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Avinguda del Paral·lel is one of Barcelona’s most popular and best-known streets. Designed by Ildefons Cerdà, as part of his plan for the city’s expansion, Paral·lel links the port with the iconic Plaza Espanya.
While the city’s residents have always referred to the street as “el Paral·lel” because of its geographic trajectory coincident with the Circles of Latitude, the avenue has had various official names throughout history. Initially, it was called Avenida del Marqués del Duero, in homage to the military hero and political figure Manuel Gutiérrez, for his crucial role in the Bourbon Restoration. During the Second Spanish Republic, in 1932, it was renamed Avinguda de Francesc Layret, for the Catalanist politician assassinated in 1920. Upon the conclusion of the Spanish Civil War, in 1939, the avenue recovered its original name once again. Then, in 1979, the City Hall approved the name Avinguda del Paral·lel, which it continues to go by today.
Paral·lel was officially opened in 1894, shortly after the demolition of the city’s medieval walls. Interestingly, a piece of the wall, and the gate at Portal de la Santa Madrona, built in the 15th century, can still be observed at the foot of the avenue.
One of the Paral·lel’s defining characteristics is its plethora of theatres and entertainment venues. In the early 20th century, el Paral·lel was to Barcelona what Montmartre is to Paris; or the West End to London; or Broadway to New York. El Molino, an emulation of Paris’s Moulin Rouge, opened in 1910. The parisian cabaret was owned, oddly enough, by Josep Oller, a Catalan then living in the French capital. The avenue’s other major landmarks include the three imposing chimneys still standing from a long-defunct power plant, which has now been converted into a playground and office building.
The stroll along el Paral·lel from the port to Plaza Espanya is an illuminating and symbolic journey through Barcelona’s history from the Middle Ages to the 21st century. The avenue begins right beside the Drassanes building. These shipyards were constructed in 1285 to build the fleet of the King of Aragon, the most powerful fleet in the Mediterranean at that time. Further up the road, just behind Hotel Barcelona Universal, stands the Sant Pau del Camp monastery, which was first founded in the countryside outside the city walls. The building is perhaps the best example of Roman architecture in Barcelona. It was erected in 911 and later rebuilt in 1114, following an Arab siege.
The unique Molino building sits further up the avenue, with its iconic windmill and LED wall, the latter added in a 2010 restoration project to update and fulfill the focus on arts and entertainments that the site began a century earlier. And towards Plaza Espanya, we find the pavilions of the Fira de Barcelona, built in 1929 to host the International Exposition, as well as the National Palace and the Magical Fountain. The final historical site on the tour through el Paral·lel is the renovated Plaza de Toros de las Arenas, which dates from 1900 and has recently been converted into a shopping center.
- Magical Fountains of Montjuïc: Officially opened for the World Fair of 1929, these colorful and musical fountains were designed by architect Carles Buigas.
- Pueblo Español: Also built for the 1929 World Fair, this complex is a convincing reproduction of the plazas and buildings typical in villages all over the Spanish peninsula.