Safety & Security

12 Sinister Symbols & Ciphers in Barcelona

26th June 2017
Burglars and house breakers symbols, Barcelona, 2015

UPDATE June, 2017: Thought to re-publish this post not to alarm but by way of making you aware that given there are now many, many more vacation lets (both legal and illegal) in the city than when I first wrote the post — and, given that local sympathies are changing — some visitors’ apartments are now considered easy targets. Always check your vacation let is properly registered with the Ajuntament (City Hall). Otherwise, if things do go pear-shaped you’ll have a much harder time claiming for any loss and/or injury.


A sure sign warmer weather is on the way is the appearance of warnings posted in the entrances of apartment buildings advising residents to check for symbols scratched on, or near, their front doors.

With the warmer weather more of us spend more of our time outside the house. S’only natural. But our absence is often seen as an invitation to opportunist plunderers.

Having enjoyed a day, or weekend, hiking, biking, climbing, rafting, or simply mazing and grazing around, the last thing you need is to return home, find all your most precious things gone and something nasty in the fridge.
But these things happen — don’t let them happen to you.

You don’t need a brain like Alan Turing’s…

…to understand that the symbols above could portend trouble. The symbols and ciphers above form part of an international code used by house breakers, burglars and thieves. The symbols quickly give Hispanic would-be house breakers information about the apartment, its contents and its occupants.

If you can read Spanish then you’ll be ok — you’ll know what could be going down — if you don’t, then — come on — time to get the dictionary out. I’m not going to translate this warning for you. I’m your friend — I’m here to help — see this is an opportunity to begin to familiarise yourself with some basic Spanish — your continued ownership of prized valuables may depend on it.

Not wanting to be alarmist — as far as I’m aware, house break-ins are no more common in Barcelona than in any other city of comparable size — but apartments do get broken into; including vacation apartments.
Don’t let this happen to you.

You need a gatekeeper

If renting an apartment in Barcelona and the building has a portero (male)/portera (female)[concierge] then you’re lucky — they are your first line of defence against would-be intruders. A good portero/portera will interrogate all strangers and suspicious looking characters, making sure they don’t get anywhere near your front door, unless you’ve invited them. Make yourself known to the portero/a. Bring them a simple gift (fruit, flowers or pastries) and explain as best you can that for the time you are here you are not expecting any visitors. And, if you do see any strange markings, like those in the photo above, on or near your front door, or on or near any neighbours’ front door, report them to him or her.

Or some courage

If you’re staying in an apartment building that does not have a portero/a then you’ll need to be extra-vigilant; you may encounter all sorts of strange characters wandering around your building. They may be residents, or a friend or relative of a resident. They may be a legit door-to-door salesperson, or they may be impersonating a salesperson — using smart attire, clipboard and patter to insinuate themselves into the building.
If you do encounter someone on the stairs, or in the entrance of the building you’re staying in, and are you are not sure what their business is, then challenge them. It’s quite normal. If you do it politely no-one will be offended.
¿Necesita ayuda? Is all you need ask. If not confident about using Spanish then challenge them in English. Need help? This will likely cause surprise. It doesn’t matter. By challenging them you may well cause them to re-think what they were planning to do, take fright, and, fearful you may recall their face and features, slink away. It works.
Come on — you are going to have to rustle up the courage. Think how you’ll feel if you didn’t challenge that dubious looking duo lurking in the stairwell and found out later that your neighbour was robbed.

Put it in a safe

If you’re planning to be out and about all day, and you’ve brought jewellery and desirable valuable portable devices with you, and you’re staying at an apartment which you’ve booked through an agency, it may be worth asking someone at the agency if you can put your valuables in their safe. (If they decline — or tell you they don’t have a safe — oh, crap — you should have checked out the agency before you booked).

You’re not stupid…

…you know the drill — and there’s no need to be over-cautious. It is the case, though, that when on holiday, seduced by warm weather and local charms, tired from exploring the city and its surrounds, and drowsed by more than usual quantities of exercise/food/alcohol, we all let our common-sense defences drop a little.

Be advised. Be safe. Enjoy Barcelona.

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