All around you the Gothic Quarter is alive and breathing. There are hundreds of tourists in front of the Cathedral, buskers play lovely tunes in every corner, music fills the streets from the open doors of the small bars and restaurants and on every street you can find somebody standing in the middle of the road taking photos.
And then you step into the square of Sant Felip Neri. Silence. You’ve been transported to a different place and a different time. This little square is hidden away in the narrow streets of the Gothic Quarter and even with a map it’s hard to find. As you stand in the shade of the trees you soak in the atmosphere. You take in the plaque, the wall with the different coloured bricks and the old eighteenth century church with holes in its wall. You can feel the ghosts around you.
It all suddenly changes when the school’s wooden gate bursts open and the children pour in the square shouting, kicking balls around the square and using you as a hiding place for hide and seek. The ghosts disappear, the sun shines a bit brighter and you try to pick out some words of the Catalan language the children speak around you. A very different atmosphere indeed.
This little square is famous for many things.
A few years back Franco took over Spain and became the military leader of the country. He wanted a united Spain and famously hated Catalans. He wanted to push down their pride, hated their culture and traditions and imprisoned or killed anybody who spoke the Catalan language.
When the civil war broke out he invited some of his good friends to use Spain as a ‘playgound’ for military purposes. Mussolini and Hitler didn’t want to pass the opportunity to try out their air force and bombed Barcelona forcing the city to its knees. A bomb fell on the square of Sant Felip Neri and fell through the ceiling of the shelter killing 42 people, 20 of them children of the school. This is what the plaque commemorates and this is why there are shrapnel holes in the wall of the little baroque church. The wall next to the church has been built up again and that’s why the brick has two different colours.
Franco died in 1976. I was born only 5 years later. If you think about it, it is still very close in time and many people clearly remember it. Against all the efforts Catalonia’s culture, language and tradition have survived and maybe this helps to explain why Catalans are so proud and NEVER fail to show and display their identity.
But I said there are more reasons for this square being famous. According to the stories Gaudí was on his way to the church of Sant Felip Neri when a tram hit him and a few days later he passed away.
And lastly, this was the place where a famous scene of a Woody Allen film was shot in Vicky Christina Barcelona.
Most of the free (and not free) guided tours will take you through here in the Gothic Quarter but if you’d like to find it yourself just put ‘Sant Felip Neri Barcelona’ in Google Map.