While most get caught up in Gaudí’s wonders, there’s another layer to Barcelona, one that predates the Sagrada Família by a good few millennia.
If, like me, you find yourself fascinated by ancient columns and centuries-old tales, then you’re in luck. Barcelona’s Roman ruins aren’t always at the top of most tourists’ must-do lists, but they should definitely be – especially as many of them are hiding in plain sight!
As someone who’s made Spain their home and often found themselves wandering Barcelona’s alleys, I’ve got the lowdown on all the Roman remnants of ancient history in the Catalonian capital. Keep reading to find out just how to discover more of this incredibly interesting part of Barcelona’s past.
If you’re looking for a great tour that will show you the highlights of Barcelona’s Roman ruins and other interesting points in the city’s history, I definitely recommend this Old Town and Gothic Quarter Walking Tour.
You’ll be taken to the best Roman ruins in the city, while hearing stories about this time and the centuries that have followed. For history buffs, it’s a must.
Roman Ruins in Barcelona
If you’re keen to explore ancient history in person, Barcelona has plenty to offer you. With a range of Roman ruins in Barcelona still standing, scattered throughout the oldest part of the city, there are plenty of opportunities for you to discover just what the city was like in its early days more than 2,000 years ago.
In fact, you can get an idea of what the city would have looked like at that time from this video.
1. The Roman Wall and Gates
The Roman Wall was originally constructed in the late 3rd and early 4th centuries AD. It was built during a period when cities across the Roman Empire were reinforcing their defenses.
Barcelona, then known as Barcino, was no exception. This wall was meant to protect the city against potential invasions and other external threats and so, for many years, it served as the primary defensive structure of Barcino.
Spanning a significant portion of what is now the Gothic Quarter, the Roman Wall was an impressive structure. Made mostly of large ashlars (square-cut stones) bound together with mortar, the wall was built to last. Turrets and watchtowers were also strategically placed, offering soldiers vantage points to guard the city.
The Roman Wall and Gates are the biggest Roman ruins in Barcelona that are still standing, and remain a testament to the city’s rich history. The walls were built during the Roman Empire to protect the city from invaders.
Today, while a lot of the original wall has been obscured or replaced due to urban developments, key sections still remain. You can find these remnants interspersed among newer buildings and narrow alleys of the Gothic Quarter (and I’ll get to some of the best spots to find these below).
These preserved sections stand as silent witnesses to Barcelona’s rich past. They give us an idea of the city’s layout during Roman times and its strategic importance in the region.
Walking beside these portions of the Roman Wall today offers a surreal experience. The contrast between the ancient stones and the surrounding modern structures invites reflection.
That’s especially the case when you consider that these remnants have seen centuries of change, from the fall of the Roman Empire to the bustling days of medieval trade and the modern age.
FYI: While the Roman ruins in Barcelona are impressive, the nearby city of Tarragona takes things to another level.
As the oldest Roman settlement in Spain and arguably the best preserved, anyone interested in the history of Ancient Rome in Spain shouldn’t miss visiting here.
This Tarragona and Sitges Day Trip from Barcelona is truly a fantastic way to see everything – without the hassle of having to organize anything yourself!
2. Roman Ruins at Plaça Nova
Barcelona is a city where the ancient and modern coalesce seamlessly, and the Plaça Nova stands as an emblematic illustration of this. Located in the heart of the city, adjacent to the renowned Barcelona Cathedral, Plaça Nova offers more than just the typical vibrancy of a European square.
Plaça Nova, historically, was an integral part of the Roman city of Barcino. Because of this, the square (and running down Carrer de la Palla) is flanked by remnants of the Roman Wall, which once delineated the boundaries of ancient Barcelona.
But what makes this square even more of a draw for history enthusiasts are the two prominent Roman towers guarding an entrance to the old city. These towers, known as the Barcelona Roman Towers (so imaginative, I know…), served as defensive structures.
Each tower, built in the fourth century A.D., has a distinct archway at its base, and these arches were actually once part of the aqueduct system that channeled water into Barcino. In fact, you can still see the grooves and channels within these arches, bearing testament to their initial utility.
It was also right here where people (and their carriages) once entered Barcino as they approached from the north through the main gate known as Porta Praetoria. You can follow this route by going up what is now Carrer del Bisbe, which used to be Decamanus Maximus, one of the two main streets in Barcino.
Over the centuries, as the city evolved, these towers underwent various transformations. They’ve been integrated into newer structures, been subjected to renovations, and have even served different purposes, including as gatehouses.
Now, as you stroll through Plaça Nova, it’s hard to miss these ancient towers, standing solemnly amidst cafes, art vendors, and the occasional street performance. They offer a stark contrast to the bustling activities around, a reminder of the city’s resilience and its capacity to adapt and grow.
And if you time your visit right, the square adjacent to these towers often hosts archaeological exhibitions, where you can see excavated artifacts from the Roman era. These items, ranging from pottery shards to ancient coins, further paint a vivid picture of life in Barcino.
3. Temple of Augustus, Barcelona
Amidst the vibrant backdrop of Barcelona’s modern life, the Temple of Augustus stands as a silent testament to the city’s deep-rooted past, offering an intriguing glimpse into the bygone era of Roman Barcino.
The Temple of Augustus, believed to have been constructed in the 1st century BC, was dedicated to the Roman Emperor Augustus. It was strategically positioned on the city’s highest point, Mont Tàber, which provided a panoramic view of the surroundings (although, today, you’ll barely even realize you’ve walked slightly uphill to get here).
This temple, in its prime, was a symbol of the imperial might of Rome and its dominion over the Iberian Peninsula. As a classic Roman edifice, it was characterized by Corinthian columns and a podium.
The structure, originally adorned with ornate carvings and statues, was made primarily of local sandstone. The temple’s design mirrored the architectural grandeur prevalent during the Roman Empire’s zenith.
While the temple itself has long vanished into the annals of history, four of its impressive columns still remain. These towering pillars, each over 9 meters in height, are preserved within the Centre Excursionista de Catalunya building on Carrer Paradís.
The sheer size of these columns hints at the temple’s original magnificence. It’s almost surreal to think that these structures, which now reside inconspicuously within a medieval courtyard, were once part of a majestic Roman temple overlooking the Roman Forum.
There are also informative plaques that provide visitors with insights into the temple’s history, its architectural nuances, and its significance in ancient Barcino. Occasionally, there are guided tours and lectures that further enhance the understanding of this historical monument, so check this out if you’re interested.
4. Roman Necropolis in Plaça de la Vila de Madrid
Tucked away from the main tourist trails, yet just a stone’s throw from the more frequented Plaça de la Vila de Madrid, lies a space that offers a profound connection to Barcelona’s Roman roots: the Roman Necropolis.
The Roman Necropolis was active between the 1st and 3rd centuries AD. It was situated outside the walls of Barcino, as per Roman customs that mandated burials to be conducted outside city limits.
This age-old burial ground was discovered quite serendipitously during urban excavations in the 1950s, revealing a significant facet of the city’s ancient history.
It’s home to over 70 tombs, which are primarily arranged along the sides of what was once a Roman road leading out of Barcino. This road, known to historians as the “Via Sepulcral Romana,” played a dual role – it was both a thoroughfare and a resting place for the departed.
The graves vary in their design and grandiosity, reflecting the socioeconomic diversity of Roman Barcino. From simple cremation pits to elaborate mausoleums, the range of burial practices offers insights into the customs, beliefs, and hierarchies of ancient Roman society.
Today, the Roman Necropolis exists as an open-air museum. It’s a serene enclave in the heart of the bustling city, with well-preserved tombs set against manicured green patches.
Informative signboards pepper the site, providing visitors with a context for each grave and its significance. In addition, an adjacent interpretative center showcases artifacts unearthed from the site, including funerary urns, inscriptions, and personal belongings of the deceased. These items serve as tangible links to the individuals who once called Barcino home.
5. Museu d’Història de Barcelona (MUHBA)
The Museu d’Història de Barcelona, fondly referred to by locals as MUHBA, is a treasure trove for history enthusiasts, especially if you’ve got a soft spot for Roman remains. Situated in the heart of Barcelona, the museum stretches underground, unveiling the ancient layers of the city.
The Roman part of the museum uncovers the remains of Barcino, the Roman name for Barcelona. Here, you can walk on the original Roman streets, discover ancient homes, and even see the remnants of old laundry shops and dyeing facilities.
It’s genuinely quite an experience to literally descend into the past and get an up-close look at how Romans lived in this part of the world. Honestly, a visit to MUHBA is a bit like time-travel, and it provides a broader understanding of Barcelona’s transformation from ancient Barcino to the vibrant city it is today.
6. Domus Avinyó (Roman House)
In the intricate maze of Barcelona’s historic district, where every corner holds a tale, the Domus Avinyó stands as a portal to a distant Roman past. Located near the bustling La Rambla, this archaeological site invites visitors to delve into the everyday lives of ancient Barcino’s inhabitants.
The Domus Avinyó, also known as the House of Avinyó, was a Roman residence dating back to the 1st century AD. Its prime location near the sea and the city center indicates that it might have belonged to an affluent family of Barcino.
This domus, like many Roman residences, was centered around a courtyard or atrium. The remnants unearthed hint at a well-planned structure, complete with living areas, service rooms, and ornate mosaics.
Particularly noteworthy is a beautifully preserved mosaic floor, showcasing intricate geometric patterns – a testament to the aesthetic sensibilities of the era.
While only a fragment of the original Domus Avinyó remains, the site is complemented by interpretative panels and virtual reconstructions that provide a vivid glimpse into Roman domestic life. It lets you almost visualize the inhabitants going about their daily routines, against the backdrop of Barcino’s bustling streets.
7. Domus of Sant Honorat (Roman House)
A stone’s throw away from the more frequented Roman sites, the Domus of Sant Honorat offers another layer of insight into ancient Barcino’s urban fabric. Located within the Gothic Quarter, this archaeological site paints a picture of domestic life during Roman times.
The Domus of Sant Honorat dates back to the 4th century AD. Like many Roman homes, it was designed to provide both comfort and functionality for its residents.
Its longevity indicates that it was in use for several centuries, undergoing various modifications as the city around it evolved.
Among the remnants of this domus, the highlight is undoubtedly its thermal baths. These baths, with their well-defined sections for hot and cold plunges, highlight the Roman emphasis on hygiene and leisure.
Additionally, fragments of decorative frescoes and mosaic floors hint at the opulence and artistic inclinations of the house’s inhabitants.
Today, while the Domus of Sant Honorat isn’t as expansive as some other Roman sites in Barcelona, it does provide an intimate perspective on daily life in ancient times. Interactive panels and augmented reality tools offer visitors a chance to reconstruct the home in their imaginations, bridging the gap between the past and the present.
8. Museu d’Arqueologia de Catalunya (MAC)
The Museu d’Arqueologia de Catalunya, or MAC, offers an expansive overview of Catalonia’s archeological finds from various epochs. And, for anyone interested in Barcelona’s Roman ruins, the section dedicated to Ancient Rome is particularly interesting.
It houses a wide range of artifacts, from intricate mosaics and sculptures to everyday tools and pottery, painting a detailed picture of Roman life in Catalonia. One standout exhibit showcases a collection of Roman gravestones, each telling its own silent story of the people who once lived here.
The MAC does a great job contextualizing these artifacts, making it easier to grasp the Roman influence on Barcelona and Catalonia’s broader region. If you’re on the hunt for a comprehensive view of how Rome left its mark on this corner of Spain, MAC should definitely be on your itinerary.
9. Roman Forum at Plaça de Sant Jaume
Plaça de Sant Jaume is today primarily recognized as the administrative heart of Barcelona, However, the square holds remnants of its Roman past that beckon those with an interest in history.
Centuries ago, Plaça de Sant Jaume was the epicenter of Roman Barcino. Known as the Forum during Roman times, it was the main public square around which the life of the city revolved.
It was here that the primary administrative, religious, and social activities took place, making it a pivotal point in ancient Barcino. And as mentioned above, it serves effectively the same purpose today!
The most substantial Roman vestige in Plaça de Sant Jaume is the foundation of the Temple of Augustus, as I just went through above. While there’s basically nothing left of the Forum, there is information about it when you tour the Temple of Augustus.
But even if you can’t witness the Forum itself anymore, a visit to Plaça de Sant Jaume is a journey through Barcelona’s multi-faceted history. With the square today standing as a symbol of Catalonian governance and identity, it’s amazing to think that the Ancient
10. Roman Baths and the Door of the Sea, Barcelona
Another example of what Barcelona’s Roman ruins have to offer include two public Roman baths dating from the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D., situated near the city’s entrance gate on the seafront side.
Following the tradition prevalent in other parts of the Roman Empire, one of these baths catered to men, and the other to women. They were originally 1500 m² in size, showing their importance to the city (I mean, can you imagine coming off a ship after several months at that time – no wonder they needed a bath…)
Adjacent to these baths, archaeologists discovered a horreum, a vast underground storage room. This facility stored goods related to the port’s bustling activities, underlining the area’s commercial importance.
In addition, there was a large entrance leading into the horreum, positioned by the city walls. This portal accentuated the prominence of the Door of the Sea, the largest among the city’s four gates. The presence of this monumental entrance suggests the city’s standing as a key trading hub during Roman times.
In fact, the Door of the Sea played a pivotal role in Barcino’s commercial activities. Through this gate streamed merchants and their goods from every corner of the Mediterranean.
Visitors today can still witness a vestige of history at the Pati Llimona building, where a pedestrian side gate and an expansive section of the wall stand preserved.
And for a deeper dive into this historical sector, head over to no. 6, Carrer Regomir. Here, at the Centre Cívic Pati Llimona, you can find information on the archaeological findings of the area and see remains of the original Roman Baths, the second main entry gate to the city, and a stretch of Roman wall.
11. Roman Ruins at Carrer de Duran i Bas
Situated within the bounds of ancient Barcino, Carrer de Duran i Bas has witnessed the ebb and flow of centuries. The street is layered with stories, and beneath its present-day facade, archaeological excavations have unveiled remnants from Roman times, hinting at the bustling activities of this once-strategic Roman colony.
The ruins at Carrer de Duran i Bas primarily suggest residential and perhaps some commercial structures. It’s easy to imagine Roman citizens, draped in their togas, discussing politics, trade, or the latest city gossip as they strolled or conducted business in this area.
Among the unearthed fragments, you can find the layout of what might have been multi-storied Roman domiciles. Typical of Roman urban planning, these structures would have been meticulously designed, balancing functionality with aesthetics.
While Carrer de Duran i Bas now pulsates with modern life, with its cafes, boutiques, and the hum of everyday activities, the Roman imprints remind visitors of the layers of history that have shaped this city. The local government, recognizing the significance of these ruins, has taken steps to preserve them. Plaques and signboards dot the area, offering snippets of information to the curious wanderer.
12. Roman Aqueducts of Barcelona
The Roman aqueducts of Barcelona were primarily constructed during the first few centuries A.D. Their main function was to transport fresh water from nearby rivers and streams to the burgeoning city of Barcino.
These aqueducts were a symbol of Roman engineering expertise, ensuring that even a growing urban populace had a steady water supply. Built using a series of arches that supported elevated channels, these aqueducts relied on gravity to transport water across significant distances.
The precision with which these were built ensured a consistent flow, minimizing leakage and wastage. The large stones, meticulously placed without the use of mortar, have withstood the test of time.
Fortunately, remnants of these aqueducts can still be spotted today. One of the most visible sections can be found near Plaça del Vuit de Març, a subtle reminder of the city’s Roman heritage.
Another fragment is visible at the intersection of Passeig de Sant Joan and Ronda de Sant Pere, standing inconspicuously amidst the urban landscape. Plaça Nova also features a reconstructed section of an aqueduct, to give you an idea of what it may have looked like at that time.
Recognizing the importance of these historical marvels, the city has made efforts to preserve and highlight the surviving sections of the aqueducts. This is why you’ll sometimes see plaques in the area offering passersby a quick history lesson, linking present-day Barcelona to its Roman roots.
13. Plaça Ramon Berenguer
Plaça Ramon Berenguer is one of those spots in Barcelona where the contemporary city meets historical elements. The statue of Ramon Berenguer III stands tall, reminding visitors of Barcelona’s medieval history, while sections of the Roman wall here indicate an even older past.
The square is ideal for those who appreciate a leisurely stroll with a touch of history, while the remnants of the Roman wall, built in the early fourth century A.D., serve as silent reminders of a bygone era.
Head to Carrer de la Tapineria to see where the wall starts. You don’t need to spend long here, but popping by to see this combination of various eras of Barcelona’s history in the one place is worthwhile.
14. Casa de l’Ardiaca
Casa de l’Ardiaca isn’t just another old building. Over the centuries, it’s undergone numerous transformations, each adding layers to its story.
From being a Roman villa to an archdeacon’s residence in medieval times, and even serving as a lawyer’s association in the modern era, the building’s journey is truly noteworthy.
If you have an eye for design, you’ll appreciate the blend of Gothic and Renaissance elements here. The arched doorways and the central courtyard make it feel like you’re stepping into a different era altogether.
As for any Roman enthusiasts, the highlight is definitely the remains of the old Roman wall here. It’s a subtle reminder of how integrated Barcelona’s Roman history is with its cityscape.
15. Carrer del Sots-Tinent Navarro
Walking through Carrer del Sots-Tinent Navarro, you’ll stumble upon an interesting segment of Barcelona’s past. This part of the Roman Wall is a direct continuation from what’s seen in Plaça Ramon Berenguer.
The Romans were known for their architectural prowess, and this wall is a clear indication of their meticulous urban planning.
16. Plaça Traginers
Close to the port, Plaça Traginers offers another glimpse into Barcelona’s Roman heritage. The round Roman tower here is a remnant of the second Roman wall.
Historically, these towers played a significant role in the city’s defense. Spending some time here, it’s easy to imagine how it once functioned and its importance in the broader context of Barcelona’s development.
If you find yourself in the area, it’s a worthwhile stop for those curious about the layers of history that built this city.
Barcelona’s Roman History in the 19th Century and Beyond
Barcelona’s Roman history has been a subject of fascination for centuries. In the 19th century, the city saw a renewed interest in its ancient past, with scholars and enthusiasts alike exploring the ruins of the Roman city of Barcino.
This led to the discovery of many important artifacts and structures, including the Temple of Augustus, which had been lost for centuries.
During this time, Barcelona was also experiencing a cultural and artistic renaissance, with figures such as Joan Brossa and the Art Nouveau movement leaving their mark on the city. However, despite this renewed interest in the past, the Roman ruins of Barcelona were still often overlooked and neglected.
It wasn’t until the latter half of the 20th century that the city began to truly appreciate and preserve its ancient heritage. Today, visitors can explore the extensive remains of the Roman city at sites such as the MUHBA Plaça del Rei, which features over 4,000 square meters of preserved ruins.
It’s important to note that Barcelona’s history extends far beyond its Roman past. The city has been inhabited since prehistoric times and has seen the rise and fall of numerous settlements, from the Jewish community of the Middle Ages to the modern metropolis it is today.
By exploring the city’s rich history, you can gain a deeper appreciation for the many layers of culture and heritage that make Barcelona such a unique place to visit.