A Guide to Barcelona’s Civil War Bomb Shelters

Almost 82 years on, you’d never know that Barcelona was once the target of repeated and systematic airstrikes during the Spanish Civil War. 

It’s 16 March, 1938, and 41 hours of non-stop bombing is about to be unleashed on the city. Over three days, there were 670 deaths and 1,200 wounded during the Bombing of Barcelona by the Italian Aviazione Legionaria Italiana, upon the orders of General Franco and Mussolini. 

With attacks every three hours, the panic and terror was real. Luckily, over 1,400 bomb shelters were constructed in the city primarily by Barcelona’s very own citizens. Men were tasked with the construction, whilst women and children excavated the labyrinth of underground tunnels.

Despite over thousands of air-raid shelters being built, still many of Barcelona’s population struggled to find shelter. In these cases, the metro tunnels and stations were also used as makeshift shelters, with the station at Universitat being an example of this. 

We propose an alternative route that is often overlooked by tourists and locals. If you’re looking for route that will open your eyes to Barcelona’s history, this is it!

Refugi 307

One of the largest and most fascinating shelters in the city, Refugi (Shelter) 307 is located at the foot of Montjuïc mountain. It was the neighbourhood of Poble Sec that was one of the city’s most badly affected areas.

Get ready to discover over 400 metres of narrow tunnels with space for up to 2,000 people, plus a kitchen, bathroom facilities and even a pharmacy.

There are guided visits ever Sunday morning at 10.30 in English, 11.30 in Spanish and 12.30 in Catalan. Tickets are €3.50 and prior booking here is necessary.

Carrer Nou de la Rambla, 175

Refugi Antiaeri de la Plaça del Diamant

Around 90 shelters were built in the neighbourhood of Gràcia, with the Plaça del Diamant Air-raid Shelter being the most well known, with 250 metres of tunnels and capacity for around 200 people. 

It was discovered in 1992 during the construction of a power station in the square, thanks to which it was restored and opened to the public in 2006. 

Guided visits include a tour of the underground shelter with actors playing the roles of locals seeking shelter in order to survive the bombing. Visits in Spanish and English (upon request) are every second Sunday of the month and can be booked here

Plaça del Diamant

Refugi del Palau de les Heures

Despite being the smallest air-raid shelter on our tour, this one is, without a doubt, the best preserved. Discover its 40 metres of tunnels lit by the same lights that were used over 80 years ago, thanks to its restored electrics system.

Located at this stunning palace in the north of the city, the shelter was constructed specifically to protect the then President of the Government of Catalonia, Lluís Companys. Visits can be arranged by contacting the University of Barcelona, the current owners of the building. 

Passeig de la Vall d’Hebron, 171

Bomb Shelter Barcelona- Palau de les Heures

An additional tip to complete the tour: One of the most devastating events during the attack was when a bomb was dropped on the corner of the streets Balmes and Gran Vía, hitting a truck filled with TNT. Today, you can visit a cross in the place where it fell in memory of those killed and wounded during these days that Barcelona will never forget. 

Let yourself be amazed by these never-ending underground tunnels beneath the streets of Barcelona.

Barcelona is replete with history, don’t miss it on your next visit!

6 Curious Facts about the History of the Sagrada Família

Over the years, Barcelona has become synonymous with Gaudí’s Sagrada Família: its magnificent yet unfinished towers, its captivating sculpted exterior, its light-filled interior…

The Sagrada Família has been bringing people from far and wide to Barcelona for decades, yet what is it that fascinates visitors so?

Have you ever wondered why Gaudí built the Sagrada Familia? And when, after over 100 years, it will eventually be finished?

In this article we explain these six curious facts about the history and the construction of the Sagrada Família that are sure to make you even more curious about it.

Gaudí did not lay the Sagrada Família’s first stone

It was in 1881 that the Saint John Devotee Association (Asociación de devots de Sant Josep) bought a plot of land measuring 12,800 m2 on which to build the temple. However, it wasn’t until 19 March, 1882 that the first stone was laid – not by Gaudí – but by the architect Francisco de Paula del Villar y Lozano. In fact, Gaudí inherited the project from said architect in 1883 with a much more aspiring outlook than his predecessor.

Francisco de Paula del Villar y Lozano - Sagrada Família

Gaudí dedicated 43 years of his life to the Sagrada Família

As we have mentioned, Gaudí’s plan for what would be the Sagrada Família was highly ambitious. His original plans were for a temple with 5 naves, 3 facades, 18 towers. This would be, by far, his most ambitious project to date, and also the one he sought the most perfection in. From the year 1914 onwards, Gaudí stopped all other work and focused exclusively on the Sagrada Família.


Gaudí lived only to see the construction of the Nativity Façade

The Sagrada Família boasts three façades, each dedicated to a moment in the life of Christ: his birth, his suffering and resurrection and his eternal glory. It was in 1925 that he managed to finish the bell tower of the Nativity Façade, a mere year before his tragic death.

Gaudí knew that he would never see the Sagrada Família finished, therefore he left dozens of plans, sketches and instructions so it could be finished exactly how he had imagined. However, this information was tragically lost and burnt during the Spanish Civil War.

Nativity façade, 1899. Author: Aleu

The temple represents the life of Jesus and will be the tallest building in Barcelona

With the construction of the Sagrada Família, Gaudí’s wish was to represent the life of Jesus. The soon-to-be 18 towers will be dedicated to his disciples, the four Evangelists and the Virgin Mary. The tallest tower of all, scheduled to be finished in 2022, will be dedicated to Jesus Christ and topped by an impressive cross. 

With this, it will reach a total height of 172.5 metres, becoming the tallest building in the city of Barcelona. What’s more, it will also take the title for the tallest church in the world.

There are no straight lines in its architecture

In the entirety of Gaudí’s magnificent temple there is not one straight line. This masterpiece is an imitation of nature at its purest – from columns that emulate trees to an abundance of diverse flora and fauna. It was Gaudí himself who said: “The straight line belongs to men, the curved one to God.”

It will be finished in 2026 to coincide with the centenary of Gaudí’s death

A mere 144 years since it was started, the Sagrada Família is scheduled to be finished in the year 2026, marking one hundred years after Gaudí’s death in 1926. However, just because the construction is finished doesn’t mean that the temple itself is finished. There is still many a decorative element to add!

This date will be considered even more special if Gaudí obtains sainthood from the Catholic Church, the proposal for which was initiated in 2000 by an association of his devotees.

So, whether your visiting the Sagrada Família for the first or umpteenth time, we hope these interesting facts will open your eyes to the history behind it. 

8 Books Set in Barcelona that you will love

Many writers have chosen Barcelona as the backdrop to their novel over the years and many have written guides to its streets, its secrets and its past. And it is true that Spain’s cultural capital lends well to the page: from historical dramas, post-war sagas and tales of the Barcelona bourgeoisie to anecdotes, ghost stories and legends.

We’ve compiled this list of 8 books for you to discover another side of Barcelona:  these novels will take you back in time to the Barcelona of the past, uncover its secrets and help you get to know its people and its culture.

Perfect for enjoying a beer or coffee on a sun-drenched terrace, when topping up your tan at the beach or on your journey to Barcelona. Just sit back and enjoy this literary tour of Spain’s cultural capital with these 8 books set in Barcelona.

The City of Marvels by Eduardo Mendoza

Set during the years between Barcelona’s Universal Expositions (1886–1926), we follow the footsteps of the protagonist Onofre Bouvil – an immigrant, deliverer of anarchist propaganda and hair-tonic seller. In a Barcelona on the cusp of cultural evolution, discover how this ordinary man’s ambition takes him to powerful heights.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

This bestselling novel and first of the Cemetery of Forgotten books trilogy is set in a 1945 Barcelona. It is in this cemetery that the novel’s protagonist finds an unusual book that is to change life as he knows it.

What’s more, fans of the saga can visit the parts of Barcelona that inspired Zafón’s stories on one of the many “Shadow of the Wind” literary tours that take place around the city. 

The Cathedral of the Sea by Ildefonso Falcones

This historical drama set in 14th-century Barcelona takes readers on a journey through the construction of the city’s magnificent Santa María del Mar cathedral. A gripping tale of love, family and revenge, we’re sure you won’t be able to put it down.

The Time of the Doves by Mercè Rodoreda 

Written during her time of exile from Catalonia, Mercé Rodoreda’s bestseller is written in an unusual stream of consciousness style. This powerful and incredibly moving book tells the tale of normal girl named Natalia – known as La Colometa– during the civil war and post-war in Barcelona. In Catalan the book is named after Gràcia’s “Plaça del Diamant” which can be visited today.

We Had Won the War by Esther Tusquets

This bestselling novel set in post-Civil War Barcelona uncovers a perspective that is often excluded from Spanish war narrative: that of the winners. Through the author’s own memoir, she relates her experience of growing up among the Francoist bourgeoisie and her struggle to find her own place.

I’ll Give You the Earth by Chufo Llorens

This story of a young peasant boy set within the city walls paints a picture of medieval Barcelona. Discover this story of impossible love, passion, ambition and betrayal in the 11thcentury.

Un senyor de Barcelona (A Gentleman of Barcelona) by Josep Pla 

Available only in Catalan and Spanish, this biography by Josep Pla relates the life of Rafael Puget, a member of the Barcelona bourgeoisie through family portraits, anecdotes and memories.

Mysteries of Barcelona by Ernesto Milá 

This non-fiction guide uncovers long-lost facts and secrets of Barcelona. Divided into three sections that cover places, people and unusual traditions, this book is perfect for those who are looking to discover the other side of Barcelona.

We love reading about this wonderful city and we hope you also enjoy discovering its long-lost stories and uncovering its many secrets. Tell us, what’s your favourite book about Barcelona?

La Mercè 2017, the main event on Barcelona’s festival agenda

La Mercè 2017 is the main event on Barcelona’s festival agenda, uniting all of its neighbourhoods and serving as the city’s Festa Major.  This year it aims to extend further throughout the city by adding even more new venues and activities.

Every year, Barcelona invites a city from around the world to jointly celebrate the festival.  This year Icelandic capital Reykjavik has been invited to be this year’s special guest city and will be honoured throughout La Mercè.

Overall, it is a religious festival that has been celebrated since the Middle Ages and observes the holy feast day of Our Lady of Mercy.  It is the biggest weeklong festival in the city and an age-old tradition, but there are very up-to-date activity items as well, such as specialty markets, art displays and musical performances for example.

Gegants & Capgrossos – La Mercè 2017 

Catalunya has a great tradition for processions of giants or bigheads, which are tall, hollow structures with very large papier-mâché heads, each with a unique identity and character.  They are carried on top of people’s shoulders in a parade as they dance and run at the crowds.  Also, there are the Bestiari – which are figures of medieval, folkloric creatures.  This parade happens on the first day of the La Mercé celebrations.

Gegants Procession, September 22, Palau de la Virreina on La Rambla, 99, at 19:00h

The Correfoc – La Mercè 2017 
The famous fire run is always on September 24 – the actual saint’s day for La Mercé.  Performers dressed as devils and fiery dragons dance in a long procession through the city.  Hordes of “diables” hoist pitchforks, or forquilles, above their heads, with spinning fireworks attached that spray in all directions.  If you’re going to get a close-up photograph, then protective clothing is advised.  There is also an early fire run for children.

Correfoc (Adults), September 23, Via Laietana at 20:15h
Correfoc (Children) September 23, Via Laietana at 18:30h

Castellers – La Mercè 2017 

The Catalans are very good at building human structures. In fact he last few world records – 10 persons high – have been have been set in the region.  Participants, or Catsellers, climb on top of each other, interlocked into a delicate balancing act to get people to reach into the sky as far as possible.  The human tower is supported by a large number of people at the bottom, and then it’s a race to reach the highest point in strict formation before the structure breaks.

Human Towers, September 23, Plaça de Sant Jaume at 11:30h
Human Towers, September 23, Plaça de Sant Jaume at 12:30h

 

BAM
Barcelona Acció Musical has been running for over 20 years and hosts more contemporary rock and pop music concerts.  It runs in parallel to the main festival, and as Reykjavik is the partner city for this year’s La Mercé, then a contingent of its artists will perform, as well as national and internal artists.  Concerts usually take place at Plaza Real, Plaza Catalunya and at the MACBA, among many other intimate places and open-air venues around the city.

BAM, September 22-25, various venues
http://lameva.barcelona.cat/bam/en

AMICS DE LES ARTS CANET ROCK. FOTO: DAVID BORRAT. 04-07-15. CANET DE MAR. DIARI ARA

Piromusical – La Mercè 2017 
This is a critically acclaimed, professional fireworks display that takes place on the last night of La Mercè 2017 on Avinguda reina Maria Cristina.  You need to arrive early for the big finale, as thousands of people gather to watch this spectacular show.

Check the official agenda for more firework displays and digital light mapping events throughout the festival, at http://lameva.barcelona.cat/merce/en.

Piromusical, September 25, Avinguda de Reina Maria Cristina (Plaça Espanya) at 22:00h

The La Mercè Festival is a great way to see Barcelona at its best.  Your stay could be much more convenient with your own apartment.  Check our website for an excellent selection of short-term holiday rentals so that your stay in the city is as comfortable as possible.

Check the official agenda for more firework displays and digital light mapping events throughout the festival, at http://lameva.barcelona.cat/merce/en.