Monday, March 9, 2015

Subterranean museum exhibit reveals Barcelona's Roman heritage

It was another beautiful sunny day in Barcelona, with no tourist agenda to follow. Our hotel was across the road from Cuitadella Park, a lovely green space with sinuous paths and a large lake, empty right now for maintenance, but usually filled with water and rented rowing boats. There was a movie shoot going on and we realized that many of the people around us were actually “extras” waiting for their cue to jog or stroll past the camera. Best of all it was so warm we didn't need a sweater or jacket. We exited the park through the massive Arc de Triomf built for the 1888 Barcelona World Fair.

We wandered through the narrow streets of El Born towards the Barcelona Cathedral. This is always an interesting walk with lots of street music to listen to — old standards, classical guitar, even an opera performance. When we actually saw this quite large lady she was dressed in jeans and a sweater not opera glam. This walk also appeals to your sense of smell with cafes trying to tempt you with churros and chocolate. Churros are long thin deep-fried pastries that taste like homemade doughnuts. They are to be dipped in the very thick chocolate drink. Perhaps they aren't healthy but they are a delicious treat.

Since we had never been in the Barcelona History Museum, but had passed it many times, we decided to visit it today. The museum is housed in the Casa Padellàs, a fifteenth-century Gothic palace.The palace has a typical Catalan Gothic architecture, with a small inner courtyard and external staircase. The museum's exhibitions are displayed in chronological order, starting on the ground floor of the Casa Padellàs where several small rooms show the prehistory of the Plain of Barcelona.

An elevator brings visitors to an underground level were you'll find the remains of the Roman city of Barcino, founded around 12 BC by emperor Augustus. The underground section covers an area of about four thousand square meters.

Following the walkway, we first saw the remains of a laundry, and adjacent to this a dying workshop from the second century. We could see the stone vats where items were dyed. They used something called Pompeii blue and we could see the remains of the blue dye on  a stone channel.  This area was known for salted fish and there were huge stone areas and large round clay vats for this as well as the remains of a  garum factory. Garum was a popular fermented fish sauce. They even had a large wine making facility from the third century AD. There were more clay vats for the wine that was shipped to many areas in France, Genoa, Rome and Sicily. I'm not sure how this would taste but some of the vats held honey mixed with salt that was then added to the wine.

We saw the remnants of the old Roman houses, the sewage system, the baths and the carriage ruts in the ancient stone roads. There were some lovely mosaics and a beautiful fresco. It was especially nice walking over the walkways with glass floors so that you could really see these old Roman ruins.

We moved to the ruins from a later period, including a church from the sixth century Visigoth period, and the episcopal complex, built between the fourth and seventh centuies AD.

Back upstairs you end up at the Palau Reial Major, a royal complex built in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Here the museum has a series of displays that tell the history of Barcelona during the Middle Ages, from the eighth until the thirteenth century, when the city experienced rapid growth. The tour concluded with a visit to the St. Agatha Chapel and the Tinell Hall built in the 1300s. The hall was used as a throne room and important guests were invited here. Christopher Columbus is said to have reported his discovery of America here to king Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.

There was a fragment of an old Catalan portolan map on display. These charts are navigational maps based on compass directions and estimated distances observed by the pilots at sea. They were first made in the 13th century in Italy, and later in Spain and Portugal. With  widespread competition among seagoing nations during the Age of Discovery, Portugal and Spain considered such maps to be state secrets.

Our tour of the Barcelona History Museum had come to an end. We thoroughly enjoyed it and will visit again some day.

Since we had some time left before our return train we took advantage of the weather and walked down to Barceloneta, Barcelona's beach area. Here you can walk for miles along the promenade visiting different beaches. There were lots of people sitting on the beach. Some were surfing and we could see that a handful had been in the water. They must have been visitors from northern climes.

By eight o'clock we were back in the Port. There was no wind and we were in just enough time to go to the champagne party opening of the new pizza restaurant in the village.

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