Roman Walls

From Plaça del Rei it’s worth taking a detour northeast to see the two best surviving stretches of Barcelona’s Roman walls, which once boasted 78 towers (as much a matter of prestige as of defence). One wall is on the southern side of Plaça Ramon de Berenguer Gran, with the Capella Reial de Santa Àgata atop. The square itself is dominated by a statue of count-king Ramon de Berenguer Gran done by Josep Llimona in 1880. The other wall is a little further south, by the northern end of Carrer del Sots-Tinent Navarro. The Romans built and reinforced these walls in the 3rd and 4th centuries AD, after the first attacks by Germanic tribes from the north.

El Call

One of our favourite places in the Ciutat Vella (Old City) to wander is El Call (pronounced 'kye'), which is the name of the medieval Jewish quarter that flourished here until a tragic pogrom in the 14th century. Today its narrow lanes hide some surprising sites, including an ancient synagogue unearthed in the 1990s and the fragments of a women's bathouse inside the basement of the cafe Caelum. Some of the old city's most unusual shops are here, selling exquisite antiques, handmade leather products and even kosher wine. Its well-concealed dining rooms and candelit bars and cafes make a fine destination in the evening.

El Call (which probably derives from the Hebrew word kahal, meaning 'community') is a tiny area, and a little tricky to find. The boundaries are roughly Carrer del Call, Carrer dels Banys Nous, Baixada de Santa Eulàlia and Carrer de Sant Honorat.

Though a handful of Jewish families remained after the bloody pogrom of 1391, the subsequent expulsion of all Jews in the country in the 15th century put an end to the Jewish presence in Barcelona. The Call Menor extended across the modern Carrer de Ferran as far as Baixada de Sant Miquel and Carrer d’en Rauric. The present Església de Sant Jaume on Carrer de Ferran was built on the site of a synagogue.

Even before the pograms of 1391, Jews in Barcelona were not exactly privileged citizens. As in many medieval centres, they were obliged to wear a special identifying mark on their garments and had trouble getting permission to expand their ghetto as El Call’s population increased (as many as 4000 people were crammed into the tiny streets of the Call Major).