Barcelona Civil War Tour
Image by Andy under Creative Commons License.

Spain, Barcelona Guide (A): Barcelona Civil War Tour

In the late 19th century Barcelona was “the city of bombs” due to the intense class conflict between the left (republicans, anarchists, socialists and communists) and the right (fascists, clerics, aristocrats and bourgeoisie). This conflict reached its peak in a civil war that was a precursor to WWII and marked the topography of Barcelona’s modern landscape. This tour will take you through acts that preceded and happened during civil war.
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Walk Route

Guide Name: Barcelona Civil War Tour
Guide Location: Spain » Barcelona
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Article (A))
# of Attractions: 16
Tour Duration: 3.0 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 14.5 Km
Author: Ariel Sheen
Author Bio: Ariel Sheen is a writer, historian, philosopher, international lecturer and semi-professional traveller. His academic research focuses on aesthetics, economics, film theory, Marxism, pedagogy, social conflict and technological development. When not doing this he enjoys traveling, practicing martial arts and creative writing. For more information on his projects visit arielsheen.com.
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Fossar de la Pedrera
  • Montjuïc Cemetary
  • Francisco Ferrer Monument
  • Montjuïc Castle
  • Air Raid Shelter 307
  • Walter Benjamin Memorial Garden
  • George Orwell Square
  • The Liceu Theatre
  • Plaque Commemorating Salvador Seguí
  • Sant Felip Neri Square
  • Plaque dedicated to Andreu Nin
  • Monument to Francesc Macià I Llussa
  • Telefonica building
  • La Rosa de Foc
  • Statue of Fransesc Lairet
  • Passeig de Lluís Companys
1
Fossar de la Pedrera

1) Fossar de la Pedrera

El Fossar de la Pedrera was one location of Franco’s politicide against those who fought against him during the Civil War. Being that it is remote from the main pedestrian thoroughfare of the city, and that it was close to Montjuic castle, the main jail for political prisoners it presented the perfect place to dispose of potentially unruly citizens. Over 4,000 people, republicans to anarchists, were buried here in unmarked common graves.

The entrance to the memorial has rows of tall columns on which many, but not all, of the names of the thousands who were executed here are engraved into the stones. After you walk past these grim columns, you can easily imagine the scenes of execution that happened here. In the back is the cliff high above the base of the quarry floor. After being shot their bodies fell downwards into a mass grave.

A new memorial made of bronze was constructed with money from the C.N.T. and installed in 2011. It is the only memorial in Barcelona to the thousands killed during and after the civil war and every 15th of October a ceremony is held here to commemorate the victims of Francosism.

Open 7 days a week from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
2
Montjuïc Cemetary

2) Montjuïc Cemetary

Buried here are Bueanventura Durruti, Francesc Ferrer I Guardia and others killed for political reasons. Durruti, a famous Italian anarchist activist and intellectual, was shot and killed a week after entering into Spain and going on the front. Tens of thousands of Barcelonans marched in the streets past his coffin. The translation of what is on Durruti’s grave is “We carry a new world in our hearts”. Ferrer was killed before the war and singlehandedly started the modern school movement that spread to radical communities worldwide.
Image by Andreasklug under Creative Commons License.
3
Francisco Ferrer Monument

3) Francisco Ferrer Monument

Francicso Ferrer was an advocate of secular and libertarian educational reform in Spain. His writings and actions had a profound influence on the radical currents of his time and shortly after he opened up his Modern Schools in Spain, others sought to replicate them – the most notable being on in New York City.

Ferrer’s was arrested in 1906 following an assassination attempt on King Alphonso the 13th and later killed by firing squad following Barcelona’s tragic Week in 1909 despite having no formal charges brought against him.
Image by Ginosal under Creative Commons License.
4
Montjuïc Castle

4) Montjuïc Castle

Montjuïc Castle has served as a prison, often of political criminal, until the time of General Franco. The castle was also the site of numerous executions. In 1897, an incident popularly known as Els Processos de Montjuïc prompted the execution of anarchists and their sympathizers, which then led to a severe repression of the workers' struggle for their rights. On different occasions during the Spanish Civil War, both Nationalists and Republicans were executed there, each at the time when the site was held by their opponents.

The Castle was the headquarters of the ERC militia during the Civil War.

In 1940 the Catalan nationalist leader and president of the Generalitat of Catalonia Lluís Companys i Jover was executed here after having been extradited from France to Franco’s government by the Gestapo.

In the Castle there is also a military museum and it is the only place in Barcelona where you can see a statue of General Franco.
Image by Andy under Creative Commons License.
5
Air Raid Shelter 307

5) Air Raid Shelter 307

During the Civil War air raids from Italian and, to a lesser extent, German air forces killed over 4,800 civilians in Barcelona. The metro system turned into a de facto shelter from the aerial raids and some 1,200 shelters were constructed through out the city with such speed and efficiency that their operations were monitored and later emulated by the British.

As Poble Sec suffered particularly hard by the effects of bombing, a large air-raid shelter was built into the mountain. The space has since been converted into a museum that has photographs from the war as well as information in English, Spanish and Catalan. The tour is open on Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 2pm, takes about an hour and costs 3 euros. However you can also make a group reservation during the week by contacting them at: reservesmuhba@bcn.cat
6
Walter Benjamin Memorial Garden

6) Walter Benjamin Memorial Garden

Today Walter Benjamin is considered to be one of the most eminent Marxist philosophers, but in the 1930’s his renown earned him enmity from the Nazis as well as the Stalinist NKVD.

Unable to move to America as Franco’s government denied him an exit visa and tired of playing cat and mouse with the Gestapo, he committed suicide four years after the end of the Civil War in the Catalan port town of Portbou. After Franco’s death, the government of Barcelona dedicated this small garden to his memory and used this space to exhibit several of his ideas.

There is a small fountain in the middle of the Jardins and benches surrounding it for seeing passers by and being seen by them. In a section called “Notes on Flanerie” in his book The Arcades Project, Benjamin describes the subjective effects of movement though urban spaces in cities to show how it is that the external visuals comes to be internalized and turned into pleasure.

Benjamin’s concept of aura, as explicated in the work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, is shown in the manner in which the designers of the park decorated the main walkway with four small stone pyramids, the symbols of European tourism in the 19th century.

Another significant feature is the graffiti on the public walls made to be used in this manner.
7
George Orwell Square

7) George Orwell Square

On the morning of June 23rd 1937, George Orwell boarded a train from Barcelona to France posing as a wealthy English businessman as he was a fugitive hunted by the fascist forces they’d come to Spain to fight and the Stalinists who sought to appease the western powers by sabotaging the Spanish Revolution.

The Spanish Civil War is often called the war where the losers wrote the history instead of the winners. Orwell, then simply Eric Blair, was one of the members of the International Brigades that had come to fight for the Republic and contributed with blood and ink. Because he risked his life on the frontlines against fascism and then wrote the book Homage to Catalonia to disabuse the world of the propaganda disseminated by the fascists, this square was named in his honor. The square is a good place to take a rest and have a snack.
8
The Liceu Theatre

8) The Liceu Theatre

During the second act of the opera Guillaume Tell by Rossini on November 7, 1893 two bombs were thrown into the opera house. Only one of the bombs exploded, but more than twenty people were killed, and many more injured.

Police later discovered that the atentát was the work of Santiago Salvador, an anarchist. This act deeply shocked the Catalan bourgeoisie and symbolized the turbulent social unrest of the time. Following the bombing there were a series of police raids upon suspected anarchist militants.

The Liceu reopened its doors two and a half months later. While the unexploded bomb itself is not available for viewing, the target building still stands and is still used for performances.
9
Plaque Commemorating Salvador Seguí

9) Plaque Commemorating Salvador Seguí

Salvador Seguí was involved with Solidaridad Obrera during the Tragic Week of 1909, the government negotiations which brought about the first ever eight-hour work day following the La Canadiense general strike, wrote the highly influential book Anarchism and Syndicalism and was a prominent member of the National Confederation of Labor (CNT). He was, in fact, secretary general of the CNT from 1918 to 1923 and a member of the pacifist faction that advocated the cessation of paramilitary training and action.

Despite his pacifism, on March 10th, 1923 CNT Seguí was assassinated by gunmen hired by the Barcelonan Employers Association right before the push for a new round of social reforms. A plaque marks the spot where he was assassinated.

Like Andreu Nin, there is a fundación in Salvador Seguí’s name that concerns itself with conserving and promoting libertarian thought and history. The plaque is on the corner of San Rafael and Ramblas de Raval.
10
Sant Felip Neri Square

10) Sant Felip Neri Square

The Plaça de Sant Felip Neri is the most calm and delightful square in Barcelona as it is only accessible by two walkways not close to any main thoroughfares. Its tranquil atmosphere, however belies its tragic history.

On January 30th, 1938 an Italian air bombardment missed its target and hit the square outside of a convent when had been turned into a makeshift orphanage. 42 people were killed, mostly refugee children.

As the rescue workers pulled out the survivors from the building another bomb fell in the square, killing more. It was the second worst bombing atrocity to hit Barcelona during the war.

Rumors once circulated that the marks in the stone were from the bullets of Anarchist execution squads that shot priests against the wall here. This, however, was a myth put out by the Franquist authorities to cover up what really happened.
11
Plaque dedicated to Andreu Nin

11) Plaque dedicated to Andreu Nin

Andreu Nin, along with Joaquín Maurín, founded the Workers' Party of Marxist Unification (POUM) in 1935 as a communist alternative to Stalinist Spanish Communist Party (PCE). Though initially aligned with the Trotskyist Opposition, he later broke with them. The plaque is placed outside of the Hotel Rivoli, which was once the base of operations of the POUM. The hotel, and Café Moka next to it, are places where the leaders of the POUM met to discuss politics and are described in George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia.

Following the violent conflicts during the “May Days” and under PCE pressure, the government declared the POUM an illegal organization on June 16, 1937. Nin and most of the leadership of POUM were arrested and sent to a camp near Madrid. While there Nin was tortured and murdered, under the supervision of the NKVD.

In addition to this plaque in his commemoration, there is another one where he was reportedly captured by Soviet agents, he has a street named after him and Nin has a foundation in his name that promotes and funds cultural and political events related to socialism. Posters for these events are often visible on main streets.
12
Monument to Francesc Macià I Llussa

12) Monument to Francesc Macià I Llussa

Francesc Macià I Llussa was a Catalan nationalist who founded the Estat Catala party in order to wrest government influence away from Madrid and led a failed coup attempt in 1926 to rid Catalonia of the Castillian forces interned throughout the city under General Primo de River’s regime. Francesc’s passion for Catalan nationalism is commemorated in the south eastern most point of Placa Catalunya.

It was Freansesc who first proclaimed the Free Catalan Republic after the 1931 elections forced the exile of Alfonso XIII of Spain and gave his party Left Republicans of Catalunya (ERC) regional power. Macià I Llussa also endorsed the autonomy of other regions under the Castilian monarchy and promoted a vision of Catalan nationalism based upon areas dominated by Catalan influence in the 13th century. He viewed the delegation of government powers to anarchist syndicates as a troublesome development and after his death his followers later attempted a coup on the Autonomous Government of Catalonia to stop this.

This monument contains a bust of Macià as well as two sets of staircases on top of each other. The significance of the statue is to allude to the different government options at the end of the monarchic era, a federated or republican Spain, as well as different paths available to the Catalan nationalists – republicanism or socialism.

Plaza Catalonia, once the site of Catalan Socialist Party and the proto-socialist/feminist group Mujeres Libres, is still a meeting place for populist political action and, while lacking plaques indicating their former occupants, highlight just how important radical sentiments were at the time prior to the Civil War.
Image by Jove under Creative Commons License.
13
Telefonica building

13) Telefonica building

While now just a bank and commercial offices above it, the Telefonica building was the site of intense fighting between the Catalan government troops and the C.N.T. and P.O.U.M. At the start of the civil war, the telephone system and the building containing it was controlled and run by the CNT. With mounting tension due to the loss of important battles, the Catalan Government tried to centralized and militarize all war-related operations and thus attempted to take the building by force on May 3rd,1936. This triggered the so-called May Day struggles that would kill over 400 people in internecine fighting.

For readers of George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia or viewers of Ken Loach’s film Land and Freedom a visit here will be a special treat as both are illustrate the fighting which happened here in detail.
14
La Rosa de Foc

14) La Rosa de Foc

La Rosa de Foc, or The Rose of Fire, is a bookstore and research library filled with everything you imagine related to the Spanish Civil War. Operated by the C.N.T., the bookstore is evidence that Barcelona’s radical traditions were not completely liquidated by Franco. In addition to the books, posters, shirts and other items available for sale here – the store acts as a community center hosting special events and discussions.

Open Monday-Friday from 10am to 2pm, 4pm-9pm
15
Statue of Fransesc Lairet

15) Statue of Fransesc Lairet

A progressive Republican, Fransesc Lairet was very deeply involved in the municipal reform in Barcelona. He worked to create some of the first public, secular schools in the city and cut government waste by halting cronyism and opening up a bidding system for contract work.

During the Restoration, he worked with the Cortes, to assist Spain during it’s transition to modernity and also founded the Catalan Republican Party (PRC). Though a republican, Lairet was actively involved in defending the rights of the anarchist C.N.T. and as a reward for this was shot and killed by an gunmen paid for by an employers union while leaving his home to go to the Civil Government building to protest against the mass detention of union leaders, nationalists and republicans on November 30th 1920. In 1936 a public subscription earned enough money to create a statue made by Frederic Marès in his honor.

The monument in the middle of Placa Goya made to his memory is of a bronze Liberty as bare-breasted woman holding up a torch. While this is typical of Republican iconography, the worker, farmer and mother with child all made of stone next to her is not and gives insight into Barcelona’s unique development.

After the Franco’s victory in Barcelona this statue was removed from public display and wasn’t returned until two years after Franco’s death in 1977.
16
Passeig de Lluís Companys

16) Passeig de Lluís Companys

This beautiful combination of park and large thoroughfare contains many statues of people who are Catalan nationalist heroes. Here you will find a statues of the 9th century Wilfred the Harry, the proto-Catalan, along side the Rafael Casanova, the 18th century jurist and later mayor who got the backing of Austria during the War of Spanish succession. For the purposes of our tour, however, we are concerned solely with LLuis Companys – the last president of Catalonia before Franco took over.

The Lluís Companys monument here was made by Francisco López Hernández and installed at the end of Passeig de Lluis Companys in 1998. The translation of the inscription on the monument is: Catalonia and freedom are the same thing: where freedom lives, there my homeland is. A young girl, Conxita Julià, friend of Companys, poetess later on, is the main subject of the sculpture.

As this is the last stop in the tour, it is a great time to consider the uniqueness of this regions history and struggles as well as to enjoy the park.

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