The chequered past of Barcelona’s Castell de Montjuïc

“You have to bomb Barcelona at least once every 50 years”.

Baldomero Espartero (1793-1879)
Prime Minister of Spain (1837)

It is a strange time when the Prime Minister of a country declares the need for violence against his own citizens, but the deep running political differences between Madrid and Barcelona make such a statement believable. Because Barcelona has been bombed on numerous occasions, almost always by other Spanish soldiers.

There is also one place, and one symbol of that bombing, the majestic Montjuic hill that overlooks the whole city – a fortress built to defend the city and turned on the city instead.

The view of Barcelona from atop Castell de Montjuic

The fortress was completed in the 1640s and was put into use a year later when the Principality of Catalonia challeneged Spanish rule in the Catalan Revolt. The fortress performed its role and helped the Catalonians soldiers deafeat the Habsburg Spanish soldier at the Battle of Montjuic, which was unfortunately not enough to allow them to win the war – the Revolt was crushed rather unsympathetically by the Spanish king.

About 50 years later, Madrid and Barcelona came to blow again, with the Montjuic castle cast in the role of theatre of war when the succession of the Spanish king was in conflict, the king Charles II had died without a heir. There were two possible kings, an Austrian Habsburg one and a French Bourbon one. Castile (central Spain) supported the Habsburg claim while Catalan supported the Bourbon claim. Once again, the Catalans lost the war.

1714 was the last year that the fortress had its canons pointing outwards and bombing foreign invaders. Since 1714, all violence that has emerged from Montjuic Castle has been directed at the civilians of Barcelona. It was also used as a site for the torture of prisoners of war by both the Catalan and Castile-based governments when they took over the fortress during the Spanish Civil War with prisoners forming a veritable list of political leaders on both sides of the political aisle in Catalonia including Lluis Companys the then President of the Government of Catalonia.

Most of the past of this fortress today is remembered only in history books, the fortress overlooks the city, its long shadow of dark death lingers over long corridors of the collective memory of history.

In its present incarnation however, Castell de Montjuic is a place of exploration, excitement and enchantment, visitors explore the many museums filling the space that was once occupied by prison cells.

Young couples pick this location for a date, using the backdrop of the city to create that movie moment in their relationship.

May the embrace of tourists forever quieten the guns on this this fortress and ignite the clicks on cash registers, I’d much rather money goes to a tourist monument rather than bombs fall on civilians.

ON THE MAP

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