The Sea Consulate

During the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries, in the late Middle Ages, Barcelona’s commercial activity was in full sail in spite of the recurring crises. This stimulated the creation of various institutions whose aim was to legitimate the growing power of the merchant class and also to promote and regulate economic activity.

The “Universitat” or Council of Freemen of Barcelona’s Ribera (harbour district) of was one of these early institutions. It was created in the mid-13th century to promote and defend the city’s seafront, and in 1348 it was restructured and renamed the Sea Consulate of Barcelona by King Peter III the Ceremonious, thus becoming a mercantile tribunal like the rest of the “sea consulates” of the Crown of Aragon. Soon its jurisdiction would extend to terrestrial affairs and it would assume new functions. In 1394, King Joan I would create two more institutions that reinforced the traders’ political and social power: the Defenders of Merchandise, who protected the interests of the mercantile world, and the Council of Merchandise or Council of Twenty, which was responsible, among other matters, for the management of the Llotja.

The rise of Barcelona’s merchant class is also reflected in town planning. The Ribera district, in which the Llotja was to occupy a pre-eminent place, experienced considerable expansion in the 13th and 14th centuries and became the centre of Barcelona’s economic power.