I stepped outside at 8:45 in the morning. Outside, the streets are alive with people. The first thing I notice are the children – the streets were filled with little ones going to school. As I closed the door behind me and stepped onto the street, two little Pakistani girls walk by accompanied by their mother; the girls were singing Barça´s anthem as loud as they could. I smile as their childish “Barça! Barça!” recede into the distance. Welcome to the Raval.
On the post below, my friend Regina asked whether the Raval is in Barcelona or if it’s another town. So here’s a little history of this neighbourhood west of the Ramblas.
The red line on the map shows the outlines of the old Roman & medieval town of Barcelona. To the left is the Raval and to the right is the trendy area known as the Born. In 1800 most of the Raval was made of small farms located just outside the town walls and a few buildings that go back to the Middle Ages like the hospital on C/ del Carme – which now houses an art school, the Biblioteca de Catalunya, the Institute of Catalan Studies, and a medical school – and the Royal Shipyards on the southern part of the neighbourhood, near the water.
With the nineteenth-century industrial revolution, many textile plants were opened in the area and the immigrants poured in from around the world. The Raval quickly became known as Barrio Chino in reference to the problematic parts of San Francisco’s Chinatown. The neighbourhood was very seedy, dirty and densely populated, making it a prime spot for many epidemics during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Drugs and prostitution characterized what was then known as the darkest side of Barcelona.
Like most parts of Barcelona, the 1992 Summer Olympics had a great impact on the area. The police cracked down and dismantled the drug rings and cleaned the neighbourhood of its prostitutes (a few sites still survive) and the area has been gentrified greatly in the past decade. It’s still rough around the edges and remains the area of Barcelona with the largest proportion of immigrants, particularly from Pakistan, North Africa & the Philipines. 80% of children at the local school are immigrants.
Maybe that’s why it reminds me so much of Toronto’s Kensington Market, which is also a neighbourhood created by many waves of immigrants and despite recent attempts to gentrify it, it continues to have a character and style all of its own. That’s sort of what attracts me to the Raval. There’s an energy in the air that is unique to the place. If one looks past the seedy streets with its graffiti and suspicious stairwells, one sees that this is perhaps the one neighbourhood in Barcelona where children still play unsupervised on the streets. “Este és otro mundo” (this is another world), says Nuria Aparecido, of the Fundación Tot Raval, a neighbourhood organization. I can’t wait to be part of it, even if it’s just for two months…
De la historia del Raval a la historia del mundo – the outline of a very interesting project assigned to a grade 6 class of a school in the Raval. The objective is to learn a little bit more about the history of the world by discovering the history of the Raval
Short history of the area (in Spanish)
We are moving to the Raval this weekend. Our rental contract is up on March 1st and since it’s not worth renewing it for another two months, which would have cost us another month of rent just to sign the paperwork, we’ll be moving in with our friends Jackie & Sebastian. I should be interesting to live in the old city for a while… Besides, I really like the diversity and energy of the Raval. It reminds me a bit of Kensington market in Toronto.
We’ve mailed a couple boxes to Canada this week but I think we’ll have to mail a few more before we leave on May 2nd. It’s amazing how much stuff one can accumulate in 11 months!!