Vilanova i la Geltrú, capital of the area, was formed from two historical towns: La Geltrú, a millenary town that was already recorded before the year 1000, and La Vila Nova, the town born opposite La Geltrú on the land of the neighbouring Cubelles, which obtained the town charter from King Jaume I in 1274. The city today is the result of an important cultural and economic dynamism: first came agriculture, fishing, then the sea trade of the 18th century, the textile industry of the 19th and early 20th centuries, when the Pirelli company settled, leading and strengthening the industrial spirit of the town.
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However, at the same time the town began to discover its tourist attractions.A walk along the promenade – from the hill of Sant Gervasi to Sant Cristòfol – shows the relationship of Vilanova with the sea. At the end of passeig de Ribes Roges, in the west, we find the remotest vestiges of the town: the site of Adarró. Archaeologists deduce that the Iberian town, inhabited from the 6th to the 1st centuries BC, established a maritime port from where ceramics were exported to other points of the Mediterranean; and that in the 2nd century BC the Roman population settled. Today some stone walls can be seen that make it possible to imagine the old layout of the dwellings.
Next come the promenade and the residential area of Ribes Roges, where some Catalan Art Nouveau summer houses of the early 20th century stand out. The Torre de Ribes Roges, the only tower remaining of the three of the last walled enclosure of the coastal area of Vila Nova, dates from 1850. Today it is a remarkable place where contemporary artist Josep Guinovart has recreated his interpretation of the maritime world.
At this point passeig del Carme begins, one of the leisure spots of the town with the terraces, bars and restaurants, the Parc de Ribes Roges and the yacht harbour. Continuing along the promenade, at the crossroads with La Rambla, the monument to Francesc Macià (President of the Generalitat de Catalunya and born in the town) can be seen, a work by the artist Josep Maria Subirachs. From here begins the most maritime area of the town, with the Casa del Mar(with large arch windows on the façade) or Ca la Fassina (typical fisherman´s house, easy to recognise with the porch supported by enormous beams). Following the promenade we find the fishing port, one of the most important in Catalonia in fleet and catch. It is interesting to watch the arrival of the boats to port, at 8 in the morning and 3 in the afternoon.
At the bottom of carrer de la Pujada del Far de Sant Cristòfol we find the lighthouse. Today, apart from its guiding function, it houses the Museu del Mar (Sea Museum). If you go up the hill, you can enjoy the enchanting mansions and find the hermitage of Sant Cristòfol, from the 13th century, simple and austere, next to where the writer and philosopher of the Noucentisme Eugeni d´Ors lived and died.
You can return to the monument to Macià and continue up La Rambla, the main artery of the town, more than a kilometre in length, notable for the Catalan Art Nouveau style mansions such as Can Pahissa (alongside the railway line). At the crossroads of avinguda de Jaume Balmes and La Rambla begins the pedestrianised section where you can enjoy the splendour of the 19th century on the façades of the mansions, such as the Casa Magriñà (also known asCasa Renard). When you reach avinguda de Francesc Macià it is worth diverting for a moment to the left of La Rambla to visit the market known as Mercat del Centre, with more than 50 years of history.
Just on the other side of La Rambla we find plaça de la Vila, with a sculpture that recalls the indiano past of the town. It is the monument to Josep Tomàs Ventosa i Soler (1797-1874), a Vilanova native who acquired the land and buildings of the convent of the Capuchins, which were for sale because of the application of the disentailment laws of 1845, something which allowed the extension of La Rambla, of carrer dels Caputxins and carrer de Sant Sebastià and the opening of carrer de Francesc Macià and plaça de l´Ajuntament, where the town hall building called Casa de la Vila and Casa Olivella are of interest, in a corner of the square.
Continuing up La Rambla we arrive at plaça de les Neus, with the church dedicated to the patron saints of Vilanova: Sant Antoni Abat and la Verge de les Neus. Notable on the façade is the stained glass rose window by the artist Enric Cristòfol Ricart. Walking around the church you arrive at the façade of Sant Antoni, a building from 1699. The bell tower is an impressive stone structure of 52 metres in height, built in 1736, with the peculiarity of being separate from the church and showing a slight inclination.Return to plaça de les Neus to follow carrer de Sant Gregori until plaça de les Cols, where, among others, carrer dels Caputxins, the main trading street in the town centre, ends. Notable in this square are the Casa Cabanyes and the building of the Foment Vilanoví. Through carrer del Comerç you arrive at plaça de Pau Casals, former location of the town hall and from where you start seeing, in the neighbouring plaça de la Diputació, the mansion of Can Papiol, today the Museu Romàntic (Romantic Museum), which is worth a visit to understand and relive the romantic spirit of the Vilanova of the 18th century.
From plaça de Pau Casals you can also see, at the end of carrer de l´Església, the Portal del Nin, the only remains of the medieval wall, dating from 1371. From here, in two minutes – through carrer del Palmerar, plaça del Pou and carrer de la Unió, above the Torrent de la Pastera, natural limit between the Vilanova de Cubelles and La Geltrú –, you arrive at the heart of the medieval town. You should wander around the streets and small squares that surround the ancient castle – today the centre of the Arxiu Comarcal, the local archive – and the church of Santa Maria de la Geltrú, from the 17th century, although already mentioned in 1260. It has a magnificent baroque altarpiece on the main altar. You are recommended to walk through the narrow and evocative streets of La Geltrú, to sit in the small squares, particularly that of Els Lledoners, and enjoy the peace.
Now go down the path known as pujada del Cinto to pick up carrer de la Unió again. One hundred metres along this street is the old paper factory, La Paperera, today an occupational training centre and example of Vilanova´s important industrial legacy. Continue down carrer de la Unió and once you have crossed the rambla de Josep Tomàs i Ventosa, you see the gardens and imposing building of the Biblioteca-Museu Víctor Balaguer (Víctor Balaguer Library-Museum), built in 1884 by this outstanding man, writer, deputy in the Parliament and Minister of Foreign Affairs, to house his collections of art, and that today is, among other things, a high quality pictorial collection making for an essential visit.
A short distance away is plaça d´Eduard Maristany, in front of the railway station, built in the same year as the Library-Museum. Vilanova has a history closely linked to the train: it was through this that the town experienced an intense economic development. So much so that in the old station workshops you can travel through the Museu del Ferrocarril (Railway Museum), which has one of the most important collections of locomotives in the world.
Away from the urban route, the Masia d’en Cabanyes is worth a visit, a house and a place where the romantic spirit which accompanied the life and death of the poet Manuel de Cabanyes and the painter Alexandre de Cabanyes lives on. Today, in consequence, it houses the Romanticism Interpretation Centre. It is a perfect place to stroll and enjoy the view over Vilanova and sit in the shade of the neighbouring and centenary Pi Gros, an imposing pine tree.