The old-town area west of the Ramblas is known as El Raval (from the Arabic word for “suburb”). In medieval times, it was the site of hospitals, churches and monasteries, but by the twentieth century it had acquired a reputation as the city’s main red-light district, known to all as the Barri Xinès – China Town. Even today in the backstreets around c/de Sant Pau and c/Nou de la Rambla are found pockets of sleaze, while a handful of old bars trade on their former reputations as bohemian hangouts. Over the last two decades, however, El Raval has changed markedly, particularly in the “upper Raval” around Barcelona’s contemporary art museum, MACBA. Cutting-edge galleries, designer restaurants and fashionable bars are all part of the scene these days, although you’d hesitate to call El Raval gentrified, as it clearly still has its rough edges.

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