A medieval ship drops anchor in Barcelona's Plaza del Rei
The remains of the ‘Barceloneta 1’ helmet, on display at the Palau Reial de Barcelona.

They seem only a few meters of old wood, but they are the invaluable testimony of a remarkable adventure, marine and scientific. These are the remains – a part of the port side of the hull – of a medieval ship found in Barcelona in May 2008 during the construction of residential buildings on the grounds of the old Cercanías station, next to the Francia station. Preventive archaeological excavation, which descended below sea level, brought to light the wreck, which was five meters deep in salt water: a set of oak frames and planks that looked like the ribs of a giant blackened by the weather.

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Baptized Barceloneta 1 (at first it seemed there was a Barceloneta 2, but they turned out to be wood from the same boat), the boat, in its purity “fragment of the living work of the hull of a ship or barxa from the 15th century, built according to the principle of a previous hull and sheeting lining ”(folrat previ i buc tinglat, in Catalan nautical terminology), it has been subjected all these years to very careful consolidation and restoration. He has been exhibiting it now since Tuesday with all honors, held in its original position by a metal harness, placed in a large fitted display case and as the center of the installation. Barcelona, ​​port mediterrani between oceans. The testimonial of the vaixell ‘Barceloneta 1’, the Museu d’Història de Barcelona (Muhba) in the antechamber of the Palau Reial Major, at the entrance to the Tinell, in the Plaza del Rei. The initiative is the result of the collaboration between the municipal museum and the Port of Barcelona (in this case the City Council and the Port have gone hand in hand, unlike in the Hermitage mess) and is part of the purpose of jointly spreading the history of the port and the relevance of the port-city relationship over the centuries.

The Barceloneta 1 it was a good ship, surely a barxa Basque, similar to a ship: a merchant ship 25 meters long (it would fit right in the Plaza del Rei) and about 9 meters wide, capable of carrying a load of between 62 and 124 tons. The crew would be about 35 sailors. It was governed with a single rudder and was propelled by a large square sail in the mainmast. It probably had two more masts, the ratchet and mizzen masts, the latter with a lateen sail. With what is seen in the antechamber of the Palau Reial Major – the ribs – it is difficult to imagine the complete ship, but a very detailed 1:20 scale model is exhibited next to it that shows how the ship must have been. Barceloneta 1 in their good old days.

Model showing how Barceloneta1 should be.
Model showing how Barceloneta1 should be.

The boat was built around 1410. The date has been determined from the analysis of the moss used to caulk the boat. The plant species and the pollen adhered to it were typical of the Cantabrian Sea and the Bay of Biscay, but, on the other hand, in the layer of fish used to waterproof the hull for the last time, pollen from Mediterranean species has been identified. Which points to the Barceloneta 1 it was built in the north, but it sailed in the Mediterranean, at least in its final stage.

One of the mysteries of the ship was that, as evidenced by the naval technology used, it is a boat made to sail in the Atlantic, in the area of ​​the Cantabrian Sea to the Baltic: what was it doing then in Barcelona? The researchers suggest that it would be one of the Basque ships that habitually moved to the Mediterranean in the first half of the 15th century and that specialized in supplying the city with salty or dried fish, especially before Lent. The Cantabrian ships competed well in the world of freight: not only were they safe and their size adequate for average trade, but, dependent on the crown of Castile, they sailed under a neutral flag in the conflict that opposed the Catalan-Aragonese crown with Genoa. The Barceloneta 1 It shows the intense commercial activity (and the variety of boats) that Barcelona had even before its first artificial port (built between 1477 and 1487).

The Barceloneta I, According to scholars, the only ship of its kind found so far in the Mediterranean was already old when it arrived at the port of Barcelona and had undergone several repairs (as evidenced by two pine boards found in the remains of the hull). The final episode of his loss is not that of a tragic shipwreck with many drowned or a sinking at the hands of privateers (which incidentally abounded at the time) but a much less dramatic scenario. The ship would have run aground on the beach after a hit of the sea or a raised and there, useless, converted into a derelict, an abandoned boat, was subjected to a process of scrapping and looting to reuse the valuable wood. The researchers place the final deposit of the part preserved before 1439, which was when the first artificial pier in Barcelona was built, which caused the alteration of the coastal dynamics and that a different sediment covered the wreck.

Image of the discovery of Barceloneta 1.
Image of the discovery of Barceloneta 1.EFE

The installation of the Barceloneta 1 has an extension online with all the details of the ship and its discovery and study in the virtual exhibition The port, a portal to Barcelona. The testimony of the Barceloneta 1 criminal (derelictebarceloneta.portdebarcelona.cat). This exhibition includes a 3D reconstruction of the ship and detailed explanations about its history, its excavation and conservation by the Underwater Archeology Center (CAR), a slow process that required, among other actions, three years of desalination with fresh water, another three substitution of water for consolidating wax, and two years of gradual drying until the humidity is reduced to the current 55%, in addition to the design and construction of the support and the heated display case.

The director of the Muhba, Joan Roca, underlined when presenting the installation and the exhibition the extraordinary importance of Barceloneta 1 whom he compared for his exceptionality with Ötzi, the frozen man of the Alps. As for the apparent paradox that a ship like the Barceloneta 1 It is not in the Maritime Museum, Roca said that in this case the boat is at the service of the discourse on the link between Barcelona and the sea, something typical of the museum he directs and essential to understand the city. He stressed that there has been no misunderstanding with the Drassanes museum, nor has there been any dispute, struggle or tension over the ship. The Barceloneta 1 it will be exhibited indefinitely at the Palau Reial “until something better comes along, which is not likely.”

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