Ciutat Vella which means in catalan "Old Town" is the historical center of Barcelona. During 19 centuries that was the whole city. Today it is still the official, cultural and tourist center of the city. The finance and commerce center of the city is today in other areas, one of them, along the Diagonal Avenue.
Ciutat Vella was sorrounded by the medieval walls of the city up to 1859 when they were knocked down. Barcelona was at that time one of the most densely populated towns in Europe, because the city was squeezed inside the walls. The streets called "Rondas" (rounds) run along the perimeter of the old walls: Paralelo, Ronda de Sant Pau, Ronda de Sant Antoni, Ronda Universidad, Ronda Sant Pere and the Ciudadela park.
Ciutat Vella has 3 main areas separated by two important avenues: Vía Layetana and the Ramblas. The Gothic quarter is in the middle, The Raval quarter is on the other side of the Ramblas; and the districts of Sant Pere, Santa Caterina and La Ribera or Borne, across Via Layetana.
The headquarters of the City Council and the Government of Catalunya are in the Gothic quarter, on Sant Jaume Square, which is also the oldest part of the town: the old Roman city and where most of the gothic monuments are, though the area of Santa María del Mar in El Borne, where the Picasso Museum is, has many medieval beauties too. At the Gothic quarter is also the main shopping center in Ciutat Vella, along the streets Portaferrissa and Portal de L'Angel
The Ramblas Promenade goes along what used to be the limit of the city up to the 13th century. It has the Gothic quarter on one side and the Raval on the other, and it connects the Catalunya square with the port. Catalunya square is the connection between the old town and the 19th century enlargement or Eixample, from Catalunya square runs off the Paseo de Gracia, an avenue which holds some of the treasures of Modernism. At the port we can take a boat and see Barcelona's coastline from the sea, go to the shopping center Maremagnum or walk along the quays to the Barceloneta and its beaches.
The Raval is the least old of Ciutat Vella's districts, it became a marginal area at the end of the 19th century, and today it houses the main Contemporary Art centers and a rich multicultural life.
The Vía Layetana laid out in 1907, separates the Gothic quarter from the quarters of Sant Pere, Santa Caterina and La Ribera. One of the jewels of the modernist arquitecture, the Palau de la Música Catalana is in the Sant Pere quarter. In La Ribera quarter -known as El Borne- there is Montcada street with its palace-houses and the beautiful gothic church of Santa María del Mar.
Ciutat Vella is full of charms and secret corners for those who like wandering around: narrow streets, tiny squares, shops and workshops with the most hip and exquisite items, restaurants of all styles and prices, exhibitions, music, street performances, nightlife...
Shops are worth special attention in Barcelona. The long trading tradition of the city explains why some of the marvels of the city are inside the shops: some are ancient, others original and full of wit. You may find sophisticated, kitch, hip, cheesy, design victim, bohemian, alternative.... All together make a true display of the Barcelona spirit.