In the middle of the frenetic buzz of a tourist Barcelona, among terraces full of paella, the constant flashes from those who visit it and the quick steps from those who inhabit it, we find certain premises of peace, little spaces of quietness in the middle of the urban speed. One of these places is a small gothic church. The Basilica of Santa Maria del Pi.
We are in front of a church with a Catalan gothic style, built with stones from Montjuïc. It was built during the XIV century, started up in 1379 after a provision from the king Pere IV from Aragó, even if the first documentation is found in 987, placed from the south gate of the roman Cardus of Barcino. It is believed, that on the IV century a small chapel already existed (probably of roman style), around which one of the first suburbs of the city outside the walls, named Vila Nova del Pi, was established.
In the inside we find a hall church, which means that it is not configured by central-lateral naves, but by an only nave surrounded by chapels. This gives a feeling of lightness and spaciousness. Another aspect to be highlighted is the central rose window, from the XIV century but destroyed during the fire of 1936 and rebuilt by Josep Maria Jujol following the style of the monasteries of Sant Cugat and Pedralbes.
The walls are thick and heavy, with not much decoration but very svelte, as it is the style of that time. Furthermore, it is a fortified construction, mainly for the big walls and the bell tower (from the XVI century), built following the model of the tower keeps from the lordly castles, because of the probable incursions and sieges to the city. In addition, it suffered serious deteriorations during the history of the city, particularly during the siege of the War of the Spanish Succession of 1714.
The defensive use of the bell towers was very common thanks to its height, which made them appropriate as vigilance towers, and the bells themselves, used to warn the citizens. Examples that show us very clear this rather military aspect of the building are the embrasures that we find as we go up through the interior of the bell tower. This is a 54 meters tall construction of octagonal form, with several rooms in every floor of its body.
In the center of each of the floors we find a central oculus that served –and serves– to transport different elements. The whole ensemble is crowned by a small terrace from which we can see Barcelona from every angle, thus giving a complete vision of the city and its surroundings to the guards of that time, and giving us a fantastic vision of the main architectonical elements of the city.
Santa Maria del Pi belongs to Barcelona, to the inhabitants of this city, which gathers, together with them, a big part of the history of the region. It is common to see how religious buildings acquire a civil or even a military touch, and the other way around. The utilitarian and quotidian part of defense and health has always intertwined the architecture, the buildings and the society around which they live. Examples of that are found everywhere. There is a tight bond between the buildings and its surroundings, the city where they are and the people that surrounds them, the ones they live with. This is the reason why if we focus on the buildings that we see around us we are able to see small details, elements that reflect this history, the test of time, facts and events. And not only this, but also the footprint of the people, the utility and the need to be part, like another gear, of the society, of the people, of us.
Post and photos by Guiomar Sánchez
Translated by Raül Gil
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