The public fountain of Portaferrissa

Life near one of Barcelona’s most famous entrances

The public fountain of Portaferrissa

The city where I live is full of stories and curiosities but it is not always easy to dwell on details. This article focuses on some corners often unnoticed by the distracted eye of passers-by.

The public fountain of Portaferrissa is the first of a short series of stories centered on the public fountains present in the center, witnesses of an ancient past.

A corner on the sidelines

The low turnout of tourists no longer crowds the streets of the center and the space between passersby gives breath to those places in the city that are often hidden and suffocated by the swarm of tourists or holiday groups always in a hurry and late.

I leave the house, to enter the gothic quarter, cross the Rambla and I exclaim inside myself: “What a beautiful painting! Above all on ceramic! Who did it and why?” These are the questions that assailed me when I saw an almost hidden work of art as the decoration of a public source of water, in a corner of Carrer de Portaferrissa. Designed in 1959 by the ceramist Joan Baptista Guivernau, the painting depicts a life scene near one of the 18th century gates to the city.

The public fountain of Portaferrissa

Water for the city

Nowadays most of the public fountains are not widely used but in the past was very different. In addition to being the main method of water supply, they often became a meeting place for housewives, servants, passersby and workers. In short, there was social life nearby! Portaferrissa obviously was no less.

The origin of the source

In 1604 this source was on the other side of the Rambla. Then in 1680 the rector of the Jesuit college of Belen asked for its transfer to allow the construction of a new chapel. The project was approved on agreement to find a new location for the source. So it was transferred and installed close to one of the mighty towers present until the nineteenth century in Portaferrissa.

The public fountain of Portaferrissa

Life and curiosities of the past

Portaferrissa means iron door. In addition to the guard towers, the entrance to the street, which led directly to the cathedral, was protected by a wrought iron gate similar to a railing. The hall teemed with life. Passers-by entered and left this door, mingling with the carts and merchants intent on selling their products. It was not uncommon for crowding and scuffles to often arise. To avoid cheating or misunderstanding, the “cana” was installed on the gate. It was the unit of measurement, also known in the north of Italy, used mainly in fabrics and ropes. In Barcelona the cana was equivalent to 1,555 meters while in other cities or regions it assumed different values. In this way, one cannot avoid imagining moments of confusion or public order in the purchase and sale of canvases and ropes. If the crowding as the representation shows was evident once the source was placed, right next to one of the towers, the chaos and social life increased even more. Consequently, the stalls for the sale of anise, used to refresh thirsty throats, were forced to close as they were abusive and problematic for the regular circulation of goods and passers-by.

The public fountain of Portaferrissa


In the 19th century, with the expansion project of the city, the defense towers and the surrounding walls were demolished. Only the fountain and the painting testify to the past life of the eighteenth century, representing a scene of daily life, scuffles and commercial activities very different from that of today. Housewives arguing with each other, young people playing with a dog and busy merchants. All under the vision of an astonished gendarme guard post at the entrance to the gate.

I remain looking at The public fountain of Portaferrissa with a curious eye, imagining the life of that time which, thanks to a photographic trick, I can compare tearing myself a smile.

It’s late, I have to go downtown!

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Marco Pachiega





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