Ciutat Vella is the part of the city that everyone who has been to Barcelona probably knows better. Meaning “Old City”, it is the historical centre, house of many of the landmarks of the Catalan city.
Ciutat Vella is the original core of Barcelona. Born as Barcino, it was surrounded by the Roman Walls, now almost completely disappeared.
The district includes four barrios: Gotico, Santa-Caterina/Borne, Raval, and Barceloneta.
El Borne / Sant Pere Santa Caterina i La Ribera
La Ribera was the richest part of the old town of Barcelona. It is now one of the neighbourhoods with more charm and life of Barcelona.
The area was the economical centre of the city between the XIII and XV Century. This is the time when the rich merchants built the majestic palaces still visible in Calle Montcada.
Now the Borne (which in surface is quite small) has acquired such an importance that its name is often used as synonym for the whole area.
La Ribera is the upper part of the quarter, around the Santa Caterina market (famous for its wavy colourful roof) while El Borne is the lowest part that starts in Calle Princesa, and contains some of the most famous and beautiful landmarks of Barcelona such as the Museu Picasso and the magnificent basilica of Santa Maria del Mar (pictured below).
Part of the Ribera quarter was destroyed in 1714 to build the Ciutadela fortress, which was itself demolished in the XIX Century and replaced by the Ciutadela Park and the Borne market.
It is actually during the works of the refurbishment of the market that the remains of the ancient Ciutadela were discovered. The works had to stop and the Mercado del Borne has been turned into a cultural centre, which includes music halls and exposition spaces. The remains of the Ciutadela can be visited for free.
The area features other important monuments and museums, such as the Museu Tèxtil i d’Indumentària, Museum of Chocolate, several art galleries, the Rambla del Borne, and the splendid Palau de la Musica.
Although less crowded with tourists than the adjacent Barrio Gotico, also El Borne offers plenty of restaurants, cafes, tapas bar, and trendy boutiques.
Any other part of the old city centre can be reached on foot, including Plaza de Catalunya and Paseo de Gracia. Barceloneta and the beach are very close, and to relax and enjoy some shade during the hot Summer days, the Ciutadela Park (one of the largest green areas of Barcelona) can be reached within minutes.
Transport links are excellent, with several underground stops, an international train station (Estació de Francia), and bus stops. The shuttle bus to/from the airport stops at Plaza de Catalunya.
Similarly to the Barrio Gotico, it is, however, more difficult to find grocery stores and large supermarkets, or services such as gyms and schools, cannibalised by the huge number of shops dedicated to tourists.
The Properties in the Borne / Ribera
A lot of international investors look for properties in this area, which has a special charm. Because of this and because of its relatively small surface, it is quite difficult to find properties in the Borne / Ribera barrio.
Buying a property in this area and in all the other parts of the old city (especially Gotico), means buying not just a flat but a piece of the history of Barcelona. Indeed, several of the buildings are listed as part of the patrimony of the city.
Barcelona takes very good care of its heritage and by law each single building has to undergo regular technical inspections. Do not forget to check this during the purchase process.
Because of this, and because properties in the Borne are not easy to find, it is worth not giving up the opportunity of acquiring a good property even if the building has not been restored yet. It will have to be and that will add value to the property, especially in listed heritage buildings.
Most of the properties in this area have wooden beams on the vaulted ceiling (what is called Catalan vaulted ceiling), small balconies to the street, and often several small rooms that can possibly be rearranged into wider spaces with a good renovation. Please be careful, and do this with the required care. Every wall becomes important in old buildings so it is paramount to work with people who can avoid you incurring in any problems with the community of owners and the law.
The Catalan vaulted ceiling is often hidden behind a fake ceiling added at some point in the past. It is usually possible to recover the original beams, and if you like a property with a lot of character, this is something else you should check while visiting the property.
It is sometimes possible to find, behind the paint, the original bricks or stones, which are particularly appealing to foreign investors and add a lot of character to the property.
In buildings built between the XIX and the XX Century we can also sometimes find the original hydraulic floor, which, when in good conditions or recovered, represents one of the most valuable and attractive original features of a flat.
Some beautifully renovated properties are offered for sale and often represent great opportunities. If you are not ready to embark in a renovation process yourself that can be very satisfying but also quite long due to all the authorisations needed and the obvious challenges of working in such old buildings, a newly renovated property is the best solution. Some flats offer a mix of modern design and classic features that make them unique and very valuable. Be careful to check the quality of the renovation though! It is not rare to be offered flats that have been “cosmetically updated” but not entirely and well refurbished. This may result in problems that come up a few months after the purchase and require to redo parts of the flat (electric system, kitchen, pipes, etc.). It happened to some of my clients who did not purchase with me and were sold a “fully renovated flat”… We can help you assess the quality of the renovation before you commit to the purchase.
Back to the property features in the area, it is hard to find buildings with lifts (although easier than in other areas such as Barceloneta and the Raval), or terraces. Additionally, many streets are narrow and the flats on the lowest floors do not enjoy much light, which is anyway part of the character of the old city centre.
Often flats in the Borne have no heating or air conditioning, but this is easy to sort out. There are different possibilities to add heating or a/c depending on the flat and the type of building.
Some buildings may have a communal terrace, which, in the vast majority of the cases, no one uses except the foreigners. Having a communal terrace is a nice plus as it offers an outdoor space to relax during the day or the hot summer nights, often with a nice view on the roofs of the old city centre. Check that the terrace is accessible, though, as some communities forbid its use.
As far as the rental potential is concerned, a property in the Borne would rent out very easily. It may take longer if it is a high floor without lift (5th floor) or if the building is not in good conditions, but usually renting out properties in this area is never a problem. A good property can be rented out within hours.
Prices in Ciutat Vella
The average price per m2 in the district of Ciutat Vella had decreased a bit over the past year but it is now back to the Q3 value in 2018 (source Habitaclia, October 2019).
The current price per m2 of 4.969,97 € is, however, the average of the prices in the four quarters, which includes lower prices in Barceloneta and the Raval, and higher prices in the Barrio Gotico and the Born, which is the area where prices have increased most.
In El Borne, flats can be very expensive. Units in fully refurbished buildings or in buildings of historical interests, are for sale at prices between 7.000 € and 9.000 € per m2.
Penthouses or flats with unique features or in the best areas of the Borne (around Santa Maria del Mar, the Rambla del Borne, the Mercado del Borne), can go up to 10.000 € to 12.000 € per m2.
Even properties to refurbish, when interesting, can sell for 4.000 € per m2 or more.
It is possible to find apartments for around 3.500 € or less per m2 but they are usually high floors without lift, flats with no natural light, or ground floors without license of occupancy.
You can have a look at El Borne at this link.