Las Ramblas

Gothic Quarter
Barcelona, Spain

Contributed by Project for Public Spaces

This series of pedestrian-oriented boulevards is so much a part of Barcelona that Spaniards coined a name for its users: "Ramblistas."

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Why It Works

A tremendous variety of eateries, shops, markets, and cultural institutions can be found here, along with a huge number of pedestrians and people-watchers. About 1.5 kilometers long, Las Ramblas are really a sequence of three pedestrian-oriented street/boulevards. Its central pedestrian promenade is unique in many respects, not the least being its agreeable aesthetics (which come from its pleasant proportions, relative to adjacent development). Landscaping and provision of ample seating are two other big plusses.

The street is lined with five-to-seven-story buildings, street-level display windows, and many entrances. The central walkway is, on average, 60 feet wide; sidewalks are usually less than 10 feet wide, encouraging walking in the center. A row of trees separates the central walkway from automobile traffic - two lanes on either side (plus one parking lane). Pedestrians have precedence: Cars are relegated to narrow shoulder-lanes and must at every turn accommodate pedestrians, who are free of intersections in the central promenade.

Therefore, pedestrian traffic is always high, partly because of the area's 24-hour attractiveness and partly because of the mixture of activities; regardless of the time of day, there is something to do. A huge number of different enterprises are in operation here - traditional retail, specialized vending, kiosk sales, markets and exchanges, fairs and exhibitions, seat rental, shoe-shining, eateries and pubs, entertainment, etc. There are also a number of museums and cultural institutions.

What Makes Las Ramblas a Great Place?

Major thoroughfare connecting central city plazas with waterfront by way of Gothic quarter; extraordinary pedestrian access from central promenade; walkable along entire length (less than one mile); excellent Metro access.

The proportion of street given over to pedestrians is quite pleasing, as is the harmony between street width, building height, landscaping, and intensity of usage. A mix of activities promotes diverse image and flexible character; Las Ramblas are seen as Barcelona's characteristic, most important, and best streets.

Pedestrian promenade and sitting area for people-watching, discussions, entertainment, etc.; retail and market space; exhibition space, festivals, bazaars, demonstrations. Restaurants, eateries, bars; cultural institutions, museums, monuments (Columbus statue, Canaletas fountain)

Convivial mixed-use retail/eating/entertainment area promotes sociability between users. Ample seating is provided along central promenade (benches, planters), with additional seating in vicinity of cafes and restaurants. Comfortable atmosphere promotes social contact; Ramblas have reputation as forum for interaction. Diversity of uses helps ensure a diversity of people.

History & Background

Las Ramblas are rich in tradition and history. The Font de Canaletas, an old iron fountain at the beginning of the promenade, has an associated legend: all those who drink from it are truly of Barcelona. The monument of Columbus at the waterfront end speaks to Spain's glorious imperial days. And the Ramblas itself, including the Placa de Catalunya at its head, has a secure and storied reputation as a center of high society, debate and discussion, and people-watching - so much so that it has actually entered the Spanish vocabulary: a "ramblista" is one who saunters along the Ramblas, perhaps making a day of it.

What is now Las Ramblas used to be a riverbed; a wall there marked the limits of medieval Barcelona. By the 15th century Barcelona had expanded past this wall, and the character of the Ramblas changed. In the late 18th century, construction began on the characteristic central pedestrian promenade, which replaced a section of the city wall. By 1856, all remnants of the old city wall had been torn down and Las Ramblas, by then Barcelona's main thoroughfare, looked much as it does today.

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