In the center of Barri Gotic, Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter, is one of the most outstanding examples of medieval architecture in Europe: La Seu. Officially known as Cathedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulalia.
The site has housed many religious structures over the centuries. In 343 A.D. a Roman basilica dominated the site that was later destroyed by Moors in 985 A.D. A Romanesque cathedral was completed here in 1058 A.D., which became part of La Seu three hundred years later.
Begun during the rule of King Jaume II, construction proceeded slowly as a result of civil wars, epidemics and the many other ills that plagued Europe during the period. Construction continued as late as the 19th century, which gave the building its current facade. But the final result outshone the difficulties attending its birth.
At over 300ft/90m long with a central spire reaching 230ft/70m high, it is one of the largest religious structures in Europe. But its size is the not primary source of the building’s magnificent style. The octagonal clock towers, built between 1386 and 1393, are just one tribute to the architects’ genius. There are many others.
The arched entrance is a set of concentric curves set within one another, giving the structure a look that is unusual even among Gothic churches. Though the motif is used elsewhere, it is seldom done with such care and grace.
The interior is equally impressive. On first entering the visitor is struck by the amazing wood carvings on every wall. A side chapel holds a cross removed from a galleon that participated in the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. The Christ figure on the cross is bending to the right. According to a Spanish legend the motion was to avoid a cannonball fired during the conflict. Other chapels within the cathedral tell equally fantastic and interesting stories.
The Cappella de Sant Benet behind the altar houses a crucifix from the 15th century. It is not immediately visible to the casual observer, but those who want to see everything will seek it out. Their effort will be well rewarded.
Beneath the altar is the crypt alleged to hold the body of St. Eulalia, the 13 year-old martyr who became the patron saint of Barcelona. Since the legend has it that she was slain in a square during Roman times by being rolled in a barrel stuck full of knives, it’s unlikely the sarcophagus contains much. Other versions have her being burned at the stake for her Christian beliefs, not a common practice during Roman times. But, as with most legends, the story is often more important than the facts.
In her honor the courtyard in the cloister next door is always stocked with 13 white geese who have a small pool to glide across. They occupy a lovely, quiet patio with lush greenery and an even lovelier fountain. It is one of the few places in the bustling Barri Gotic that is as quiet as a church, as the saying goes.
Be sure not to leave without visiting the roof for a spectacular view of Barri Gotic and surrounding Barcelona. To arrive, take the metro to Jaume I or Liceu.