The superb Maritime Museum, which is currently under renovation, is housed in the 13th-century Drassanes Reials (Royal Shipyards), at the foot of La Rambla adjacent to the harbor front. This vast covered complex launched the ships of Catalonia's powerful Mediterranean fleet directly from its yards into the port (the water once reached the level of the eastern facade of the building). Today these are the world's largest and best-preserved medieval shipyards; centuries
ago, at a time when Greece was a province of the House of Aragón (1377–88), they were of crucial importance to the sea power of Catalonia (then the heavyweight in an alliance with Aragón). On the Av. del Paral.lel side of Drassanes is a completely intact section of the 14th- to 15th-century walls—Barcelona's third and final ramparts—that encircled El Raval along the Paral.lel and the Rondas de Sant Pau, Sant Antoni, and Universitat. (Ronda, the term used for the "rounds" or patrols soldiers made atop the defensive walls, became the name for the avenues that replaced them.) The earliest part of Drassanes is the section farthest from the sea along Carrer de Portal de Santa Madrona. Subsequent naves were added in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Though the shipyards seem more like a cathedral than a naval construction site, the Maritime Museum is filled with vessels, including a spectacular collection of ship models. The life-size reconstruction of the galley of Juan de Austria, commander of the Spanish fleet in the Battle of Lepanto, is perhaps the most impressive display in the museum. Figureheads, nautical gear, early navigational charts, and medieval nautical lore enhance the experience, and headphones and infrared pointers provide a first-rate self-guided tour. Concerts, often featuring early-music master and viola de gamba virtuoso Jordi Savall, are occasionally held in this acoustic gem. The cafeteria is Barcelona's hands-down winner for dining in the midst of medieval elegance. Don't miss the small bronze reproduction of a sailing ship, commemorating the 1571 Battle of Lepanto, out on La Rambla corner nearest the port.