Tag Archives: Antoni Gaudi

Subterranean Barcelona – The World’s Most Extensive Underground Roman Ruins

By Richard Varr

Roman ruins under Placa del Rei. Photo by Richard Varr

Roman ruins under Plaça del Rei. Photo by Richard Varr

I walk on raised platforms above the subterranean ruins – crumbling walls, sections of chipped stone columns and carefully-laid mosaic floors amidst rugged walkways and alleys.  Historically speaking, however, the ancient stone chambers, streets and squares within Barcelona’s Musea d’História de la Ciutat (City History Museum) are often described as the most extensive and comprehensive underground Roman ruins in the world.

Gaudí’s masterpiece, Casa Milà. Photo by Richard Varr

Gaudí’s masterpiece, Casa Milà. Photo by Richard Varr

In the city best known for the genius of Antoni Gaudí’s Modernisme architectural style – undulating walls, colorful chimneys and eye-catching building facades designed with nature’s image in mind – it’s often easy to overlook the City History Museum’s fascinating glimpse of Barcelona’s past in what was once the old Roman city known as Barcino.

  where it is believed Columbus was received by royalty upon returning from the New World. Photo by Richard Varr

Plaça del Rei, where it is believed Columbus was received by royalty upon returning from the New World. Photo by Richard Varr

Located in the central Barri Gòtic or Gothic Quarter, the museum sits adjacent to the 13th and 14th century Royal Palace where, in its medieval courtyard known as the Plaça del Rei, it is believed King Fernando II and Queen Isabel welcomed Christopher Columbus upon his return from the New World.  And it’s under this courtyard where the museum’s vast underground ruins lie.

Giant urns used for salting fish. Photo by Richard Varr

Giant urns used for salting fish. Photo by Richard Varr

Dating back to between the 1st and 6th centuries AD, the ruins were once buildings housing aspects of the Romans’ everyday life.   They include a factory where fish was chopped and salted, and a wine-making facility where grapes were pressed and wine fermented in open vats.  Hot and cold baths refreshed Roman citizens.  Well-defined pits once served as dyeing and laundering centers.

Overlooking the ruins. Photo by Richard Varr

Overlooking the ruins. Photo by Richard Varr

Another important Roman site not particularly obvious to those strolling through the old town are four grand columns that were once part of the landmark Barcino Temple, the dominant structure in the Roman forum, the lively public city square.  “This is the most ancient part of Barcelona – the very origin of the city or Barcino,” says tour guide Artur Costa.   “The temple was constructed over a hill and was in the center of the forum.”

Four surviving Roman columns from Barcino Temple. Photo by Richard Varr

Four surviving Roman columns from Barcino Temple. Photo by Richard Varr

The columns are housed in a museum of sorts known as the “Temple Roma D’August, Local Dei Centre Excursionista de Catalunya,” standing tall – although chipped and eroded – within an internal courtyard of a medieval mansion.  They once supported the back end of Barcino Temple, built in the late first century BC and presiding over the city’s forum for more than four centuries.  With the dawn of Christianity in the 5th century AD, the temple lost its importance and its columns were used in the construction of new buildings and palaces.

Richard atop Gaudí’s Casa Batlló with its mosaic chimneys.

Richard atop Gaudí’s Casa Batlló with its mosaic chimneys.

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Staying in Barcelona: Hotel Continental Palacete

Main parlor in the Hotel Continental Palacete. Photo by Richard Varr

Main parlor in the Hotel Continental Palacete. Photo by Richard Varr

I found a wonderful, reasonably priced hotel in Barcelona, owned and operated by some hardworking and gracious hoteliers.  I stayed at the Hotel Continental Palacete, situated in a 19th century building on the edge of the upscale Eixample neighborhood.  It’s just a few blocks beyond the northern edge of Barcelona’s pedestrian La Rambla and the bustling Plaça de Catalunya, and just around the corner from Antoni Gaudí’s famous Modernisme-styled Casa Batlló.

Hotel Continental Palacete. Photo by Richard Varr

Hotel Continental Palacete. Photo by Richard Varr

The Hotel Continental Palacete is a superior 3-star accommodation in an old mansion – in my opinion, far beyond that rating – that made me feel like I was in fact staying in a mansion. I was particularly impressed with the dining/lounge parlor lavishly refurbished in what might be 17th century French architectural style reminiscent of Versailles, with gilded stucco and a monstrous chandelier.

Sagrada Familia. Photo by Richard Varr

Sagrada Familia, a Barcelona landmark. Photo by Richard Varr

“When we bought this building, everything was in ruins,” says  Señora María Pilar Vallet, who with her son Jose Malagarriga Vallet own both the Palacete and the Hotel Continental Barcelona, a similar property located a few blocks away on the northernmost stretch of La Rambla.  “I liked the architect’s design very much and decided that I would do the same and reconstruct it in the original design.”

Gaudi's Casa Batllo. Photo by Richard Varr

Gaudi’s Casa Batllo, just around the corner from the Hotel Palacete. Photo by Richard Varr

“The main lounge was built by artisans who came from France, and my mother found the original papers,” says Jose.

The Hotel Palacete was one of the hotels listed in Rick Steves’ Barcelona guidebook, and after taking a look at reviews on tripadvisor.com, decided to book it for my weeklong stay during Thanksgiving.  I was particularly impressed because the Palacete’s staff responds to every review on TripAdvisor, whether the guests like the hotel or not. I found that quite appealing, as Señora Pilar and Jose hail from a family which has been in the hotel business since 1826.

Richard with Señora Pilar.

Richard with Senora Pilar at the Hotel Continental Barcelona, overlooking La Rambla.

Another great selling point for me was the hotel offers a 24-hour complimentary tapas bar with everything from fresh fruits and cereals to ham, cheeses, cold vegetables, pastas and pastries.  There’s even wine and beer on tap.  Around dinner time, Señora Pilar often cooks the food herself – hot pastas, egg dishes, rich tomato sauces and sautéed vegetables. “Cooking is my favorite pastime,” she says. When coming back from a long day of sightseeing and research, it was great to have the option of just eating in house before retiring for the evening.  And when hunger struck in the middle of night, the tapas bar was there – like raiding the refrigerator at home!

Guest room at the Hotel Palacete. Photo by Richard Varr

Guest room at the Hotel Palacete. Photo by Richard Varr

The Hotel Palacete has only 19 rooms – mostly small, but pleasantly draped with flowery wallpaper.  My room didn’t have a view (but it did have a small patio), but for rooms with balconies overlooking the often boisterous La Rambla, check out the Hotel Continental Barcelona.  Also a 3-star property, this hotel has 35 rooms and a similar 24-hour free tapas bar for guests.

Guest room at the Hotel Continental Barcelona with balcony overlooking La Rambla. Photo by Richard Varr

Guest room at the Hotel Continental Barcelona with balcony overlooking La Rambla. Photo by Richard Varr

“I am very proud of the people who work with us because when I read the reviews on TripAdvisor or other websites,” says Jose, “overall even when people aren’t happy with the hotel, they’re happy with the service and for me this is very important.”

PLEASE NOTE:  I did not receive any special or reduced hotel rate for writing this or because I’m a travel writer (other than the 5% discount offered when mentioning Rick Steves’ guidebook).  In fact, I booked my stay online.  I certainly recommend taking a look at these hotels if planning a trip to Barcelona – great locations, clean rooms, reasonable rates, complimentary 24-hour tapas, and very friendly and helpful staff and owners.

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Balcony overlooking La Rambla. Photo by Richard Varr

For more information:

www.hotelcontinental.com