These faces at Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter evidence one of the most controversial issues of the city: its historical link with prostitution.

There are topics that are dodged because of shame, bad image or an obsession to be politically correct. One of them is the historical link between Barcelona and the oldest profession in the world. Even when Barcelona was Barcino during the Roman Empire it was a whole business based on sex. At that time, the services of prostitutes such as Felatrix (expert in fellations) or Bustruariae (who had sex in cemeteries) were highly demanded.

Of course, there were also brothels. Throughout history they’ve been marked in multiple ways: hanging flowers at the entrance, painting the lower part of the door with red lust and stone faces in the walls. These would not arrive to Barcelona until the seventeenth century. Today, they continue observing sinners walking through the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona.

Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter: a must visit spot.


These faces, known as carassas in Catalan, are stone figures representing the head of a demon or satyr, females, jellyfish or sinful faces. Wherever they looked, there was a brothel. They were installed in 1640, after The Reapers’ War. In fact, they served to indicate the Castilian troops where they could let some steam off. Their presence also coincides with a time of intense port activity and you now sailor’s fame. They used to promise the Virgin that if she saved them from the rough sea, they’d make a woman happy.

Faces with names

Some of these carassas even have a name. In the corner between the carrer de les Mosques and Flassaders is the Papamosques (meaning, The Fly Eater), that seems to be eating flies. It is similar to the one that tells the time at Burgos Cathedral but it has nothing to do with. It is said that there was a brothel frequented by sailors, who would free women of their misery (and fulfill the promise to the Virgin). Another example is the figure of La Caterina at the end of carrer Mestres Casals i Martorell. Its association with prostitutes has not been confirmed but everything indicates that there is.

Papamosques stone face.


Between carrer dels Mirallers and Vigatants there is the best preserved face (and the most popular one). In August 1983 the City Council demolished the building in which it was placed as part of a rehabilitation plan for Ciutat Vella. Thanks to the neighborhood action, the carassa returned.

Another curious face is the one in carrer de les Panses, a hidden street near Santa María del Mar. On the balcony of the third floor of a building facing the carrer de les trompetes there is a half bearded face. This mark indicates that there were only company ladies in that flat.

Hidden stone face at Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter.
Prostitution and Church

The Church also contributed to the prostitution business, at least during the seventeenth century. During religious celebrations prostitutes were confined at the Egipcíaques convent, today the headquarters of the CESIC delegation in Catalonia. The nuns tried to convince them to leave this bad life and join their community. To compensate the lack of income, they earned a salary by renting public mills.

There was a time when the Church realized they couldn’t stop the lust business. You know, if you can’t beat them, join them. That’s why they took control of brothels to redirect revenues to charitable causes. Of course, not everyone know this paradoxical relationship.