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Barcelona Gothic

Mark Tungate

Inspired by a cult Spanish bestseller, visitors to Barcelona are shunning brightly lit bars and investigating a more mysterious side of the city.

It’s practically de rigueur these days to arrive in Barcelona clutching a copy of The Shadow of the Wind, the atmospheric bestseller by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. With a rumoured film adaptation in the pipeline, the book has become the Catalan city’s version of The Da Vinci Code.  
Much of the book is set in two labyrinthine areas of the city: the Barri Gotic and, on the other side of the Ramblas, the previously rundown quarter of El Raval. While Barcelona has for some time marketed itself as a vibrant, fashionable city, it now seems to be getting in touch with its darker side. The trend might be termed Catalan Gothic.

A tour of Zafón’s Barcelona begins in Calle Santa Ana, just off the Rambla de Canaletes, where the young hero of The Shadow of the Wind lives above a bookshop with his father. Here you’ll find many remnants of 19th century Barcelona, including one store, which sells fans and other ladies’ accoutrements, with a restored Modernista façade.
Running parallel to Santa Ana, Calle Canuda features dusty antiquarian bookstores stuffed with out-of-print tomes, as well as the sombre edifice of the Ateneo, the Literary Society of Barcelona. Needless to say, with its door knockers in the shape of human hands and its shadowy vaulted courtyard – in which a lamp burns even at midday – the Ateneo is a key location in Zafón’s sepulchral tale.

Turn right at the end of Calle Canuda and you’ll soon stumble into the Gothic quarter itself, dominated by the cathedral. Here, insiders dive off the tourist trail and enter the web of narrow streets around Plaça de St Filip Neri. Obscure curiosity shops, authentic bars and leering gargoyles abound. When you’ve zigzagged your way through this maze – and found yourself back exactly where you started – you’ll be ready for lunch.

© 2011 Mark Tungate
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