Barcelona's most famous street is both a tourist magnet and a window into Catalan culture, with cultural centres, theatres and intriguing architecture. Flanked by plane trees, the middle section of La Rambla is a broad pedestrian boulevard, crowded every day until the wee hours with a wide cross-section of society. Horrific terrorist attacks in 2017 did little to diminish its popularity; neither with the tourists, nor with the hawkers, pavement artists and handful of living statues.
It takes its name from a seasonal stream (raml in Arabic) that once ran here. From the early Middle Ages, it was better known as the Cagalell (Stream of Shit) and lay outside the city walls until the 14th century. Monastic buildings were then built and, subsequently, mansions of the well-to-do from the 16th to the early 19th centuries. Unofficially, La Rambla is divided into five sections, which explains why many know it as Las Ramblas (or Les Rambles, in Catalan).
The initial stretch from Plaça de Catalunya is La Rambla de Canaletes, named after a turn-of-the-20th-century drinking fountain, the water of which supposedly emerges from what were once known as the springs of Canaletes. It used to be said that a proper barcelonin was one who ‘drank the waters of Les Canaletes’. Nowadays people claim that anyone who drinks from the fountain will return to Barcelona, which is not such a bad prospect. This is the traditional meeting point for happy FC Barcelona fans when they win cups and competitions.
The second stretch, La Rambla dels Estudis (Carrer de la Canuda to Carrer de la Portaferrissa) is also called La Rambla dels Ocells (ocells means 'birds') because of its former bird market.
From Carrer de la Portaferrissa to Placa de la Boqueria, what is officially called La Rambla de Sant Josep (named after a now nonexistent monastery) is lined with flower stalls, which give it the alternative name La Rambla de les Flors.
La Rambla dels Caputxins, named after another former monastery, runs from Plaça de la Boqueria to Carrer dels Escudellers. The latter street is named after the potters’ guild, founded in the 13th century, the members of which lived and worked here.
The final stretch of La Rambla, La Rambla de Santa Mònica, widens out to approach the Mirador de Colom overlooking Port Vell. This section is named after the Convent de Santa Mònica, which once stood on the western flank of the street and has since been converted into the Centre d’Art Santa Mònica, a cultural centre that mostly exhibits modern multimedia installations.