The Roman origins of Barcelona

I took advantage of my recent trip to Denmark to make two short layovers in Barcelona. I had two days in total (one day on the way to Denmark, and one day on the return trip). Two days is definitely not enough to discover one of the most popular destinations in Europe. And there is so much to do and see in Barcelona that I was a bit overwhelmed even before I started exploring the city.

So I opted to start it all by visiting the museum on the history of Barcelona. The MUHBA (Museu d’Historia de Barcelona) is located in the Gothic Quarter of the city and focuses on the history of the city, from its Roman origins to the present day. The museum is especially interesting because it was built directly over the Roman archaeological sites of Barcelona.

Barcelona History Museum
Exploring the Roman past of Barcelona

Because yes, the origins of Barcelona go back to Roman times. In fact, although people have inhabited the area since the Neolithic period, it is really in Roman times, under Emperor Augustus, that Barcelona developed as an economic and commercial center. Barcino (the Latin name of the city) was known for its wine and its garum workshops (garum is a fermented fish sauce that was widely used in Roman times).

Barcelona History Museum
The ruins of garum workshops

The MUHBA allows us to explore the ancient Roman city, from its fortifications to its first Christian church. Glass floors allow you to walk over the ruins that were discovered in the early 20th century. You can see the ruins of the old garum workshops (of which there remains the trace of the containers used for the fermentation of fish), shops, streets, walls and even the ruins of an old residence.


In all, it is more than 4,000 square metres of archaeological excavations under the Gothic Quarter that can be explored. The ruins can help us understand better what life was like when Barcelona was called Barcino. Most interpretation signs are available in Catalan, Spanish and English, but audio guides are also available at the entrance.

Barcelona History Museum
Walking on a Roman floor

This trip in time is interesting and above all it is not too crowdy. I only met half a dozen tourists on site, which was surprising when you know how much Barcelona is a very busy tourist destination.

The rest of the museum (which is devoted mainly to the medieval history of Barcelona) is not uninteresting, but it seemed a little bland after the visit of the Roman ruins. In addition, explanations in English are rarer. But the magnificent Santa Agatha chapel that dates from 1302 and that has also been integrated into the museum is worth a look. Especially since I was completely alone there too.

Santa Agata Chapel
All alone in the old chapel

So I left the museum with a little more knowledge about Barcelona and ready to explore the city!


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