The first mention of a church of Saint Maria by the Sea dates from 998, and this imposing structure - built between 1329 and 1383 at the height of Catalonia’s maritime and mercantile pre-eminence - is an outstanding example of Catalan Gothic, with a purity and unity of style that are very unusual in most large mediaeval buildings.
Because it is hemmed in by the narrow streets of the old city - making it difficult to obtain an overall impression from the outside - Santa Maria viewed from the street gives you the feeling of massive severity. But that belies the ornate interior of light and spaciousness that greets you when you walk through those humble timber doors.
The church building is not the largest in the city, but the "finery" inside - and especially the perfect condition of the altar-pieces etc - is simply too beautiful for words.
One of the many features of these ancient churches that fascinates me is the floors - that is if you are able to divert your eyes away from the gold of the side chapels ... usually the main aisle is marble tiles - but around the inside perimeters the floors are made up with engraved stone slabs - a lot of which are so worn with centuries of foot traffic over them that you can hardly make out the words - but those that you can read, commemorate the lives of various people associated with the early ages of those churches - so you are walking over memorial plaques laid there in the 14th centuries ( in this case ) and in older churches, even earlier.
Alas, I leave Spain soon for the next leg on my odyssey ... so my next blog will be a final few impressions of Barcelona.