Raval is not exactly that Barcelona most of the first-time travelers expect to see. It lacks Art Nouveau extravaganza of Eixample; narrow streets here don’t radiate medieval charm of El Born; and cracked and faded facades are nowhere as lovable as those, sun-lit and bright, of Barceloneta.
Just several years ago, tourists shun the neighborhood – historically a cradle of immigrant population, the area at some point had become notorious for booming crime rates, drug dealing and prostitution. Many of those who rambled the streets of Raval, simply got lost on the way back from nearby La Rambla.
Back in the Middle Ages, Raval still lay in the outskirts of the city; in fact, the origin of the name comes from Arabic “rabadan”, meaning suburbs. For many centuries, the neighborhood was poorly inhabited; wayfarers would cross over the streets of Raval, particularly Carrer del Carme and del Hospital, and proceed into the city itself. Religious and healthcare institutions were built in abundance; there were also marketplaces (later some of them would unite to become the famous La Boqueria market) and gardens. But it was not until the 19th century when Raval started to flourish.
Industrialization brought to Raval textile and leather manufacturers; and the neighborhood quickly attracted thousands of workers. At first they came from remote corners of Barcelona, but as the whole country was hit by immigration wave, Raval’s population became multinational. An American journalist, who visited Raval in the 1920s, nicknamed it Barrio Chino (“Chinatown”) – even today, some recognize Raval by this name.
In the 1970s Raval saw an increase in crime rates; historic monuments lay half-ruined, and few public places did not stand a chance next to the thriving cultural scene in the rest of the city. Who knows where Raval would be by now if it were not for the efforts of its faithful locals and the City Council’s plan of restructuring the territory.
Raval is a brand new space today, with just as much entertainment as the neighboring Gothic Quarter. Contemporary art and popular culture roaring at the MACBA (the Contemporary Art Museum of Barcelona) and CCCB (Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona); vintage shopping centered on the streets of Carrer de Tallers and Carrer de La Riera Baixa; and some of the city’s trendiest bars and clubs lined along Carrer de Joaquín Costa, Carrer del Doctor Dou, and most importantly, glowing at night Rambla del Raval – and it certainly does not end here.
Metro: Liceu (line 3) & Sant Antoni (line 2)