Carrer Montcada is the finest medieval street in Barcelona. Laid out relatively wide and straight, back when narrow and crooked was the norm, it was the result of some savvy 12th-century property speculation: in 1148 Count Ramón Berenguer IV granted the land (then outside the city walls) to a rich merchant named Guillem Ramón de Montcada in return for financing the reconquest of Tortosa.
Montcada laid out the street and sold lots to nine of his best mates, all merchant tycoons, and they created a medieval Millionaires’ Row. The presence of so much big money along Montcada led directly in 1166 to the founding of the correus volants (literally, ‘flying runners’). These early Catalan pony express riders, the Troters, were headquartered at the northern end of the street, by the tiny Romanesque chapel of Santa María d’en Marcús, where they would be blessed before setting out. The correus would eventually become the correos, the Spanish postal service.
In the 15th to 17th centuries, the descendants of the first tycoons enlarged and rebuilt their palaces right up to the edge of the street, turning it into a canyon. Most of their Gothic embellishments have disappeared, but lovely interior courtyards remained intact. In the 19th century, when money and fashion moved away, the street fell into rapid decline; in 1930 an organization was founded to safeguard it, and in 1947 it was classed as a national monument. Fashion began to trickle back with the opening of the Picasso Museum in 1963: today nearly all the palaces contain museums, galleries or bars, making Montcada one of the liveliest and artiest streets in town.
Carrer Moncada's highlights include the Picasso, at No. 15-23, occupying the most beautiful of the palaces, the 15th-century Palau Aguilar with a courtyard designed by Marc Safont, as well as the adjacent Baró de Castellet and Meca palaces. Just opposite at Nos. 12-14 the Gothic Palau Nadal houses the Museum of World Cultures.
One Gothic mansion was overhauled in the 17th century to create the Palau Dalmases at No. 20, the finest Baroque palace in Barcelona; the woven metal brackets on its façade once held torches. Today its massive wooden door hides the beautiful courtyard and lavish Espai Barroc bar—if you plump for a very expensive drink, don’t miss the flamboyant stair in the courtyard, sculpted with the Rape of Europa, Neptune and Amphitrite.
Four gargoyles mark the 16th-century Palau dels Cervelló (No. 25). In the 18th-century, street-facing windows were covered with pretty wooden latticework to allow air and light in while keeping the nosy at bay; the one at No.21 is the last to survive.
Near the end of Carrer Montcada, seek out the Carrer de les Mosques, the ‘street of flies’ and the narrowest in the city (it's only 40 inches wide). Originally vendors in the Born market stored their fruit and vegetables here, creating quite a ‘buzz’ on hot days, as did the street’s more recent use as a public convenience – until local residents had it closed off.
metro: Jaume I
Image by Kippelboy, Creative Commons License