With over two thousand years of history, Barcelona has given life to myths and legends involving everything from Hercules to the Devil. In the centuries that the city has thrived, these stories have grown and intertwined with the city’s history, allowing mystery and myth to accumulate on every corner. You know about Sant Jordi, but what about the legends unique to the streets of Barcelona?
Hamilcar Barca and the Founding of Barcelona
It is not known who founded Barcelona, although one legend puts the founding of the city at 230 B.C., by none other than Hannibal’s father: Hamilcar Barca. Hamilcar was a Carthaginian general and politician, and spent most of his life waging one war or another against Rome. The myth suggests that it was him who discovered the site and christened it the Iberian “Barkeno.” From there, the legend suggests, the city grew in popularity due to its proximity to the Mediterranean and to the nearby mountains, and continues to be a favorite destination now.
The Legend of Hercules and Barca Nona
This legend is one of the oldest. Hercules—yes, this Hercules—is a Greek demigod, as famous for his strength as he is for his twelve heroic acts of penance: killing hydras, strangling snakes, and also founding the city of Barcelona. The story goes that Hercules, on the fourth of his twelve “Labors,” took to the Mediterranean with Jason and the Argonauts in search of the Golden Fleece. During a terrible storm, one of the nine ships vanished, and they feared the crew had drowned in the water. Hercules refused to abandon his men, and went looking for the shipwreck. What he found instead was a small hill, a destroyed ship, and the crew celebrating their survival, enjoying their new surroundings. He offered to bring them back to join the rest of their team, but the crew liked their new home at the bottom of the hill of Montjuïc. They named their new home “Barca Nona,” or “Ninth Ship,” which grew into “Barcelona.” Today, you can still visit the hill!
Joan Fiveller’s Fountain
In the fourteenth century (and always), water was a crucial resource. While there were plenty of people and animals in the city, it was sometimes difficult to locate, and people often went thirsty. One afternoon, Barcelona’s chief councillor Joan Fiveller was out hunting in the forests of Collserola, moving quickly through the trees. Suddenly, he stopped, stunned: he had come upon an enormous cold spring! He ran to tell the rest of the city, and soon they had built a fountain at its mouth so that citizens wouldn’t have to go without water again. The fountain still resides in Plaça Sant Just, and the water runs just as clear now as it did when Joan Fiveller found it.
The Legend of the Giant and the Pine Tree (El Gegant i el Pi)
You may know Plaça del Pi as a humble little square boasting the lovely church Santa Maria del Pi, but its history is richer even than that. The pine tree, or “pi” in Catalan, has been there for hundreds of years. Once, the legend tells us, a massive giant arrived at what were, then, the gates of the city–now, in Las Ramblas. He was clutching an enormous pine tree, which he needed to accommodate his limp. When the officials at the gate demanded a tax on his “firewood,” the giant became incensed at the nerve of these little men, and hurled the tree as far as he could over the walls and into the city. It landed roots-down in a plaza and continued to grow there. Today, the pine tree still sits in the square, beloved and protected by the people. If the tree is harmed in any way, it’s cared for; if it’s struck by lighting or stabbed by a French soldier, the city plants a new one in its place. Now it is as tall and proud as ever, ready to receive visitors.
The Bell Tower of Santa Maria del Pi
While it’s common knowledge that the Sagrada Familia’s intricate work has taken over a hundred years to complete, there are other Barcelona churches with century-long schedules: one is Basilica del Pi, the church beside the famous pine tree. Centuries ago, the construction of the bell tower was delayed for almost a hundred years. The main architect needed to find the right sort of stone to lay the steps, but no matter what he did, he could not locate it. Then, just when he was beginning to despair of ever finding the stones he wanted, a strange man arrived just outside the church. The architect immediately knew that he was dealing with the devil, but he was so desperate to complete his project that he didn’t care. The devil promised to deliver the stone that the architect wanted, in exchange for his standard fare: he wanted the man’s soul, to be taken after the completion of the tower’s one hundred steps. The architect agreed, and received the stone he’d wanted—but he was a clever man. He used the stone to build steps one through ninety-nine but stopped there, deliberately leaving the tower unfinished. Then he spent the rest of his life working on the rest of the church, and died a natural death, his bargain incomplete and his soul intact. Then his sons, whose souls had never been bargained for, finished the bell tower. You can still see both the church and the bell tower today—although it’s hard to imagine such a dark bargain happening in such a beautiful place.
What are your favorite Barcelona legends? Let us know in the comments!