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By Regina Winkle-Bryan
Last week I went on an excellent tour. I live in Barcelona, and have been here since 2005, which means I know the city pretty well. Or at least I thought I knew the city well, but truth be told, I don’t. I realized this after taking a two-hour tour with Juan J. Pardo Eimil, of Juan Ciempies Turisme Cultural company.
The man is a walking history book, but not in the boring, high-school-history kind of way. Instead he is a wealth of information about the city’s secrets and legends and a guide to its hidden plazas and fountains. I used to live right near Barcelona’s cathedral, and I know old town Barcelona, but after my tour with Juan, I will always see it with new eyes.
For instance, did you know that the enormous plaza in front of Barcelona’s cathedral was once filled with homes and streets? You’d never know it now, but the cathedral was hidden behind blocks of buildings up until the 1950s when the city knocked them all down and created the plaza which now hosts dances, fairs, cafes and groups of gawking tourists.
Or how about that in the 1st century Barcelona was called Barcino, its Roman name, and was nothing more than a small Roman settlement on a hill. That’s right, the old Roman city is built on a hill. Therefore, whenever you walk up in the Gothic Quarter, you are entering the Roman city, and when you walk down hill, you are on your way out! The highest point of the hill is about 16 meters above sea level, and it was there that the Romans built an ample temple. You can still visit the few remaining columns from the temple located in the Centre Excursionista building.
On his ‘Secrets and Legends’ tour, Juan will fill you in on where criminals were buried (surprising), how Santa Eulalia died and where, and what was built from Jewish gravestones. It’s not all gory. He also has tons of interesting anecdotes to share about medieval gilds, Roman times, the cathedral’s adornments, the Jewish quarter, the Civil War, and the Catalan Kings.
While Juan does tours of the classic Barcelona stuff, such as Sagrada Família, and Gaudí sites, his passion is the lesser-known areas of the city, such as his own barri, El Raval. Ask about his ’7 Deadly Sins Tour’ or his ‘Witches’ tour for something completely different.
Juan takes groups as large as 25 people, and also offers private guide services. If I was visiting Barcelona, I’d book him for two days at least, and see hidden Barcelona like no one else does. He’ll knock your socks off. His rates are also very reasonable. He charges €18.00 per person for groups of four and €160.00 for groups of 10 to 25. He may be Barcelona’s best kept secret!
Contact for Juan Ciempies Turisme Cultural: