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Tucked away in many corners of Barcelona’s Gothic quarter, lay hidden gems waiting for the unsuspecting passerby. Corners that exude old-world charm.
When visiting Barcelona, not all of the vital information is contained in guide books. Off the beaten tracks, there exist numerous treasures to be found. Most of these places are either found by accident or are simply passed by.
One such location is Sant Felip Neri Square nestled in the Gothic Quarter. It represents the very essence of the city yet is rarely visited.
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1. Sant Felip Neri’s Location
Situated amongst Gothic-style buildings and occupying what was once a medieval cemetery, this small square is just a few steps down a tiny side street next to Barcelona’s Gothic Cathedral. Considering the state of the little street, urine-smelling, and dark, it is understandable that most people give it a wide berth. A warren of crisscrossed streets, many of which double back on themselves, make for a confusing and exciting adventure in the old city.
The square does not always appear on maps, making it extra difficult to find. It has two entrances, which can also be confusing at the best of times. It is highly recommendable to visit the plaza twice. Once during the day to appreciate all its crumbling glory and then at night, where the air is still and heavy with magic.
2. Felip Neri’s Special Charm
Walking down the narrow street that leads into the square, the first and most obvious element is the flickering light. All the street lamps down this stretch are gas lights, creating a solemn atmosphere. The alley abruptly ends under an arch, the threshold of the plaza. The impression is absolutely breathtaking. Small and intimate in size, it never the less holds vast amounts of visual information.
Slightly rectangular shaped, it is flanked by several important buildings such as the small, historical shoe museum, the Hotel Neri, apartments, a Baroque-style church, and a school. The center is dominated by a lovely, circular fountain and a very old, very tall tree.
The second element that immediately becomes noticeable is the complete lack of noise. During the day, birds sing, and the fountain tinkles. At night, the soft, muted clink of wine glasses from Hotel Neri’s terrace bar. No traffic, no loud noises, no shouting, a heavy blanket of silence that permeates every corner.
The boutique Hotel Neri has been crucial in lending glamour and decadence to the area. Sipping a glass of wine while sitting out on the terrace serves to heighten the Sant Felip Neri experience. Gazing at the church front, horribly pockmarked and scarred from the Spanish Civil War, the façade which is the crowning glory.
Fact versus Fiction: Sant Felip Neri’s History
Formal history recounts that during the Spanish Civil War, a bomb was dropped into the square, shrapnel spraying out and biting into the church walls. Fair enough, a good explanation and up to this day, continues as the official version. Might this theory be a bit tame, might it a cover-up for more atrocious acts that were possibly committed in this square?
Taking into account the size and shape of the craters, holes, pits, and cavities that the wall contains, the word “bullet holes” springs to mind. Legend tells that the square, due to its secluded location, was used as an execution area. The victims were lined up against the church and shot to death at point-blank range. Do some argue that if this were true, then why are some of the holes so high up on the wall? Many unexplained events occurred during the Spanish Civil War, events that have purposely been erased from memories or simply forgotten. History often has a habit of swallowing certain details.
2. The Gothic Square’s Protagonism
Such mystery and charm mixed in with its possible macabre history have made the plaza quite popular in both books and films. Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s latest book, The Angel’s Game, sees part of the action taking place in this otherwise quiet spot. Large portions of the movie The Perfume, based on Patrick Süskind’s novel, were filmed in Barcelona. Sant Felip Neri played backdrop to the protagonist’s first murder during the film.
3. Gothic Magic and Mystery are the Words
It is possible to sit by the fountain, staring over at the church and imagine the events that took place many years ago—an oasis of calm in a busy, hot city. An atmosphere imbued with magic, even the wind does not dare sigh. The echoes of the victims’ cries waft through the air. The mystery is impregnated in every grain and particle that forms part of this plaza, where time has come to a stand-still, and every breath seems to be bated.
4. Sagrada Familia
This stunning church is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Don’t think that this is a normal church. The stained glass and arches are enough to make this architectural building a delight.
5. Casa Batllo
This amazing house is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. This building by Gaudí is like a work of art. You can book in advance to avoid any queues and enjoy a free digial guide from your phone.
6. Park Guell
This park was built in the early 20th century and is stunning on a summer day. Wonder through the park and take a seat on one of the many benches for a picnic or just to enjoy the scenery.
7. Casa Mila
Built-in an asymmetrical 8 shape, this Antoni Gaudi built apartment block is a wonder in the skyline. Going up on the sky roof is a sight to see too!
8. Casa Vicens
This lush villa is full of beautiful gardens. With Turkish and Oriental influence, this stylish villa has terracotta rooftops and is lovely to walk around.
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9. Poble Espanyol
Poble Espanyol has over 20 shops that sell everything from artisan handbags to jewellery and glass. This beautiful fair gives you a real feel of Spain through the ages from the Castillian buildings to the bright streets of Andalucia.
10. Ciutadella Park
Ciutadella Park is a great place to visit in the summer months. It’s a huge park which is ideal for a picturesque picnic. Make sure that you visit the zoo and the boating lake for some extra afternoon fun.
11. Camp Nou
This historic football stadium gives you a full view of life inside the beautiful game. You can walk on the pitch and expereince the backstage of this amazing building.
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