At the southwest end of Passeig del Born stands the apse of Barcelona’s finest Catalan Gothic church, Santa Maria del Mar (Our Lady of the Sea). Built in the 14th century with record-breaking alacrity for the time (it took just 54 years), the church is remarkable for its architectural harmony and simplicity.
Its construction started in 1329, with Berenguer de Montagut and Ramon Despuig being the architects in charge. During the construction, the city’s porters (bastaixos) spent a day each week carrying on their backs the stone required to build the church from royal quarries in Montjuïc. Their memory lives on in reliefs of them in the main doors and stone carvings elsewhere in the church. The walls, the side chapels and the facades were finished by 1350 and the entire structure was completed in 1383.
The exterior of Santa Maria del Mar gives an impression of sternness, and like many of the buildings in the old part of town, it suffers from the impossibility of an overall perspective – the narrow streets around it are restrictive and claustrophobic. It may come as a (pleasant) surprise then, to find a spacious and light interior – the central nave and two flanking aisles separated by slender octagonal pillars give an enormous sense of lateral space.
The interior is almost devoid of imagery of the sort to be found in Barcelona's other large Gothic churches, but Santa Maria was lacking in superfluous decoration even before anarchists gutted it in 1909 and 1936.
Opposite the church’s southern flank, an eternal flame burns brightly over an apparently anonymous sunken square. This was once El Fossar de les Moreres (The Mulberry Cemetery), the site of a Roman cemetery. It’s also where Catalan resistance fighters were buried after the siege of Barcelona ended in defeat in September 1714.
Keep an eye out for music recitals, often baroque and classical. In summer you can visit the roof terrace as part of a guided tour (€5)
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