Seven centuries of history
Drassanes Reials de Barcelona (Royal Shipyards of Barcelona) refers to a group of structures that have survived into our time after more than seven centuries of history. It all began with a facility established midway through the 13th century on the Beach of Barcelona, outside the city walls and at the foot of Montjuïc Mountain. Four towers and three sections of wall enclosed a space for the construction and maintenance of galleys and warships in the service of the King of Aragon, Peter the Great. It was a space open to the sea, so that ships could sail in and out. After the establishment of this first compound, the complex continued to grow. Powerful walls and ramparts were added, and the space eventually became a great medieval arsenal.
At the beginning of the 16th century, when it was to be one of the principal tools in the foreign policy of the Hispanic Crown, the Drassanes Reials came upon hard times. The construction of the first breakwater in the port had unintended consequences over the coast, and part of the building collapsed. As a result, the Crown decided to build a new building, reusing only parts of the old. Most of what we see today is from this period. However, not only the Crown was in charge of the old shipyards; the Council of One Hundred governing Barcelona and the Diputació del General governing Catalonia also administered part of the space, and each had its own fleet of galleys.
Great galley factory
Until the mid-18th century, the Drassanes Reials were a great galley factory, the centre of an industry that directly or indirectly employed thousands of individuals and served as a motor for both the city and national economy. However, galleys slowly began to lose importance in naval warfare, and the Drassanes Reials began to be used for non-maritime uses. They served as a barracks, a prison, and a cannon foundry, among other things, and finally became an arsenal for artillery.
In addition to what can be visited today, the Drassanes Reials were surrounded by barracks, fortifications and workshops that have long since disappeared. Still, as a military facility, some extremely valuable elements like the medieval wall or the Bastion of Santa Madrona were saved from destruction. As for its use, throughout the 19th and part of the 20th century the space was employed by the military.
A cultural space
The Drassanes Reials were almost torn down with the great urban renovations experienced by Barcelona at the start of the 20th century, but they were finally saved, being abandoned by the military and turned over to the city in 1935. In October 1936 the Maritime Museum of Barcelona was created, and it was soon decided that the best space to house it was this building, the witness to centuries of maritime history. For the first time, the Drassanes Reials became a cultural space, a role it still plays.