When much of the Ribera neighborhood was demolished by Philip V following Barcelona’s backing the wrong horse in the Wars of the Spanish Succession, the forcibly uprooted residents moved into new quarters in what is now known as the Barceloneta or “Little Barcelona” neighborhood by the seaside. The area quickly became something of a working class slum, resembling the back streets of Southern Italian cities like Naples. In the midst of this, a new parish was created and a new Italianate Baroque was built, dedicated to the Archangel St. Michael. The denomination “Sant Miquel del Port”, i.e. “St. Michael-of-the-Port”, was to distinguish it from the other, late Gothic church of St. Michael which stood near Barcelona city hall until the mid-19th century.
Designed by a Spanish (rather than a Catalan) architect, Pedro Martín Cermeño, who was primarily a military engineer, the church was rapidly constructed between 1753 and 1755. Martín Cermeño’s basic design was heavily dependent on that of Jesuit churches such as Il Gesu in Rome. When built the military authorities had insisted that the church be low enough so as not to block the cannons from La Ciutadella firing at approaching ships in the harbor, and therefore there was only a small cupola on the original structure.
In 1863 the port church was expanded in order to meet the needs of the rapidly increasing local population. At the same time, because of the closure and demolition of the nearby Citadel, there was no further need for cannon-based height restrictions on quayside buildings. The parish was thus finally able to raise a proper campanile over their church in the course of their remodeling.
Like the city’s other Baroque churches, Sant Miquel was torched by the Leftists in 1936, which ruined the interior decoration. The statues on the facade were also toppled, including the central image of St. Michael, and were finally replaced in the 1990’s. The figure of St. Michael in particular has been criticized by many for looking like a modern bodybuilder. Today, the Feast of St. Michael on September 29th remains the date of the major street festival for Barceloneta, when the neighborhood participates in revelry in the large square in front of the church.