The Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar dominates the Born area of the Ciutat Vella. It is arguably the best example of Catalan Gothic architecture in Barcelona, although it was not the first religious building to occupy this site.
As early as 998, there is mention of a church by the sea, unsurprising since the well documented link between Christianity and seafaring folk. Construction of the current building began in 1329 (a foundation stone laid by King Alfonso IV of Aragon can be seen by the Fossar de les Moreres square) and was completed in 1383. All the local guilds were involved and the craftsmanship is impressive. A nod to the effort needed during construction can be seen on the main doors, where we see the porters who carried the stone to the site.
The layout follows the classic ‘basilica’ format. Three aisles combine to create a single space. Following the ‘ad quadratum‘ system, the side aisles are exactly half the width of the central nave, which by the way, due to the placement of the columns makes Santa Maria del Mar the widest of any Gothic church in Europe. The feeling of space and light inside is down to the clever design (the width and height are equal) and the numerous stain glass windows including the impressive Rose Window (1459). If you look carefully at one near the altar, you will even find the F.C. Barcelona emblem in one of the panes!
It is a little known fact that Catalan organ building gained a major reputation during the 18th century and Santa Maria del Mar was home to two. The ‘Great’ Organ first played on Christmas Day 1797 and the ‘Smaller’ Organ which dated back to 1495. Unfortunately both instruments no longer exist as they were destroyed by fire at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. The current model, ‘nicked’ from a convent near Vic, dates from 1730 and one supposes has a couple of fire extinguishers close by! Suffering destruction is common place at religious sights but on the 19th July 1936 when Santa Maria del Mar was set on fire it was horrific. Burning for eleven days straight, it wasn’t just the organs that were done for. The magnificent baroque altar and all the images and historical archive were also all destroyed. Only the walls, columns and a few of the stained glass windows on the upper level were spared.
There are various guided tour options, including a visit to the roof of the church. Until recently it was free to visit the interior, but now there are various charges depending on the day and the time (it is still free to join an actual service) Despite this we highly recommend you pop by and have a look!