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  • Writer's pictureSonia Cuesta Maniar, PhD

A Brief History of the Maritime Museum of Barcelona

What is the Maritime Museum of Barcelona?

The Maritime Museum of Barcelona, or Museu Marítim in Catalan, is a museum dedicated to Barcelona’s maritime history located in the city’s former Royal Shipyard.

Maritime Museum of Barcelona

Maritime Museum of Barcelona History

Preserving and Promoting Barcelona's Maritime Heritage

The Museu Marítim is dedicated to preserving and promoting Barcelona's rich maritime history. Located in the city's ancient shipyard, just a stone's throw away from the historic Port Vell, this museum draws you in to the maritime world. It’s located within the former Drassanes Reials, the Royal Shipyard of Barcelona – the most important medieval shipyard to have survived in the world. It was commissioned by King Peter III of Aragon in response to the increased need for ships during Catalonia and Aragon's military expansion in the 13th century. The result was this sizeable fortified area with large gates opening direct to the sea.

The Building and its History

Like much of the architecture in the Ciutat Vella (or Old City) district of Barcelona, the building is Gothic in style. Although it has undergone extensive renovations and work throughout the centuries, the shipyard's original features have been carefully preserved. The location itself is an important landmark and intrinsically linked to the city's maritime heritage honoured by the museum.

The shipyard is a vast, eight construction-nave space. For over 400 years, ships were built, maintained and repaired within its walls. During this time the shipyard also produced and stored equipment to arm galleys as necessary. Some of the largest vessels in Spanish history were built here; famously, the Royal Galley commanded by John of Austria during the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, when the Holy League, an alliance of Catholic states, giving aid to the Venetian Empire, fought the Ottoman Empire at sea. Within the museum you’ll find a full-size replica of this impressive galley, the largest in the world at the time of construction, painted in red and gold, and elaborately decorated with paintings and sculptures.

The yard remained in use until the 18th century. After a period of disrepair, in the 1930s the city council and the military decided to reopen the premises as a Maritime Museum, thanks to a persuasive article written by an artillery colonel that referred to the shipyard as a ‘priceless jewel that is completely unknown’. The shipyard was renovated and then officially inaugurated in 1941.

Exhibits and Replicas of Historical Ships

The museum retraces the city's naval history from the 15th century onwards, exploring Catalonia's relation to the sea from a social, economic and artistic perspective. It features maps, navigational instruments, paintings, and weapons. Notably, the Museu Marítim also houses an extensive archive of historical documents relating to the city's proud maritime heritage. Today, the museum remains a unique environment in which to admire reconstructions of historic ships and learn about maritime history.

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