Santa Maria del Mar is one of the most unusual Gothic buildings in Barcelona, and indeed in Spain. This basilica, also known as the Naval Church of St. Mary and the Naval Cathedral of Barcelona, is the only surviving church in the style of pure Catalan Gothic.
This unique landmark is located in the La Ribera quarter of Barcelona’s Old Town.
After Alfonso IV Krotkiy won the war with Sardinia in 1324, he decided to build a beautiful temple in Barcelona. And since most of the battles in this war were fought at sea, the cathedral received the corresponding name: Santa Maria del Mar, which means the Naval Cathedral of St. Mary.
In the spring of 1329, King Alfonso IV himself laid a symbolic stone in the foundation of the future cathedral – this is even confirmed by the inscription on the facade of the building, made in Latin and Catalan.
The church of Santa Maria del Mar in Barcelona was built extremely quickly – in just 55 years. The construction pace so incredible for that time is explained by the fact that the residents of the entire La Ribera quarter, which is developing and growing rich due to the marine industry, amicably engaged in construction. The Naval Church of Barcelona was planned as a religious center for ordinary people, so all the inhabitants of La Ribera actively participated in its construction. At the same time, port loaders accomplished almost a feat: they themselves dragged from the quarry on Montjuic all the building stone required for construction. That is why on the doors of the central portal there are metal figures of movers, hunched over under the weight of heavy stone blocks.
In 1379, just before Christmas, a fire broke out, due to which part of the structure collapsed. Of course, this made adjustments and somewhat extended the total construction time, but no more than that: in 1383, the church of Santa Maria del Mar was completed.
The earthquake that occurred in 1428 caused considerable damage to the construction, including the stained-glass window on the west side was destroyed. Already in 1459 the temple was completely restored, a new stained glass outlet appeared instead of the victim.
In 1923, Pope Pius XI awarded the Maritime Church the title of Lesser Papal Basilica.
Architecture Santa Maria del Mar
In the Middle Ages, the construction of such large-scale structures usually took a long time – at least 100 years. It is because of this that many medieval buildings contain elements of various architectural styles. But the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar in Barcelona is an exception. It was built in just 55 years, and now it is the only surviving example in the style of pure Catalan Gothic. The basilica is really distinguished by an amazing unity of style, which is completely unusual for large-scale medieval buildings.
The impressive construction is entirely made of stone, everywhere there are vast planes of walls with a smooth surface and a minimal amount of decor. The main facade is surrounded by stone rims, as if specially grounding a massive stone. The main decoration is a large round rose-shaped stained-glass window located above the main entrance, there are also graceful narrow windows and lancet arches (although there are not many of them at all).
The central portal of the basilica is made in the form of a wide arch with massive wooden doors covered with carvings. On the sides of the arched portal are sculptures of Saints Peter and Paul. There are sculptures on the tympanum: the sitting Jesus, before whom are standing the kneeling Virgin Mary and John the Baptist.
The bell towers of Santa Maria del Mar are quite peculiar: octagonal, they reach only 40 meters in height, and end not with spiers, which is usual for Gothic cathedrals, but with absolutely horizontal tops.
Important! Entrance to the building is accessible for people with reduced mobility.
The impression that is created by contemplating the appearance of the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar does not at all coincide with those feelings that arise within the grandiose structure. It is becoming completely incomprehensible how so much bright space can be behind such heavy and dark stone walls! Although in Spain, and in Europe, there are churches much larger than the Naval Cathedral in Barcelona, there are no more spacious churches. This is paradoxical, but understandable.
Catalan Gothic is characterized by this feature: if the temple is three-naved, then all three naves have almost the same height. For comparison: in almost all European Gothic cathedrals, the height of the side naves is much less than the height of the central, so the volume of the inner space is much less. In the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar, the main nave is 33 meters high, and the side 27 meters are quite close. This is one of the secrets of why a sense of vast space is created inside the structure.
The second part of the solution is the columns. In the basilica of Santa Maria del Mar there are no massive columns, familiar to Gothic temples. Here, octagonal pylons are refined, seemingly too slender for such a large-scale construction. And they are located 13 meters from each other – this is the widest step in all European Gothic churches.
As for the interior decoration, there is no special “chic and shine with bright tinsel”. Everything is strict, restrained and beautiful.
Santa Maria del Mar in Barcelona is located at: Plaça de Santa Maria 1, 08003 Barcelona, Spain.
You can get to the basilica from almost anywhere in Barcelona:
- on a tourist bus, you need to get off at the Pla de Palau stop;
- by metro, yellow line L4, stop Jaume I;
- by city bus number 17, 19, 40 and 45 – stop Pla de Palau.
You can visit the church absolutely free of charge:
- Monday to Saturday inclusive – from 9:00 to 13:00 and from 17:00 to 20:30;
- on Sunday – from 10:00 to 14:00 and from 17:00 to 20:00.
But since this time almost coincides with the time of worship, entrance for tourists may be limited.
Between 13:00 (Sunday from 14:00) to 17:00 you can visit the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar with a guided tour. Guided tours are conducted by church workers in English, Spanish and Catalan. There are several programs, but children under the age of 6 are not allowed on any of them.
During the holidays, the excursion route may be changed, or some excursions may be canceled due to weather conditions. Any changes can be found by visiting the official website of Santa Maria del Mar: https://www.santamariadelmarbarcelona.org/home/.
For children aged 6-8 years, these excursions are free, the remaining categories of visitors should buy a ticket. All income received from excursions goes to restoration work and work aimed at maintaining the state of the basilica.
Climbing to the roof of the structure, tourists can discover all its most intimate places and appreciate the principle of its construction, as well as enjoy the fantastic panoramic view of Barcelona. There are two programs: full (55 minutes – 1 hour) and shortened (40 minutes).
The cost of tickets for the full program:
- for adults – 10 €,
- for students and seniors over 65, as well as for participants in groups of more than 9 people – 8.50 €.
Cost of tickets for a reduced program:
- for adults – 8.50 €;
- for students and seniors over 65 years – 7 €.
During this one and a half hour tour, tourists can visit absolutely all corners of the church and listen to its history. Climbing through the towers to different levels of the roof, visitors will not only see the constituent buildings from close range, but also see the narrow streets of El Born, the main buildings of the Suite Velha and stunning panoramic views of the 360º evening of Barcelona.
- for adults 17.50 €;
- for students, pensioners, as well as participants in groups of more than 10 people – 15,50 €.
All prices in the article are for October 2019.
- To visit the basilica, you need to carefully choose a wardrobe – it must correspond to a holy place. Shorts, short skirts, sleeveless T-shirts are inappropriate clothes even in the hottest weather.
- The basilica has excellent acoustics, and over the weekend there are concerts of organ music. You can visit them for free. But you need to have money with you, because employees collect donations for the maintenance of the basilica. You can give any amount, and the refusal of contributions is a sign of bad taste.
- Everyone who is interested in the shrine of Santa Maria del Mar will surely like the book of the author of Spain, Idelfonso Falcones, “Cathedral of St. Mary”. This book was published in 2006 and became a bestseller translated into 30 languages.
A tour of the Born (Ribera) area and interesting historical facts about Santa Maria del Mar: