Cereal grasses of the Triticeae tribe have been the major food source in temperate regions since the dawn of agriculture. Their large genomes are characterized by a high content of repetitive elements and large pericentromeric regions that are virtually devoid of meiotic recombination. Here we present a high-quality reference genome assembly for barley (Hordeum vulgare L.). We use chromosome conformation capture mapping to derive the linear order of sequences across the pericentromeric space and to investigate the spatial organization of chromatin in the nucleus at megabase resolution. The composition of genes and repetitive elements differs between distal and proximal regions. Gene family analyses reveal lineage-specific duplications of genes involved in the transport of nutrients to developing seeds and the mobilization of carbohydrates in grains. We demonstrate the importance of the barley reference sequence for breeding by inspecting the genomic partitioning of sequence variation in modern elite germplasm, highlighting regions vulnerable to genetic erosion.