Open-air stage for strollers, tourists and pickpockets - the crumbling charm of Barcelona's most famous boulevard.
Even when the promenade is only a little of a kilometre in length, this short street between the Plaça de Catalunya and the harbour reveeals the many faces of the city, where you can feel Barcelona's atmosphere and rhythm, its history and its future. A colourful stream of people is constantly in evidence on the Rambla. Car horns, birdsong and the scent of flowers, housewives, bustling office workers wearing stressed expressions, street musicians, culture vultures, opera lovers, tourists, the homeless, prostitutes, fortune tellers and pickpockets (be very careful when it's crowded): the Rambla is both a stage and a grandstand. The traffic is chaotic on both sides of the tree-lined strip with its portrait painters, newspaper, flower and bird vendors, but waiters wend their way through it acrobatically, balancing their trays. On the Rambla you can see people working, looking, rushing, strolling, selling, stealing, dealing, flirting, organising art exhibitions, ripping off tourists, and celebrating wins by FC Barcelona. Historic buildings stand beside dilapidated hotels and luxurious accommodation, Modernist palaces and Art Nouveau shops alongside tasteless fast food outlets and kitschy souvenir shops. Built in a dried-out river bed, and outside the city walls until the 18th century, monasteries and schools once stood here. It was only in the 19th century that the Rambla became a grand boulevard on which Barcelona's aspirational bourgeoisie lived and flourished. This street has seen civil war crossfire, anarchists laying bombs, aristocrats visiting the Liceu opera house - and afterwards the Meublés at the lower end of the Ramblas, which is still home to prostitution and petty crime. The promenade perfectly reflects the opposing traits that define the Catalan character: "seny" and "rauxa". While the upper part (looking from Plaça de Catalunya in the direction of the harbour) tends to be dominated by practical common sense ("seny"), the lower section (from the Placa del Teatre in the direction of the harbour) is ruled by unbridled passion ("rauxa").