Portal del Convent del Carme, Barcelona’s Orphaned Gate

The Portal of Convent del Carme, Barcelona

photography by: Ismael March Muñoz/ Wikimedia Commons

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Arched monuments are a common sight in big cities all over the world, with the Catalonian capital being no exception. While nearly all free-standing portals were built that way in the first place, the Arch of Hadrian in Barcelona’s Sant Adrià de Besòs neighborhood was once part of a large 13th century cloister. The lone gate has since moved not once, but twice, leaving a tumultuous past in its wake.

For centuries now, Barcelona has been dotted with hundreds of churches, largely defining its very character we all admire. Over the years, many of the city’s religious buildings were razed to the ground and left buried deep in the past, literally so. While in most cases, any testament of these places of worship remains solely within the realm of collective memory, one flattened church is still physically present 150 years after its demise.


Entirely encircled by highways and roads on all sides, the gothic-style portal in the center of Sant Adrià is the sole vestige of Convent del Carme. Constructed in 1294 as a monastic complex for the Carmelite Order, the friary underwent several expansions throughout its lifespan, and even briefly served as the residence of James II of Aragon. The convent was originally located in the Barcelonian neighborhood of El Raval, a short distance away from where the current whereabouts of Mercado de La Boqueria.


For more than half a millennium, the monastery stood firmly amid numerous conflicts that swept through the region, becoming a prominent landmark across Barcelona. That is, until 1835, when following an unfavorable bullfight in El Torin, riots spiraled out of control as an angry mob stormed the church and set it ablaze. Against all odds, much of the convent withstood the arson attack, and three years later, was repurposed as the seat of the University of Barcelona.


When the university relocated to Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes in 1874, the convent was demolished to make room for a new development. The edifice’s dismantled parts were then reused as building materials citywide, while a select-few ended up in the hands of wealthy individuals.


Conspicuous among them was the ornamented arch which was purchased by a man named Juli Parellada, who subsequently transferred the relic to Cal Tondo Mansion, where he lived. According to the lore, Parellada acquired the portal with the intention of incorporating it into a new church he was planning to build along the nearby Besòs River. Apparently, this was to celebrate his victory in a pistol duel, which he managed to survive unscathed. Unfortunately for Parellada, he passed away before his building plans came into fruition, thus leaving the portal abandoned in the middle of an open field.


In 1991, as part of the city’s construction boom during the years leading up to the Olympic games, the monumental door migrated once again, this time to its current location, in a plot of land wedged between the Ronda Litoral freeway and a large roundabout. With centuries of turbulent history encapsulated in its stones, the ogival arch still boasts much of its grandeur, including a medley of gothic ornaments with animal and plant motifs.