In the medieval world, it took many decades to build a single religious edifice (and yes, even longer than it’s taking Sagrada Família so far), and it is hardly a surprise those buildings represent a blend of architectural styles, rather than a unity of one. It was not very uncommon when one architect would create a design, the other – supervise the construction and then, the next one – actually live to see the consecration day.
Barcelona’s Basilica of Santa María del Mar, the heart and soul of the Ribera district, is a completely different story. The construction lasted record 55 years, from 1329 to 1384, and the final result is a magnificent church executed in the pure Catalan Gothic style. The design belongs to Berenguer de Montagut, another prominent architect in charge was Ramon Despuig. However, their plan would have been impossible to realize if it were not for the guilds and brotherhoods of the Ribera district, all of whom were involved in the construction, and most importantly – bastaixos, the city porters, who loaded on their backs the stone required for the building and carried it all the way, across half of the city, from the royal docks in Montjuïc. Their immense help was not left unnoticed – images of them, burdened with the heavy weight, are carved on the doors of the main entrance.
The exterior of the church might appear austere, although it is difficult not to admire slender octagonal towers and a large rose window. The interior, on the other hand, is an epitome of lightness and grace; rib vaults, soaring vertical columns (speaking of Sagrada again – these exact columns served as an inspiration for Gaudi) give an impression of enormous space, and shimmering stained glass allow maximum light to enter and glisten upon almost entirely bare walls.
Unfortunately, due to its location – amidst the narrow alleys of La Ribera – it is impossible to get an overall perspective of the building, and arguably the best views can be achieved from Plaça de Santa Maria or El Fossar de les Moreres. The latter, a former Roman burial site, now features an eternal flame, which also commemorates the memory of the Catalan resistance fighters who were buried here after their defeat in September of 1714.
The square beneath the church is a popular meeting point, and the bars located here are hardly ever empty. Right in front of the main entrance bar La Vinya del Senyor (Plaça de Santa Maria, 5) is an exceptional venue for those who appreciate good wine. The list of wine available per glasses changes every other month, and includes international and rare bottles which are found nowhere else but here. The bar barely has any space inside, but with the outside tables facing the main façade, its terrace is arguably the most romantic location in La Ribera. Also, if you are lucky, try to get the table on the second floor – from here you’ll have even a better look of the church and enjoy privacy and subtle breeze from the window.
Metro: Jaume I (line 4). Bus: 17, 19, 40 and 45.