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  • Writer's pictureLucy Walker

A Brief History of Pont del Bisbe in Barcelona

What is Pont del Bisbe?

Pont del Bisbe, or Bishop’s Bridge in English, is a Neo-Gothic bridge constructed in the 1920s ahead of Barcelona’s International Exhibition.

Pont del Bisbe alleyway

Pont del Bisbe History

Carrer del Bisbe (or Bishop’s Street) was one of the main thoroughfares of the Roman colony of Barcino, established on this site over 2,000 years ago. Today, this ancient quarter of Barcelona is more closely associated with the medieval period because of its characterful narrow winding streets and Gothic architecture. The Pont del Bisbe, this covered footbridge that crosses Bishop’s Street, has become something of a motif for the Gothic Quarter, and you’d be forgiven for assuming that it dates from the 14th or 15th century. It was actually constructed in the 1920s as part of a city-wide regeneration project ahead of the 1929 Barcelona International Exhibition.

Joan Rubió i Bellver was the Catalan architect who designed the bridge. He was a pupil of, and collaborated with, Antoni Gaudí on his most famous projects, including the Sagrada Família and the Casa Batlló. Like Gaudí, he was greatly influenced by medieval Gothic buildings, and in his capacity as the official architect of the province of Barcelona became something of a zealot. In the run up to the exhibition, he proposed to demolish all non-Gothic buildings in the area around Barcelona Cathedral and replace them with reconstructions in the medieval style.

Pont del Bisbe close up

Poor Rubió i Bellver was ridiculed for his misguided purism. In 1929, a satirical article suggested a number of uses for the new bridge: flooding the Carrer del Bisbe to turn it into a Venetian canal, or staging a production of Romeo and Juliet under the footbridge, perhaps. Worst of all, it was loftily dismissed as a convenient shelter from the rain. In spite of this, the Pont did have a practical function. It was originally used by Catalan presidents for the commute from their residence in the Casa dels Canonges to the Palau de la Generalitat, where they worked.

Rubió i Bellver’s authentic design emulates the Flamboyant Gothic style used in late-medieval cathedrals throughout Europe. Flamboyant is characterised by intricate stone tracery set within arched windows, and elaborate rib-vaulted ceilings. Interestingly, the Pont’s distinctive arches echo the original Flamboyant façade of the Chapel of Sant Jordi, which is located in the Generalitat Palace next door.

Rubió i Bellver’s own take on a rib-vaulted ceiling can be glimpsed at the base of the bridge. It features a carved skull pierced by a dagger. This has become a source of various superstitious beliefs over the years. Some say that the architect added it to the decoration of the bridge after being snubbed by the city authorities and it’s imbued with a curse. If the dagger is removed from the skull then Barcelona will be destroyed. It’s also rumoured that the skull is not a stone replica, but taken from human remains.

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