Virtual Barcelona – District 1, El Carrer del Bisbe

November 27, 2012

A4 landscape format, 150gm Daler-Rowney sketchbook. Quinacridone Gold and Permanent Magenta, Winsor & Newton watercolours.

Pont neogotic entre el Palau de la Generalitat i la Casa dels Canonges.

This is a new series devoted to Barcelona, Spain – a form of “armchair” urban sketching since the sketching will be drawn from photographs. With 120 pages in the sketchbook, I want to cover not just the many UNESCO heritage buildings or the many radical buildings of architect Gaudi and other moderns from early last century, but touching as well on everyday life in this very vibrant city. I want to work through the city’s ten districts at the rate of several double-page spreads per district and today start with District 1, the Barrio Gotico, the city’s oldest and quite close to the harbour area.

The view is the Carrer del Bisbe or “Bishop’s Street”, a narrow street dividing the Canon’s Residence (Barcelona’s cathedral is next door) and the Provincial Council building, the Diputacion. It is apparently one of the original Roman streets, given that the Roman walled city sat diamond-shaped with gates at each point of the compass (the Western gate at Placa Nueva and the eastern gate at Placa del Berenguer el Grande). This quarter is now closed to vehicular traffic, like most historic city centres in Spain and Italy. Gothic buildings were installed in the 13-15th centuries on a 4th century basilica and a palace of Christian Visigoths, themselves built on traces of the original Roman settlement after foundation of a port called Barca by the Phoenicians. I’m unsure about the relationship between Carrer del Bisbe and Carrer Obispo Inurita, but street musicians enliven these narrow alleys, especially in the late afternoon.

A neogothic (1883-1895) , covered gallery, over a star-vaulted arch, spans Bishop’s Street (also called Caller Obispo Inurita in some sources) to link the Diputacion (Palau de la Generalitat, the seat of Catalan Government) building with the canon’s residence, the Casa dels Canonges. Reflecting the rather confused identity of this area, this bridge was built in 1928 bridge by Joan Rubio, student of Gaudi and is a more elaborate version of a very similar one in the Jewish quarter in Toledo. Literally around the next corner at El Call is the old Jewish quarter of Barcelona, the subject of my next sketch.

References – The vehicular camera taking Google Maps street view can’t go down either this Caller or the other narrow pedestrian-only lanes in the adjacent Jewish quarter. The street view does however provide wonderful visual context by showing the Placa de S. Jaime at the Caller’s eastern end and the road, El Caller Ferran, leading down to the Rambla a few blocks away to the south. You get a real sense of just how “closed up” the Gothic quarter is – narrow streets, dark from the tall stone buildings and almost sun-less.

Spain. Michelin green guide, 1974. I wouldn’t go anywhere overseas without the relevant green Michelin guide!


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