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El Poble Sec
Parque de Les Tres Chimeneas
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El Poble Sec
Parque de Les Tres Chimeneas
Poble Sec is part of the Sants-Montjuïc district and spans roughly 70 acres between Avinguda de Paral.el and Montjuïc. Official development of the area began in the 19th century and with every decade the neighbourhood has seen a variety of changes in its inhabitants, food offerings, entertainment outlets and culture, with the old and the new standing side-by-side on every corner.
In the 1800s, walls enclosed the city of Barcelona, and people who could not afford to live within the walled city set up home in Poble Sec. A piece of the original city wall still exists today and can be seen at the end of Avinguda del Paral.lel, running alongside the Museu Marítim de Barcelona. Named Poble Sec—dry village in Catalan—because the neighbourhood had no source of water until the late 19th century when a fountain was built, it holds an important place in the history of Catalunya. It was here that American engineer Frederick Stark Pearson set up the Barcelona Traction Light and Power Company to administer the development and implementation of hydro-electric power originating from the Segre and Noguera Pallaresa rivers. Dubbed La Canadenca—the Canadian—by locals because it was incorporated in Toronto, Canada, the factory provided electricity to Catalunya and turned Poble Sec into the industrial capital of Barcelona. The factory brought with it many employees, who took up residence in the neighbourhood due to its low-cost housing and close proximity to the factory. While the original plant is no longer operational (Red Eléctrica de España has stood in the same location since 1985), a nod to La Canadenca and the neighbourhood’s roots still exists in the form of the original smoke stacks, which tower over Poble Sec.
Today, just off Avinguda del Paral.lel, in front of the three chimneys, is the Parque de les Tres Chimeneas del Poble Sec. A small skate park, often teeming with young locals, it is punctuated by original pieces of the machinery from La Canadenca, juxtaposing history with modernity, something Poble Sec does famously.
During the years following the Civil War, locals in Barcelona sought refuge in the bars and theatres of Poble Sec. Popular venues such as El Molino, which still exists today, served as a space for people to escape the post-war troubles and look toward a brighter future for Spain.
Opened in 1898, El Molino is Barcelona’s answer to Paris’s Moulin Rouge, and was, indeed, originally called Le Petit Moulin Rouge. After over 100 years in the cabaret business, El Molino shut its doors for 15 years, recently reopening after a revamp to its interior, bringing world-class cabaret and burlesque back to Poble Sec. The neighbourhood also features additional theatres, with La Ciutat del Teatre, Mercat de les Flors (previously a flower market), and Sala Apolo being the most famous amongst them.
The barrio’s most well-known export is Joan Manuel Serrat, who was born in Poble Sec in 1943 and is one of Spain’s most popular singers. His Catalan nickname, el noi del Poble Sec—the boy from Poble Sec—still ties him to the neighbourhood. His childhood home is located at Poeta Cabanyes 95, where a plaque marks the spot.
Today, the neighbourhood of Poble Sec remains modest and virtually untouched by tourists, unlike the bordering districts of Raval and Eixample, which are overrun with hotels and restaurants. Poble Sec’s architecture is simple, and housing has remained inexpensive compared to other neighbourhoods in the city. Located just a 15-minute walk from the tourist centre of Les Rambles and about 20 minutes from the beach, the neighbourhood is ideally positioned close to the hustle and bustle of the city centre, yet far enough to have its own array of local hotspots and traditional, inexpensive restaurants. The eclectic population, made up of Ecuatorians, Dominicans and Pakistanis, amongst others, means that Poble Sec is incredibly diverse and world music can be heard any time of the day along Carrer Blai—the pedestrian-only, beating heart of Poble Sec’s streetlife.
One of the neighbourhood’s most famous restaurants is the tapas bar, Quimet i Quimet. The bar is small and locals can often be seen pouring out of the doors with a drink and plate in hand—the atmosphere is lively and the prices reasonable. Yet, alongside the many long-standing establishments, there is a continual stream of new restaurants specialising in cuisine from around the world popping up throughout Poble Sec.
On the way up to Montjuïc, just off a tree-lined street, you will find Plaça del Sortidor, which is the central square of Poble Sec. One popular restaurant, El Sortidor, has been there since 1908. It used to supply ice to the village of Poble Sec before homes had refrigerators. Even a young Joan Manuel Serrat frequented El Sortidor to purchase ice for his family. Today, the restaurant serves a mixture of Catalan, Spanish and Italian food and offers an inexpensive menu. The original refrigerators can still be seen inside, and outside you’ll find a plaque from the City Council which states, ‘En reconeixement als seus anys de servei a la ciutat’—In recognition of its years of service to the city.
If you don’t live in the neighbourhood, Poble Sec is well connected via several transport links, and within close proximity of three metro stations—Paral.lel, Poble Sec and Espanya. The 758 metre-long Funicular de Monjuïc departs from Paral.lel station and was originally opened in 1928 for the International Exhibition the following year. The Funicular was then reconstructed in 1992 for the Summer Olympics when Barcelona moved into the world spotlight.
Buildings erected in the early 19th century still stand strong in Poble Sec beside the neighbourhood’s more modern counterparts. On an average day, elderly Catalan people mingle with new immigrants from Ecuador, as car stereos play Pakistani music, all serving as a constant reminder of the vast history and new face of one of Barcelona’s oldest barrios.