pere the Ceremonious, in which the defending troops fired a cannon against the invading Castilians and Genovese forcing them to retreat.

Two hundred years later, in the second half of the 16th century, it was necessary to strengthen the walls of Barcelona against much more effective projectiles and so they were both made thicker and also reduced in height in order to offer less of a target.

Another initial solution was to replace the polygon-shaped towers with circular ones but as this was ineffective the finally choice was the construction of the bastions or bulwarks, which jutted out from the main line of the rest of the walls.

The first bulwarks were actually built on the sea wall in 1368 but it wasn't until the end of the 15th century that it was finally decided to close off this section.

The continual storms that smashed against this section of the wall were another worry for the Consell de Cent as repairs were constantly needed.

The main worl on the bulwarks or baluards began in 1513 with the construction of the Baluard del Llevant and continued with the Baluard del Migdia in 1527 and the Baluard de Sant Ramon in 1540.

In 1542, during the War of Italy, the French army laid siege to Perpignan and attacks from pirates and bandits increased and as a result the captain general of Barcelona, Fernando Álvarez de Toledo y Pimentel, along with the Consell de Cent decided to complete the fortification of the city whilst the Generalitat began to arm the guilds.

Finally, between 1554 and 1559, the major building project of the Portal de Mar was completed, which meant that the entire perimeter of the city was now closed.

Various digs have allowed archeologists to uncover sections of the sea wall, especially the work on Plaça Pau Vila and Carrer Dr. Aiguader, which exposed the square base of the Baluard del Migdia as well as other sections dating from the 16th century and as late as the 18th century.

The complete Portal del Mar was uncovered during excavations between Pla de Palau and Plaça Pau Vila and this included laters reforms, such as a parapet dating from 1632 as well as a 17-metre-wide moat and a counter wall from the mid-17th century.

The rest of the wall retained its original line but in the second half of the 17th century the old circulcular towers were replaced with eleven bulwarks: el baluard de Migdia, el baluard de Llevant, el baluard de Santa Clara, el baluard del Portal Nou, el baluard de Jonqueres, el baluard de Sant Pere, el baluard de l'Àngel, el baluard de Tallers, el baluard de Sant Antoni, el baluard de Santa Madrona, i el baluard de Sant Francesc.

In 1635, a long conflict with France began, which, despite the Treaty of the Pyrenees, didn't finish until the end of The War of the Spanish Succession in 1714.

In 1637, the Consell de Cent decided to invest 30,000 pounds in improving the defences with work continuing until 1648 and the Baluard de Santa Madrona being built in 1641.

In 1652, during The Reapers' War, the Consell de Cent lost control of the city to the Crown, which began building with the double-edged objective not only of defending the city against attackers but also against its own population.

The Crown also planned the building of fortifications outside the walls but due to lack of money only the Castle of Montjuïc was completed.

After the end of The Reapers' War, between 1672 and 1675, the State built the Portal Nou and the Portal de l'Àngel, in 1694, the Baluard de Sant Francesc was completed and in 1967, work was finished on the Baluards dels Tallers, Sant Pere and Jonqueres.

The Demolition of the Walls of Barcelona 1854-1873

On August 7th 1854, under the slogan Abajo las murallas! - Down with the walls! - the demoliion of the city walls of Barcelona began as a result of a campaign begun during the Trienni Liberal (1820-23), although the job wasn't complete until the end of the Sexenni Democratic (1867-73).

The demolition was necessary not only to improve the hygiene conditions of the city but also to allow the expansion of Barcelona with the plan for the Eixample connecting the satellite towns of Gràcia, Sants de Santa Maria, Sant Gervasi, Sant Martí and Sant Andreu.

A modern European capital, such as Barcelona, needed space to grow and particularly to develop industrially.

Another important reason for the demolition was the symbolic importance that the walls had had as an instrument of repression following the Catalans' defeat in The War of the Spanish Succession in 1714.

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