Located in the former Royal Shipyards (Drassanes Reials), the city's Maritime Museum is the finest of its kind in Spain and possibly in the world. The seafaring cities of Venice, Genoa, and Valencia all had impressive arsenals, but only vestiges remain. In contrast, Barcelona's shipyards, with their majestic arches, columns, and gigantic vaults, are a preciously intact example of medieval civic architecture. This complex, which before the coastline receded sat right on the water's edge, was used to dry-dock, construct, and repair ships for the Catalan-Aragonese rulers. During the 18th century, the place went into decline, mainly due to the dissolution of naval construction. Right up until the Spanish Civil War, it served as an army barracks; it became a museum in the 1970s.
Its collection titled "The Great Adventure of the Sea" is homage to Catalonia's maritime history. The most outstanding exhibit occupies an entire bay. It is a reconstruction of La Galería Real of Don Juan of Austria, a lavish royal galley. In 1971, following extensive documentation, this model was built in celebration of the vessel's most glorious achievement 400 years earlier. The ship headed an alliance of Spanish, Venetian, Maltese, and Vatican vessels in a bloody battle against a Turkish squadron. The so-called "Holy League" won, effectively ending Ottoman rule in the Mediterranean. There is an excellent film re-creating the battle, which you watch onboard, and you can view the galley's elaborate hull, hold, and deck where each of its 59 oars were manned by the sailors.
Other exhibits chart the traditional fishing techniques and sailing as sport through neat little caravels and draggers, snipes, and sloops. The art of wooden shipbuilding, the charting of the oceans, and the launch into the steam age are also covered. Particularly fine is the collection of late-19th-century mastheads, navigational instruments, and models of the Compañía Trasmediterránea's fleet (this local company still operates the Barcelona-Balearic islands route). The collection also boasts a small model of Ictíneo, one of the world's first submarines designed by the Catalan visionary Narcís Monturiol.
- © Frommer's 2013
- Very Highly Recommended 2009
- Very Highly Recommended 2010