Discover medieval Barcelona with the series “The cathedral of the sea”

Barcelona, 14th century. Sailors, harbour waiters and other inhabitants of the Ribera district decide to build a temple to compete with the great Gothic capitals of the time. This is the plot of Ildefonso Falcones’ novel “La catedral del mar”. As building a cathedral takes a few years, the plot provides plenty of time for palace intrigues, medieval fights and impossible love affairs. If we add to these ingredients an exceptional setting, its adaptation to the screen was only a matter of time. 

In this case, the series format was chosen (700 pages of novel are enough for eight episodes) produced by Atresmedia, Diagonal TV and Televisió de Catalunya, with the collaboration of the Catalonia Film Commission. A guaranteed success. As if there weren’t already enough ingredients to make it irresistible, the cast included Aitor Luna, Andrea Duro, Michelle Jenner and Daniel Grao. 

Whether you’re already a fan of the series, or if you’re going to discover it with us (you can still watch it on Netflix), here are a few tips so you can follow the Estanyol family’s footsteps through Barcelona and other locations that hosted the filming. Here we go.

Medieval Barcelona

The first stop on the ‘Cathedral of the Sea’ route is Santa Maria del Mar. The basilica was built with the stones that sailors, ship loading and unloading workers and simple people carried from the mountain of Montjuic. In fact, Arnau is one of those servants of the earth who helped to raise the majestic building. Among its curiosities, which are not few, is the fact that among its stained-glass windows you can see the Barça crest. This is neither a joke nor a hallucination. The football club contributed to its restoration in the 1960s.

Interior of Santa Maria del Mar / Tourism of Barcelona

Originally, in the 14th century, the church was much closer to the sea and the port. Not for nothing was it the “cathedral” of the fishermen. The latest archaeological discoveries, in fact, show that it was built on the ruins of a Roman amphitheatre (which were often located near the sea). 

We should also point out, in this tour of literary adaptations to the screen, that the basilica of Santa Maria del Mar appears in other novels that have Barcelona as a setting. One of the best known is “The Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. Another of those authors who are crying out for his books to be made into films. There we leave the idea. 

After getting to know the protagonist of Falcones’ book, we continue our route through the Gothic Quarter, a labyrinth of narrow medieval streets that invites you to lose yourself without looking at the clock. The Plaça del Rei is a neuralgic point in the history of Barcelona. Next to it, the City Hall tells us about the medieval origins of this institution and, very close by, the Cathedral stands out among Gothic and neo-Gothic constructions, competing with churches as beautiful as Santa Maria del Pi. The palaces on Carrer Montcada, today full of museums and art galleries, are well worth a visit. The route proposed by Barcelona City Council continues through streets, churches, palaces and monasteries to complete an extensive circuit through medieval Barcelona.

Petritxol Street, in Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter, is a must-see street / Tourisme de Barcelona

Following in the footsteps of the filming of “La catedral del mar” in medieval Spain

“From the top of the Collserola mountain, on the ancient Roman road that linked the northern town of Ampurias with the south of Tarragona, Bernat discovered for the first time the freedom and immensity of the sea”.

One of the most outstanding sequences in “The Cathedral of the Sea” occurs when Barcelona is attacked by the Castilian troops by sea. On screen, the coastline we see is the Dorada, in Tarragona, and more specifically, Tamarit beach. It is a sandy area more than a kilometre long made up of bowling pins, surrounded by nature and next to the castle of the same name. The perfect place to disconnect from the world and relax.

Sequence of the disembarkation in the series / Javier de Agustín for DiagonalTV
Tamarit beach with no landings / Txell Roig for Tarragona Film Commission

Of course, cities have changed a little in 700 years. Or a lot. That’s why filming a whole series in the same location is sometimes not possible. Fortunately, what is no longer possible in Barcelona is possible in other locations. For this reason, this filming used no less than five other locations to recreate the 14th century city of Barcelona. In a colossal collaborative effort between Film Commissions, those of Aragon, Extremadura, Segovia and Castilla-La Mancha proposed other medieval buildings. 

The first of these was Sos del Rey Católico, in Zaragoza. This Aragonese municipality owes its name to the fact that Ferdinand the Catholic was born there. Its historic quarter of medieval origin is so well preserved, with its walls, castle, Jewish quarter and palaces, that strolling through it is like travelling back in time. A wonderful pretext for discovering other places in the region.

The second location in the series takes us further afield. 900 kilometres from Barcelona. To recreate the exteriors of the cathedral under construction, the producers used the main door of the co-cathedral of Santa María de Cáceres. The Renaissance city, a World Heritage Site, has become the set par excellence for productions set in the Middle Ages. But, apart from this detail, it is worth a detailed and repeated visit to discover one of the best-preserved historic centres in Spain. A real pleasure for all the senses that you should treat yourself to at least once in your life.

The exteriors of the construction were filmed in the cathedral of Cáceres / Extremadura Film Commission
More or less like this during filming / Javier de Agustín for DiagonalTV

The charm of Segovia’s streets and architecture also seduced the film crew of “La catedral del mar”. The courtyard of the Rueda family’s 15th century house, located in Segovia’s central Calle Escuderos, becomes a Jewish synagogue in the film. The screen also shows the Puerta de la Claustra in Calle Velarde, the only one still standing of the three gates that closed the walled enclosure where the cathedral canons lived in the Middle Ages, as well as the Romanesque church of San Juan de los Caballeros, with remains from the 12th century.

Scene from the series filmed in the Casa de los Rueda, Segovia / Javier de Agustín for DiagonalTV

As a good Castilian capital, Toledo is full of fortresses, and several of them, already known from other fictions, found a place in the filming of “The Cathedral of the Sea”. The castle of Guadamur, from the 15th century and Italian inspiration, and the castle of Oropesa, built by the Arabs in the 12th century, occupy a privileged place in the series based on the novel by Ildefonso Falcones.

Guadamur, the medieval castle par excellence / Castilla-La Mancha Film Commission

We hope that after reading everything we’ve told you here, you’ll want to read the novel again, watch the series and do some of the proposed routes. See you in the next literary adaptation to the screen!

By María Parcero

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