History is a matter of sifting through often incomplete data and interpreting it in order to reach a conclusion. Sometimes new evidence comes to light and what was once dogma must be rethought and reinterpreted. This process has occurred with Barcelona’s Drassanes Reials, or the Royal Shipyards, over the course of two years of excavations. Located at the end of La Rambla near the Columbus monument and housing the Museu Marítim, the Drassanes is one of the city’s most emblematic buildings.
Over the centuries, the building has served as military barracks, arsenal, munitions factory and even as part of the city’s perimeter wall. It was transferred to the Generalitat in 1936 with the intention of establishing a maritime museum, but the Civil War interfered with these plans and the Museu Marítim didn’t open its doors until 1941.
The Drassanes was constructed to build, repair and store ships for the Crown of Aragon. Archival evidence suggests there was a shipyard on the present site prior to the 13th century. But, the current structure was built during the reign of Pere el Gran, between 1282 and 1285. It consisted of a series of long, covered bays under which ships could be assembled or repaired and was located just to the west of the city and outside of the city walls that roughly followed the line of the present-day La Rambla. The Drassanes was built on the beach so that ships could be easily launched or recovered and, in the winter, was used to store the ships of the King’s fleet because Barcelona lacked a proper harbour. As the fleet grew during the 14th and early 15th centuries, the shipyard was expanded and the city walls were also expanded so as to encompass the Drassanes.