Civil War

Battlefields in Barcelona 4: The Bunkers, Turó de la Rovira

9th April 2019

The streets and squares of Barcelona comprise a battlefield
which occasionally continues to host skirmishes and more enduring clashes between armed police, the civil guard, the
army, and local people.

The streets of Barcelona comprise a battlefield which continues to host skirmishes and more enduring clashes between armed police, the civil guard and local people.

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360º View of the City

So, here we are at The Bunkers, a site which offers one of the very best views of the city.

Don't forget your camera. 

There was a time, not so very long ago, that you could come up here and be alone with your thoughts, or enjoy a picnic with friends or family as you soaked up the views. Not any more. Today there’s hardly an hour of the day or night when there isn’t at least two dozen or more intrepid visitors sharing this intriguing place — at various times a military installation, an uncharted, unofficial village, a party hangout, and music video location.

Recent infrastructure improvements have greatly improved access to the site — now managed by the City's Museums Service. Interestingly, it is a site which is visited equally by both residents and visitors. 

Now, on a sunny day, it's not unusual to find as many as 300 people inspecting the vestiges of a settlement that was known as Los Cañones (Els Canons in català).

Italian bomber

Some History

So, why is what you see, the remnants of an anti-aircraft battery, here? 

In July 1936 a cabal of army generals led by General José Sanjurjo, and co-ordinated by General Emilio Mola, rose up against the democratically elected government of the Republic of Spain.

The seditious Spanish generals were supported by Hitler and Mussolini, both of whom supplied the rebel army with arms, transport and aircraft.

Nazi aircraft transported more than 2,500 rebel troops from Morocco to southern Spain — then the largest military airlift in history.
What began as a military rebellion very soon became a revolution and a civil war.

The people of Barcelona, aided by loyal units of Assault Guards, Civil Guard, Air Force and Army which had refused to join the rebellion, crushed the rebels. SEE Barcelona's Day of Infamy HERE.
 
However, despite local people's victory in Barcelona, within a few months Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy had thousands of troops and hundreds of tanks, aircraft, artillery units, ships and submarines based in Spain.

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Deadly Experiments

The German and Italian forces used their involvement as an opportunity to experiment with new weapons and tactics.
For example, the Italian navy experimented with submarines and mini-submarines. (Between July 1936 and June 1938, 13 British merchant ships were sunk by Italian, German and rebel Spanish forces. Another 51 were bombed from the air, and five attacked by Italian submarines — and a craven UK National Government, led by Neville Chamberlain, did nothing.)

The Italians and Germans were especially keen to experiment with aircraft. The Italians formed an airforce called the Aviazione Legionaria. From its bases in occupied Mallorca  Aviazione Legionaria bombers launched attacks on dozens of Catalan and Spanish cities and towns.
Their raids were consciously designed to terrorise and demoralise the civilian population — not disrupt economic activity and military production.
Stealth was a key factor of the Italians' tactics. The only warning of attacks came from listening posts — crude devices, like giant ear-trumpets (see photo above).
Knowing this the Italian bomber crews would approach the city at high altitude, turn off their engines before reaching the coast, and glide in on their targets, only re-starting their engines after releasing their payload. Most locals' warning of a raid only came after hearing the first explosion.

While the Barcelona government was slow to react local people organised the building of 1,400 air-raid shelters across the city (two of which are now open to the public: SEE LINKS below). The work was paid for by local subscription, not local taxes.

Finally, in 1937, the government ordered the building of 4 anti-aircraft batteries to defend the city. The anti-aircraft battery here, on Turó de la Rovira, became operational in March, 1938 — too late to avert the worst impacts of the Italian bombing campaign.

The government's air defence efforts were too light, too little and too late. During the course of the war only one enemy plane was shot down by anti-aircraft fire over Barcelona.

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Bomb damage in Poble Sec Barcelona

Tragedy

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Barcelona suffered a total of 194 aerial and naval bombardments during the course of the war.
The Italian Aviazione Legionaria launched 72 air-raids against Barcelona.

The most notorious Italian raid took place on January 30th, 1938: 

At 9.05am six Savoia S-79 bombers attacked the city centre. At least one bomb fell on the small square, Plaça Sant Felip Neri in Barri Gòtic. The square was filled with schoolchildren, many of whom were orphaned refugees from Spain. Two hours later bombers returned to bomb the square again while rescuers were pulling wounded and dead children from the rubble; 42 people, 30 of them children, were killed.
Having found that the city had no aerial defences and no anti-aircraft batteries the Italians stepped up the number of attacks, culminating with a fierce onslaught in March, 1938.

Over the course of 41 hours between March 16th and March 18th, the Italians attacked the city centre 19 times, completely destroying 76 buildings, and killing more than 1,000 people.

Before calling a halt to these terror attacks because of international condemnation, the Italian Air Force dropped 1,352 bombs on the city causing 2,096 deaths, the destruction of 930 homes, leaving 4,568 people seriously wounded, and several hundred people homeless.

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Lessons learned…but ignored…

The number of deaths from air-raids on Barcelona during the Civil War would have been far greater had local people not taken the initiative to build effective air-raid shelters. This was noted by a prominent British politician, Winston Churchill.

Even before  the end of the Spanish Civil War Churchill arranged for one of the engineers involved in building the city's 1,400 air-raid shelters to visit London. Churchill, knowing that war with Nazi Germany was inevitable, wanted to appoint the Catalan engineer as an adviser to help plan and build a network of public air-raid shelters in London. Churchill, not yet Prime Minister, was frustrated by both the Home Office and the Defence ministry — who accused Churchill of alarmism, and claimed that building public air-raid shelters would damage morale through a mix of despondency and panic — while all the while knowing such efforts would detract from, or overstretch efforts to build an elaborate system of shelters for politicians and civil servants. The UK We, the UK Us, had to make do with Morrison shelters and Anderson shelters — cheap, flimsy, D.I.Y. sandbag and corrugated-iron lash-ups.

Looking over El Carmel toward Horta in the distance

Los Cañones

During the 1940s and 50s, the site was settled by families of migrants from Andalucia. Around 110 families occupied the site — around 600 people — until 1990 when, in preparation for the Olympic Games of 1992, the families were moved off the site and re-housed. This small shanty town even had its own rumba band, El Barrio Negro.

Aerial view of Los Cañones, Barcelona in the 1980s

Aerial view of Los Cañones, Barcelona in the 1980s

Museum

Interior of The Bunkers, Turo de la Rovira

Museum exhibit at The Bunkers

The City's Museum Service (MUHBA) has done a pretty good job of interpreting the site for visitors — with interpretation boards dotted about the site and a permanent exhibition which explains the site's wartime role and its post-war life as a shanty town. 

However, the exhibition is only open on WEDNESDAY between 10am and 2pm and SATURDAY & SUNDAY between 10am and 3pm. Entrance to the exhibit is FREE.

Here's a link to the site's official website in English.

GETTING HERE

From Plaça Catalunya: Bus 22 will take you on an interesting, but roundabout tour via Vila de Gràcia and El Coll and drop you at the entrance to Parc Guinardó from where it's a 10 minute stroll through the trees.

From Plaça Catalunya: Bus 24 will drop you at the bus-stop near Carrer Muhlberg.

When you get off the bus turn left and walk up to Carrer Muhlberg on your right, walk along this rising street until you come to a set of steps leading up to the Bunkers on your left.

OR, to make an interesting circuit, keep walking along Carrer Muhlberg — you'll cross an interesting bridge — then turn left up through the trees to a road (C/Marià Labèrnia) shouldered by houses and walk to the end of the street and up some steps to the entrance of the site.

OR, when you get off the bus just below Carrer Muhlberg turn left, walk uphill, past Carrer Muhlberg and Bar-Restaurant Delicias on your right and take the next turning right onto Carrer de la Gran Vista and keep on the right-hand side of the road until you come to a bus-stop and take Barri Bus 119 (every 30 minutes during the day) to C/Marià Labèrnia from where it's a short stroll to the entrance.

From Passeig de Sant Joan (Dreta l'Eixample): Bus V19 to Carrer Muhlberg and then follow directions/options above as for Bus 24.

Air-raid shelters open to visitors

REFUGI 307: Guided tours in English SUNDAYS at 10.30am, 3,50€. Advance booking recommended. Website: HERE

PLAÇA del DIAMANT in Gràcia: Guided visits to the site are organised by the Gràcia History Workshop. Scheduled tours, on SUNDAY at 11am, are available in català and castellano, 3€. The hour-long tour in castellano is only available on the second Sunday of the month.

Guided visits in English can be organised outside this time by prior arrangement. Contact the Gràcia History Workshop here: tallerhistoriagracia@gmail.com. Website: HERE

Finally…

A link to a fascinating documentary by Jordi Busquets: HERE

Enjoy exploring Barcelona's past.

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