About Daniel Venteo

Historian and museologist

City of archives and historical research

Photo: Vicente Zambrano

Facilities at the Arxiu Municipal del Districte de Sants-Montjuïc (Municipal Archives of the Sants-Montjuïc District), one of the municipal archives that now house the historical collections of citizen’s organisations in each area.
Photo: Vicente Zambrano

A century ago, on 21 June 1917, the decision was taken to split the Municipal Archive of Barcelona (AMB) into two sections — one administrative, the other historical. The latter of the two would go on to become the Historical Archive of Barcelona (AHCB), established in Casa de l’Ardiaca under the direction of Agustí Duran i Sanpere. Alongside the AHCB, civil society organisations have also done invaluable work to preserve the historical memory of the city.

In 1917, Barcelona City Council’s Culture Commission created a municipal department — the Office for Historical Publications and Research — that would have a decisive effect on the course of historical research in the city. The Office was led by the historian, archiver and archaeologist Agustí Duran i Sanpere (1887-1975), under the political direction of councillor and Noucentisme poet (a Catalan cultural movement of the early 20th century), Jaume Bofill i Mates. That same year, the Office would launch a project to split the Municipal Archives into two sections: one administrative, the other historical. To house the historical collections, the City Council bought and renovated the Casa de l’Ardiaca, which opened its doors in 1922 as the home of the new Historical Archive of Barcelona, also headed up by Duran i Sanpere.

Decades before, the Municipal Archive of Barcelona had become established as a major institution, not only for preserving the city’s documentary heritage but also for promoting research into and dissemination of its historic past. From 1892, it was the agency tasked with publishing the monumental work Manual de novells ardits (Handbook of New Schemes), which restored the use of the Catalan language in the City Council’s official publications.

From 1884 onwards, and at the behest of the Academy of Fine Arts, the Archive was involved in an ambitious plan to raise awareness of its collection, with support from the academics Josep Pella i Forgas, Francesc de Bofarull and Felip Bertran, and the municipal archivers Lluís Gaspar, Josep Puiggarí and Alfons Damians i Manté. This latter archiver, alongside the young Duran i Sanpere, was in charge during the first 1917 reorganisation of the Municipal Archive — now obsolete — when the documents dating back before 1714 were separated from the rest of the collection following the creation of the Historical Archive. In the shadow of the ever-present figure of Duran, the archival work of Damians i Manté has largely gone unnoticed, despite constant praise from his successors as head archiver — Ramon Alberch, Montserrat Beltran and Joaquim Borràs — since the restoration of the democratic City Council.

Photograph: Arxiu Municipal del Districte de Ciutat Vella (Municipal Archives of the Ciutat Vella District).

A gymkhana at a neighbourhood fête in El Raval in the 1930s.
Photograph: Arxiu Municipal del Districte de Ciutat Vella (Municipal Archives of the Ciutat Vella District).

From 1917, during the mid-20th century and until the restructuring of the municipal archive system in 1988, the Historical Archive of Barcelona was the main cultural body responsible for the dissemination of urban history — until the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition: it was later joined by the History Museum created by the Francoist City Council in 1943 (it is no coincidence that it was inaugurated on 14 April — the date on which the Second Spanish Republic had famously been declared in 1931), also under the direction of Duran i Sanpere.

In parallel to the work carried out by the City Council to preserve, document and disseminate the city’s cultural heritage, other entities also took steps to safeguard it, such as the Catalonia Hiking Centre (CEC), which inspired other local hiking groups to set up their own neighbourhood historical archives. This was the case for the Historical Archive of Gràcia and the Historical Archive of Sants, whose collections ultimately became part of the Municipal Archive of Barcelona. In the 1920s and 1930s, these two neighbourhood archives became the epicentre of efforts to preserve valuable material testimony of the former towns of the plain of Barcelona from before they were incorporated into Barcelona itself. This memory of the city in the form of documents — often related to everyday and cultural life — is of vital importance for the recognition and strengthening of collective identity.

Gràcia, El Raval and Les Corts

Photo: AMD de Gràcia / Club Excursionista de Gràcia

The church of Els Josepets in Gràcia, after mass, one Sunday in the early 20th century.
Photo: AMD de Gràcia / Club Excursionista de Gràcia

Thanks to the encouragement of figures such as Josep Buch i Parera and Eudald Canivell, Gràcia gained its first Historical Archive during the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, with the aim of strengthening historical memory. An interesting example is what happened to the magazine published by the Hand Weavers Cooperative during the Second Spanish Republic. In January 1939, after Franco’s troops occupied the city, the heads of the Cooperative decided to destroy all the copies of the magazine published during the Civil War. If the current Municipal Archive of Gràcia has preserved a complete copy of all the editions published by the Cooperative during the Civil War, it is thanks to the Hiking Club’s old historical archive, which zealously saved copies for future generations.

The Franco dictatorship, as in so many other aspects of daily life, signalled a before and after for local research. During much of the 1940s, the exile and repression of Catalan culture bolstered the spirit of initiative that had given rise to previous advances in the interwar period. The much-feared official censors — not to mention the self-censorship imposed by the authors themselves — effectively determined the type of local research and historical studies undertaken. This scenario did not begin to change until the 1970s. What happened in El Raval is an example of similar developments in other districts: thanks to the Fifth District Residents’ Association, established in 1974 and later known as the El Raval Residents’ Association, the first El Raval Study Centre was launched. With the involvement of young local graduates like Joan Fuster i Sobrepere, Xavier Suñol, Jaume Artigues and Francesc Mas, works such as the pioneering El Raval: Història d’un barri servidor d’una ciutat (El Raval: History of a City’s Service District) (1980), were published, bringing the historical, dissenting and social visions of their authors to the fore. Books such as Tots els barris de Barcelona (All the Districts of Barcelona) (1976), by Josep M. Huertas and Jaume Fabre, had a major influence.

Photograph: Arxiu Municipal del Districte de les Corts / Col•lecció de la família Brengaret-Framis (Municipal Archives of the Les Corts District / Brengaret-Framis family collection).

Workers in a brickyard in Les Corts in the 1900s.
Photograph: Arxiu Municipal del Districte de les Corts / Col•lecció de la família Brengaret-Framis (Municipal Archives of the Les Corts District / Brengaret-Framis family collection).

Photograph: Arxiu Municipal del Districte de les Corts / Col•lecció de la família Brengaret-Framis (Municipal Archives of the Les Corts District / Brengaret-Framis family collection).

A well-to-do family in Les Corts in the early 20th century.
Photograph: Arxiu Municipal del Districte de les Corts / Col•lecció de la família Brengaret-Framis (Municipal Archives of the Les Corts District / Brengaret-Framis family collection).

A few years later, on the other side of the city, in an area facing very different urban challenges, the Les Corts Study Centre was also contributing to the protection of local historical and cultural heritage. The Centre was set up by a group of university lecturers, including Josep Moran, Ramon Cerdà, Josep Mas i Sala and Josep Maria Casasús, for a specific purpose: to create a Historical Archive for Les Corts, “established to collate and safeguard written and illustrated documentation about the area, and promote its scientific study and dissemination of its history”. Sure enough, the archive was set up and, later, incorporated into the new Les Corts Municipal Archive.

The first meeting of the neighbourhood historical archives

On 16 April 1983, Casa de l’Ardiaca organised a historic event for the new study centres throughout the city, many of which had been created at the end of the Franco dictatorship. Launched by Jaume Sobrequés, director of the Municipal Institute of History, the first meeting of the neighbourhood historical archives was attended by members of the archives of Sant Martí, Horta, Les Corts, El Raval, Sants-Hostafrancs, Sarrià, Sant Gervasi, Gràcia and Sant Andreu. A number of proposals were suggested at the meeting, some of which were put into practice as part of the City Council’s decentralisation plan, such as creating a network of municipal historical archives (the district archives) and restoring the historical document collections of the old outlying municipalities.

In 1997, the centenary of the inclusion of the surrounding towns into the city of Barcelona signalled a new milestone for local research, as did the 2009 centenary of the so-called Tragic Week, a series of violent confrontations between the Spanish army and anarchists and republicans in Barcelona and other Catalan cities; and the 2014 tercentenary of the Spanish War of Succession. In addition to the official events promoted by the institutions, study centres such as the Ignasi Iglésias centre in Sant Andreu were instrumental in broadening the historical vision of those events with various interesting initiatives, including an exhibition and a monographic publication to examine the events of 1714 from the perspective, not of Barcelona, but of the former town of Sant Andreu del Palomar.

The resurgence of local research

Photo: Ajuntament de Barcelona

Cover of the book Dones de les Corts, a tour of the neighbourhood’s history seen through the eyes of women and written by the historian Isabel Segura Soriano and jointly published by the district archives.
Photo: Ajuntament de Barcelona

Local research in Barcelona is currently seeing a new resurgence and is supported by specialised institutions such as the Ramon Muntaner Institute and the Coordinating Committee for Catalan-speaking Study Centres. This was amply demonstrated at the meeting organised by the Municipal Archive of Barcelona and the Passats Presents Institute, held on 17 June 2017 at the El Born Cultural and Memorial Centre on the theme of research challenges and opportunities.

In addition to integrated research organisations and associations such as the Ignasi Iglésias Study Centre, the historical archives of Poblenou and Roquetes, the history workshops in Gràcia and Clot-Camp de l’Arpa, the Poble-Sec Historical Research and Study Centre and the Montjüic Study Centre, it is necessary to add newer, more ambitious initiatives such as the Tot Història Cultural Association, the Sant Martí de Provençals Study Centre and the Fort Pienc and Barceloneta history workshops.

Photograph: Arxiu Municipal del Districte de Ciutat Vella (Municipal Archives of the Ciutat Vella District).

Poster for the exhibition and talks on ‘Del Pedró a l’Hospital’, organised in 1981 by the Arxiu Històric del Raval (Historical Archives of El Raval).
Photograph: Arxiu Municipal del Districte de Ciutat Vella (Municipal Archives of the Ciutat Vella District).

The technological revolution and the new digital resources that public and private archives offer for those interested in the city’s history have turned what we knew about local research on its head. Good examples include online projects like the blogs Barcelofília. Inventari de la Barcelona desapareguda (Barcelophilia: Inventory of a Bygone Barcelona), by Miquel Barcelonauta; La Barcelona oblidada (Forgotten Barcelona), by Enric Comas; El tranvía 48 (Tram No. 48), by Ricard Fernández Valentí; Modernisme (Modernism), by Valentí Pons; and Memòria de Sants, (Memories of Sants), by Agus Giralt.

Each with their own particular lines of research, local study centres and, increasingly, new Internet researchers are undertaking research into topics that would otherwise be left out of academic studies. “We need to work as a network” was the recurring theme of the talks given by Ricard Vinyes, Curator of Historical Memory Programmes, and Joaquim Borràs, Head of Archiving for the City Council, during the meeting at the El Born Cultural and Memorial Centre.

A pulsating, ambivalent Olympic Barcelona

Amics per sempre
Author: Lluís-Anton Baulenas
Publisher: Bromera Edicions
344 pages
Barcelona, 2016

It is in the squares and streets of the Barcelona of 1992 – the city whose Olympic mascot was Cobi, a Catalan sheepdog – where the author sets the story of Ferran Simó, a young man that war, in the words of the narrator, has turned into a dog. Baulenas once again adds touches of magical realism to the novel.

On 1 June 1992, a summer storm rained down on Barcelona and, so too, on the magnetic protagonists of Lluís-Anton Baulenas’s latest novel, Amics per sempre (Friends Forever). Set in the city that hosted the Olympic Games, the characters in the novel – winner of the 2016 City of Alzira literary prize – swing between, on the one hand, the official euphoric atmosphere that brought jobs and international exposure to the entire region and, on the other, the harsh reality of everyday life. They are three young people fighting for their future and, as is only natural, searching for happiness.

The lives of an industrial engineer, a graphic artist and an unemployed archivist become intertwined by sheer coincidence. That same sheer coincidence causes a boy, Ferran Simó, to sustain personal injuries during the tragedy of the war in the former Yugoslavia. His only mistake was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time; it would change his life and follow him, even after he is set free and returns to the Barcelona of the 1992 Olympic Games.

Parading through the novel’s pages are Olympic volunteers, the uninhibited and sometimes illegal passions of individuals wanting to enjoy their sexuality at the margins of social conventions and, of course, the absurdity of war. Wars that, be they in Barcelona’s Plaça de Puigcerdà during the Spanish Civil War, in Poland during the Second World War or in the town of Novo Mesto in Slovenia during the Balkan conflict, always have dire consequences for the weakest and most defenceless, the ordinary innocent citizens. “Would they kill me just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time?” wonders the protagonist. Baulenas explores these unanswered questions with a boundless imagination and a constantly surprising mastery of words and plot.

Photo: AFB

Olympic volunteers in a run-through of the opening ceremony of the 1992 Olympic Games.
Photo: AFB

Long before the so-called historical novel became fashionable, Baulenas had already found his own voice in works that always turn Barcelona into a new and surprising literary setting. This time, a guesthouse in the Barri Gòtic; a tea and coffee shop in Santa Caterina; a car park in carrer de la Princesa; the employment office near the cathedral; a haberdashery in Portal de l’Àngel; the rambla de Canaletes and bar Zurich; the now defunct Bodega Bohemia in El Raval; carrer de Pere IV in Poble Nou; the Rec Comtal; the shanty towns of La Perona; and the old town of Sant Andreu are just some of the urban backdrops against which this surprising literary tale is set. At its core is a love triangle between three Barcelonians who are relentlessly pursued by a mysterious cream-coloured Volvo 940 with a temporary number plate. It is in the squares and streets of the Barcelona of 1992 – the city whose Olympic mascot was Cobi, a Catalan sheepdog – where the author sets the story of Ferran Simó, a young man that war, in the words of the narrator, has turned into a dog. Baulenas once again adds touches of magical realism to the novel, just as he did to great effect in La felicitat (Happiness) in 2001.

Intrigue, sex and historical account are some of the elements that make Amics per sempre an exciting read; page after page, scene after scene, it makes one’s heart race. On reaching the end, some readers will no doubt ask themselves whether they have read a novel or been to the cinema to see another of Ventura Pons’s movies based on the works of Baulenas.

“Sometimes it may be necessary to fully submerge oneself in something in order to try to pull oneself out of it”, says Baulenas, who borrowed the book’s title from a famous 1990s song by the Spanish group Los Manolos, that has now become a motto for the generation of Barcelonians who experienced the Olympic Games from two different perspectives: the official euphoria and the harshness of everyday life.

Family albums that write the story of the city

Barcelona is a city with one of the most important photographic heritages in Europe. Public and private archives, antique dealers and collectors, journalists and historians, publishing houses and, in particular, families themselves are all part of the system that makes it possible to preserve and disseminate this valuable documentary heritage.

Foto: Eva Guillamet

Many descendants of the creators of family photo albums are aware of their value as historical documents and they keep them; others, however, get rid of them. With a bit of luck, the discarded photographs end up in the hands of collectors who save them from destruction. In the picture, visiting cards with children’s’ portraits, dating back to the late 19th century, from the author’s private collection.
Foto: Eva Guillamet

Barcelona is a city with one of the most important photographic heritages in Europe. It’s not just the numerous public and private archives that preserve images of great documentary value for posterity; many families have also kept photographs, in shoeboxes or biscuit tins or, in the best case scenario, in bound albums, that have obvious sentimental value for their owners but can also give us a whole new vision of the city and of interest to the wider public.

In many cases, old photographs of grandparents and great-great-grandparents stand as unique testimonies to Catalan daily life and society during much of the 20th century. Public and private archives, antique dealers and collectors, journalists and historians, publishing houses and, in particular, families themselves are all part of the system that makes it possible to preserve and disseminate this valuable documentary heritage.

“Someone once said that a book is a box full of things. A box can also be full of stories, of many lives: forgotten, damaged, yellowed boxes… that are now lying hidden in an old chest of drawers. Boxes full of photographs. Some of them may even have been spared this undignified end and have a more prominent place in the drawer, in an album with a simple, faded ribbon. The condition of these ribbons is directly proportional to the love and care that someone put into collecting these images to record his or her own existence. Recovering these boxes is to capture our own presence.” With these poignant words, spoken during the 1998 Primavera Fotogràfica photography festival, the people running the Art and Culture Space at Pere Quart House, a cultural association in Sabadell, paid tribute to domestic photography and its value not only as historial and cultural document but also as a means of strengthening individual and collective identity.

Two years previously, in 1996, the Catalan Regional Government had presented its Llibre blanc del patrimoni fotogràfic a Catalunya (White paper on photographic heritage in Catalonia), which, surprisingly, drew attention again (as had already occurred at the First Catalan Conference on Photography in 1980) to professional, artistic photography but largely ignored the importance of photographs kept in the private collections of amateur photographers who, in many cases, produced hundreds and thousands of pictures that were often of great interest.

Neither does the latest national plan on photography, ratified by the Catalan government in 2014, seem to acknowledge the importance of the hidden photographic heritage that is kept in the homes of the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the people who took the pictures. In the best cases, their descendants value and are aware of the emotional importance that these pictures have, not just for their family identity but also for the general public. The dramatic upheaval caused by the Spanish Civil War, both for institutions and the public, give these photographs from the middle of the 20th century a significance that the people who took them could never have imagined. The snapshots kept in countless shoeboxes and biscuit tins and, in the best case scenario, in pre-war bound albums have today become a unique testament to the Catalonia of yesteryear.

Cultural heritage in a state of emergency

Photo: Arxiu de Revistes Catalanes Antigues

The first edition of the photographic current affairs weekly, Imatges, published on 11 June 1930. The front cover features the politician and lawyer Joan Maluquer i Viladot, as he “takes his car to fulfil his demanding role as President of the Provincial Council, after the obligatory visit to his farm”, according to the caption.
Photo: Arxiu de Revistes Catalanes Antigues

After the end of the dictatorship, the Fundació Joan Miró organised, in 1980, the First Catalan Conference on Photography. During the working sessions, there were debates on the benefits of recovering the country’s photographic heritage, the systems for creating local archives and the need for a museum of Catalan photography which, more than three decades on, has still to be realised. In addition to identifying the main problems regarding the lack of public policy on conservation and dissemination of photographic heritage, delegates also highlighted the exceptional richness of the many archives of non-professional photographers that, often, were in danger of being lost.

And not just those of amateur photographers. Many of the archives of professional photographers were saved from being pulped just in the nick of time. In this regard, the work carried out by the late Miquel Galmes in safeguarding the Roisin, Merletti and Thomas collections, among others, at the historical photographic archives of the Institute of Photographic Studies of Catalonia (IEFC), is truly remarkable. The year 1980 also saw the creation of the National Archive of Catalonia (ANC), although it only opened its headquarters in Sant Cugat del Vallès much later, in 1995. Over the years, its well-stocked Department of Images, Graphics and Audiovisuals has become one of the most important photography collections in the country.

Over the course of the 20th century, there were already several projects and organisations that had helped to conserve the photographic heritage of amateur photographers to great effect. One example is the Excursionist Centre of Catalonia (CEC), whose photographic archive has amassed more than 750,000 pictures over a hundred-year period. It is one of the most important heritage centres in the country, and in order to enhance its collections it has relied largely on donations from its members, many of them keen photographers. It’s a similar situation with the Catalan Photography Association (AFC), founded in 1923, which often shared members with the Excursionist Centre. More than 25,000 plates, most of them stereoscopic, form part of their historic archive. A few years later, in 1929, the National Library of Catalonia (BC) received one of its most valuable private donations: the collection of Dr. Josep Salvany, which comprised 18,000 stereoscopic glass plates that have been studied in depth by the photographer Ricard Marco.

During those years, the Sants chapter of the Excursionist Union of Catalonia (UEC) set up the neighbourhood’s first historical archive. It was 1931 and the people involved were well aware of the importance that all those pictures by amateur photographers, the club’s own members, would have in the future. Over the decades, the Sants Historical Archive (AHS) survived repression and Franco’s dictatorship to create a valuable photographic section that, in the years since the restoration of the democratic City Council, has helped to create what is today the Sants-Montjuïc District Municipal Archive (AMDSM).

Public programmes

Since the mid 1990s, various campaigns have been launched by public institutions with a view to recovering and disseminating home photography collections, which are undoubtedly valuable in building a richer, more plural narrative of 20th century Barcelona’s civic history. Year after year, the Barcelona Municipal Archives (AMB) and, in particular, the Barcelona Photographic Archive (AFB) and the network of District Municipal Archives, receive new collections thanks to private donations. Les Corts archive has, from day one, benefited hugely from a valuable photography collection spanning several decades and donated by the Brengaret i Framis family, who are well-known in the area. In 2015, Horta-Guinardó received the collection of amateur photographer Jaume Caminal, whose pictures are a chronicle of the neighbourhood’s transformation since the late 1930s.

In parallel to the work done by the City Archives (AHCB), education centres and history courses have also played a key role in identifying and protecting private collections, thanks to their in-depth knowledge of the locations in which they work. This is the case with, among others, the Poblenou, Fort Pienc and Roquetes-Nou Barris historical archives; the history workshops held in Gràcia and El Clot-Camp de l’Arpa; and not forgetting the work of the Poble-sec Historical Research Centre (CERHISEC) and organisations such as the Feast Association of Plaça Nova.

The network of community centres and civic participation in every neighbourhood has been a key factor in strengthening local collective memory with visual heritage. By way of example, campaigns to collect family photographs have been launched by municipal civic centres such as that of Barceloneta, Casa Golferichs, Sagrada Família and Casa Elizalde. In 2011, the latter launched an ambitious project entitled “Finestres de la memòria” (Windows of memory), which is still running. Capitalising on the potential of social media, it set out to find photographs of the neighbourhood pre-1980, the aim being the collective creation of a virtual photographic collection.

Over the years, this project has presented several annual exhibitions with themes ranging from the urban and architectural landscape; shops and businesses; domestic interiors; the history of the Sagrat Cor-Diputació School; portraits of local residents inside and outside the home; and public outdoor festivities. In May 2016, it opened an exhibition called “Ens fem una foto? Fotografia domèstica als anys trenta” (Shall we take a picture? Domestic photography in the 1930s). In the words of the organisers – photography historian Núria F. Rius and photographer Jordi Calafell – it was an acknowledgement of the historical value of family or domestic photography in the 1930s, which is when photography reached its apogee. “Taken outside or at home, intimate and personal, these images reveal a different visual story of daily life in L’Eixample that both complements and contradicts the received ideas that have been consolidated about the Second Spanish Republic, thanks to the strength of the graphic press and of cinema”, said Núria F. Rius.

Foto: Josep Maria Sagarra / AFB

A passer-by stops at a newspaper stand on La Rambla to look at the first copies of the magazine Barcelona gràfica, 9 April 1930.
Foto: Josep Maria Sagarra / AFB

The growing popularity of amateur photography coincided with the irreversible boom of the graphic press in Barcelona. In April and June 1930 respectively, two new picture books conquered the city: Barcelona gràfica (Graphic Barcelona) and Imatges (Images). The academic Teresa Ferré pointed out that, in parallel to this, there was a growing interest among readers in the private lives of public figures, particularly in the world of show business and what was known as the ‘star system’ of the inter-war years. It was another manifestation of the new popular culture that had triumphed in the United States and that, via London and Paris, was now spreading across the whole of Europe. Just as projects like “Finestres de la memòria” look at domestic photography in the Eixample area – and increasingly in the rest of the city, as we can see from the new project on the 1970s Transition years – other initiatives cover the whole of Catalonia. The National Library of Catalonia and the Catalan Regional Government’s Department of Archives and Museums are just two of various organisations highlighting Catalonia’s family memory as a focal point of the “Fem memòria” (Let’s remember) project. Photographs are one of the document types brought along most often by participating families.

Social media and private enterprise

Social media has made it possible to launch dozens of new initiatives to recover domestic photographs or private collections. One example is the blog Barcelofília. Inventari de la Barcelona desapareguda (Barcelophilia. An inventory of the Barcelona that once was) created by the digital activist Miquel Barcelonauta (2010). Another is the Facebook page Barcelona desapareguda (2013) (Vanished Barcelona), set up by Giacomo Alessandro, who died young in 2016 of leukaemia. Yet another is the Instagram account El nostre arxiu fotogràfic (2015) (Our photographic archive) by the young archivist Adrián Cruz Espinosa. All three are laudable initiatives that raise awareness of an unknown photographic heritage. All three have one thing in common: the presence of numerous unpublished photos from family albums.

Cover of the book on La Barceloneta from the “L’Abans” collection

Cover of the book on La Barceloneta from the “L’Abans” collection, published by Efadós in partnership with Barcelona City Council. The collection portrays the history of the towns of Catalonia and the Balearic Islands, in pictures.

Alongside the public actions, private enterprise has also helped in this process to reappraise our heritage. In 1994, the Viena Edicions publishing house started to publish a collection of small books entitled Imatges i Records (Images and Records), which gave prominence to family photographs in its graphic history of towns and districts. The first book focused on the municipality of El Prat del Llobregat, and a few years later, in 2003, the first two Barcelona titles came out, dedicated to the neighbourhoods of Gràcia and Ciutat Vella respectively. Around the same time, another publishing house, Efadós, started publishing an ambitious collection: “ L’Abans” (Before). It achieved unprecedented success. From the very first book in 1996, which focused on the municipality of El Papiol, to the last one on Barcelona’s Ciutat Vella, being released to coincide with Sant Jordi in 2017, more than a hundred volumes have been published, each of them with around a thousand pictures. In total, over the past twenty years or so, “L’Abans” has published more than 100,000 photographs. The volumes on Barcelona have all been produced either by professional historians or, in most cases, by the education centres and history workshops that had already been using domestic photography for years as a key part of their research and teaching projects.

New sources of documentation

The abundance of these potential new sources of documentation, the plurality of visual testaments that they provide and the fact that they are unpublished mean that family photographs are an indispensable resource for researchers studying the 20th century. Certainly, one of the periods that can benefit most is the Spanish Civil War years. Although just a few days after Franco’s troops occupied Barcelona, on 7 February 1939, the press published a release from Franco’s new National Propaganda Service calling for the “collaboration of photographers, experts, reporters and private persons who have taken photographs of official functions, parades, public events, etc., from 18 July 18 1936 to the present day” and asking them to “hand in any negatives and copies of these photographs at their disposal as soon as possible”, the fact is that many people did not obey this order from the new, much-feared regime. Rossend Torras Mir was one of them. To this day, his descendants still preserve his incredible photographic archive of around 25,000 negatives, which they hope will soon be published in full. The collection includes unique photographs of the churches that were set alight in July 1936. “It is time to open shoeboxes and confront the collective memory with photographic evidence. Without doubt, domestic photography gives us a new insight into the Spanish Civil War”, point out photography historian Núria F. Rius and photographer Jordi Calafell.

Foto: Eva Guillamet

Photographs taken by Nazis during the Spanish Civil War, from the author’s private collection. The text is copied from the back of the photograph of a Nazi ship, the Kondor, which, as the text states, was anchored at the port of Barcelona at the start of the war. Top right, as they occupy Barcelona, Franco’s troops parade at the junction of Avinguda Diagonal and Carrer de Balmes; in the middle a Junker 52 at Burgos aerodrome, with a skull and the name of the target – Barcelona – painted on it; below, a swastika flies at the port.
Foto: Eva Guillamet

It’s not only in Catalonia and Spain that new possibilities are opening up thanks to family photographs. Many grandchildren of the Germans and Italians who, during the Spanish Civil War, fought for Franco’s rebel army, are also donating family albums that capture the military exploits of their Fascist ancestors. Antique dealers, collectors and online auction sites offer these unpublished documents for sale to anyone who is interested. That was the case with, for example, a disquieting photograph in which a group of soldiers from the Nazi’s Condor Legion pose at Burgos aerodrome next to their Junker bomber plane. A spine-chilling skull has been painted on the plane, along with the name of one of the targets of their murderous bombs, dropped at the service of the fascist cause: the city of Barcelona, which, as we know, was never on the frontline of the war. The idea was simply to spread panic among the civilian population of the Republican rear-guard, and indeed they did in Guernica and in the villages of Castelló, but also in Barcelona, Palamós and so many other Catalan towns. In another photograph, the soldiers are pictured next to the rebel planes and the enormous missiles that brought indiscriminate death and destruction wherever they fell.

In 2016 the Museum of the History of Catalonia (MHC) opened a new exhibition on the part played by Italians in the Spanish Civil War. It included a new perspective of many of the soldiers who took part: through the photographs they took on their own cameras, which in many cases, create a stark contrast between their reality and the cold, calculating rhetoric of the official propaganda.

Foto: Eva Guillamet

Photographer Jordi Baron, an antiques dealer who has one of Barcelona’s most valuable collections of old photographs; in his studio holding a daguerreotype.
Foto: Eva Guillamet

For the photographer Jordi Baron (a Barcelona antique dealer with one of the city’s most valuable collections of old photographs), the domestic photographs provide “the human view of the experience. Photojournalists are professionals, so they are detached from the personal or family experience and they are taking the photos for someone else, ultimately, for the public. The wonderful thing about domestic photographs, or what are today called ‘vernacular photographs’, is the purpose for which they were taken: they have no particular intention, they are only for private and family use, they are nothing more than a private document, unless the photographer has the added bonus of artistic expressiveness or he or she wants to share them with other people”.

The hidden heritage of family photographs may be priceless, but it is also very vulnerable and at risk of being wasted or, in the worst case scenario, being destroyed if it is not located in time. We have heard how some collections have been saved from obscurity, and news of them has reached the media, but how many others have disappeared without a trace?

Photo: Milagros Caturla / Las fotos perdidas de Barcelona

Rosalía Serrano, born 1950, discovered herself as a little girl in this photograph (on the right, with a ribbon in her hair) that was bought in 2001 at Els Encants flea market by a North-American tourist, Tom Sponheim. The picture came in some envelopes containing negatives that Sponheim has taken the time to document on a Facebook page called Las fotos perdidas de Barcelona, which led to the photographer being identified. Rosalía found out about the existence of the photo when watching a report on TV.
Photo: Milagros Caturla / Las fotos perdidas de Barcelona

It was at the Encants de les Glòries flea market that, in 2001, a North American tourist, Tom Sponheim, bought some envelopes with negatives of what appeared to be pictures of Barcelona. When he developed them on his return to Seattle, he became aware that these dozens of photographs had been taken by someone who was very gifted, but whose identity was unknown. Using social media, in particular his Facebook page Las fotos perdidas de Barcelona (The lost photos of Barcelona), Sponheim has been able to document them with great accuracy, thanks to the help of internet users. Some of the people pictured have even been identified. One of the girls appearing in the photographs is Rosalía Serrano Calvo, born in 1950. In late January 2017, she was watching television when she saw a feature on the amazing story of the photos whose author Sponheim was trying to find. When the photographs of some schoolgirls came up on the screen, Rosalía exclaimed that one of the girls looked just like her granddaughter Anabel. But it wasn’t her granddaughter – it was actually her… And this was proven by other family photographs of the time. “I couldn’t believe it. That photo was taken when I was eight years old, at my school, Els Tres Pins, on Montjuïc. We lived right next door”, she remembers.

Unforeseeable Encants

Foto: Eva Guillamet

Teacher of Audiovisual Arts and collector, Artur Canyigueral, a tireless hunter of old photographs at Els Encants flea market in Glòries. A Barcelonian by adoption who is passionate about old photographs as a communal heritage that evokes the emotions of a society broken by the Spanish Civil War and the dictatorship.
Foto: Eva Guillamet

Tom Sponheim’s experience is part and parcel of the daily business of Barcelona’s antiques dealers and collectors who, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, early in the morning, go to Els Encants for the closed auction of lots to be sold over subsequent days. One of them is Artur Canyigueral. Even after going there for decades, the expectation of finding a valuable item is as exciting as it was on his very first day. “Everything is so unpredictable at Els Encants, you never know what you might find. That’s what makes it so magical”, says Canyigueral, who has been frequenting Barcelona’s flea market par excellence since 1973. “It must be over ten years ago now that I bought a lot containing the family photos of a lady in Manresa, comprising about 500 photographs, both developed and in negatives. I could see the potential that lay in the photography of the past: that whole collection showed fixed shots of the lives of three generations of family, like in a cinematic narrative. I was fascinated by it and I reoriented my work towards photography”, explains this affable retired Audiovisual Arts teacher. At Els Encants, Canyigueral the collector has become a tireless searcher of these images, which, since 1839, have illustrated the transformation of contemporary society. “If you look very carefully, you can find images that ring all these changes. You can see the official history in them, but also the heterodox history. They are described and captured in little jewels of trapped time: moments of light trapped by an innocent – or not so innocent – hand, telling us what our ancestors were like and what they did.”

Sometimes, entire lots come into Els Encants, the photographic testament of an entire life. When someone dies without an heir, or if there is no interest in their belongings, including family photo albums, on the part of the third or fourth generation, whose members are often emotionally disconnected from their history, this heritage often ends up on the stalls of Els Encants or in the rubbish bin. But not always. There are also many descendants who are fully aware of how valuable their parents’ and grandparents’ passion for photography is today, not just for the family but for society as a whole.

Foto: Eva Guillamet

The daughters of pharmacist Joan Miquel-Quintilla share, on the Barcelona Foto Antic website, a selection of photos taken by their father between 1933 and 1983. There is still much to study in the albums of Dr. Miquel-Quintilla as they include more than ten thousand pictures that depict how society in Barcelona and other locations in Catalonia and Spain evolved over those fifty years.
Foto: Eva Guillamet

This is true of the daughters of pharmacist Joan Miquel Quintilla, who, altruistically and self-funded, created a website called www.barcelonafotoantic.com, where they started publishing a selection of the more than 10,000 photographs their father had taken over half a century, between 1933 and 1983, both in black and white and in colour. Hundreds of albums, yet to be studied in depth, have given us amazing pictures like the incredible view in colour of the slums of Somorrostro closest to the Poblenou seafront, taken in 1962. More recently, the volume on Ciutat Vella in the L’Abans series published for the very first time some of the most emblematic pictures taken by the tailor and photography enthusiast Ramon Beleta, kept by the Figa-Beleta family. It has also brought to light some of the treasures kept in the album of the Solsona-Climent family: photos taken by the Republican schoolteachers Jeroni Solsona Pallerols and Maria Climent Roses.

In these early years of the 21st century, when photography is more popular than ever thanks to the digital revolution and social media, old family photos are back in the limelight and many of us have been sorting through our grandparents’ and parents’ old papers to save their photographs from falling into oblivion. Stories such as the amazing discovery in 2007, by the researcher John Maloof, of Vivian Maier’s negatives, have encouraged us to turn our gaze back to our family albums. More than ever, our domestic photographic heritage is, indisputably, strengthening our collective identity.

A biography of a city

Barcelona. Una biografia [Barcelona: A Biography]
Author: Enric Calpena
Edicions 62 / Destino
Barcelona, 2015

Thanks to his work promoting the history of Catalonia, the journalist Enric Calpena has become one of the most prominent names in contemporary historical literature. With works such as this, he adds to notable 20th-century initiatives such as the series by Agustí Duran i Sanpere, which was turned into a book following its success on the radio, becoming a benchmark work for educated readership.

In Barcelona. Una biografia, he succeeds in giving a voice to a city that for over 2,000 years has made ambition the main feature of its urban personality. The history of Barcelona can be explained through its documents, such as the municipal archives that resulted in the book Autobiografia de Barcelona (2013), or it can be explained through its people, institutions and stones. That is what has been done and presented to us through a story with over 800 pages, in which the journalist interviews Barcelona.

The result is an ambitious literary text that is well-documented, enjoyable to read, rich in anecdotes and always marked by Calpena’s unabashed style, a style prone to impromptu comparisons in order to decipher historical facts that are sometimes too distant and even incomprehensible for modern readers, but one that is also loving, given the author’s esteem for his home city. The Barcelona profiled by Calpena is a city with a privileged geographical position on the Catalan coast, especially since it stands between the two milestones of the ancient western Mediterranean, Empúries and Tarraco. The evolution of this urban enclave is depicted through the different names it has had throughout history, from the primitive Barkeno to Roman Barcino, which became Barsiluna in Moorish times, Barchinona in Christian times, and finally Barcelona in the late medieval and modern age. It enters modernity marked by the fire and destruction of the War of the Spanish Succession and the Peninsular War, while the final chapters focus on the adventure of contemporary Barcelona, bringing readers practically up to the present day. 

The undoubted aim is not to provide an exhaustive overview, but an invitation to enjoy the amazing complexity of Barcelona through the centuries. In many cases, the author – whose work had hitherto focused on more contemporary themes – pays more attention to distant episodes of the ancient Roman or medieval city than to the 19th or particularly the 20th century. An example: the same attention is dedicated to the parliament of 1413 as to the 40 years of Franco’s dictatorship.

The result is an innovative approach that Calpena uses to broaden the horizons of Catalan history, as well as Spanish history during the more recent centuries, going beyond focusing on the history of the city as other journalisthistorians have done with great success, such as Lluís Permanyer, Jaume Fabre or the sorely missed Josep Maria Huertas Claveria. This is not a book on urban history in the strict sense, but it is a good work of historical literature on the role Barcelona has played within Catalan and Spanish history. 

Barcelona is, effectively, a city that endears itself, as Calpena affirms in the prologue. The book is an act of love for the city and its past. Available in Catalan (Edicions 62) and Spanish (Destino) editions, the publishers should also consider English and French editions at the very least. The dissemination of Barcelona and its history deserves it, and its potential readers would surely appreciate it.  

A live account of two thousand years of history

In the streets and squares of the three Barcelonas evoked by Robert Hughes, metropolitan, mediaeval and Roman, over two thousand years of history are summarised with a continuity comparable to that of European state capitals like London, Paris and Rome.

© Andreu

Robert Hughes, author of the most internationally significant work on Barcelona ever, claimed the Catalan capital was, in fact, three cities in one: the metropolitan city stretched between the rivers with the Eixample and the surrounding, perfectly defined, neighbourhoods, within which there is a clearly defined older town, the mediaeval Ciutat Vella, which itself contains yet another, more archaic settlement, the ancient Roman city of Barcino. With his words, the prestigious Australian art critic was proposing a route through Barcelona and its more than two thousand years of history. Let’s look, for example, at three areas representing key periods of history in this bimillennial city: the Barcelona of the Roman period and Early Middle Ages, the Late Mediaeval Gothic city, and the metropolis of the early 20th century.

In recent years, archaeology has recovered one of the most surprising finds in the history of Barcelona: the Christian Visigothic cathedral hidden beneath the Basilica of Sants Just i Pastor (Plaça de Sant Just, 1). It is the bap­tistery of a cathedral mentioned in ancient documents but which until now had never been proved archaeologically: the most important temple for the local Catholic population in the 6th century, when the city was governed by elite Visigoths who practised Arianism and worshipped on the site of the current cathedral.

This discovery is part of the Pla Barcino, an ambitious plan to reclaim the cultural heritage of Roman and Visi­gothic Barcelona and make it available to the public through all kinds of public events, including the Urban Archaeology Service website, http://cartaarqueologica.bcn.cat, which lists more than three thousand places of interest spanning the entire history of the city.

© Dani Codina
The remains of the gravestones reused for the walls of the Palau del Lloctinent, visible in the courtyard of the Museu Marès.

Like a palimpsest

Barcelona’s history can be read like a palimpsest. In ancient times, scribes were often forced to reuse the same parchments, removing the existing texts and adding new ones. By analysing them, literary critics have recovered the value of these texts, which, under the guise of a single document, hide several stories, some more obvious than others. In the same way, the history of the city is written on its stones, and in its documents, not only in what we can see at first glance but also everything that has been deliberately destroyed and goes unnoticed. A typical example is the archaeological subsoil of the old Born market (Plaça Comercial 12), together with the remains of the Ribera neighbourhood that was destroyed by order of the Bourbon authorities, post-1714. Centuries before this, the 1391 annihilation of the local Jewish community and the physical destruction of their quarter, El Call, had been its equally bloody and traumatic forerunner.

The names in the area round Placeta de Manuel Ribé remind passers-by of the Jewish presence in mediaeval Barchinona. From Plaça de Sant Jaume it is easy to enter El Call, either by following the street of the same name and then continuing down Sant Domènec del Call, or along Carrer Sant Honorat and then down Carrer Fruita. Both lead the pedestrian to what is considered to be the site of the main synagogue (Carrer de Marlet, 5). A few steps away a Hebrew marker stone – in fact it is just a copy; the original is preserved in the Museu d’Història de Barcelona – recalls the 13thcentury founding of a hospital for the needy (C. Marlet, 1).

A visit to the El Call Interpretation Centre (Placeta de  Manuel Ribé, 3) is essential in order to discover the impression Jewish Barcelona left on other places in the city, like the remains of the necropolis on Montjuïc, recently declared a Cultural Asset of National Interest, the tombstones that have been reused as building materials in the Palau del Lloctinent (Carrer dels Comtes, 2), and the subsoil of the Saló del Tinell (Plaça del Rei, 9). Despite the destructive efforts of the Mediaeval Christian city to wipe out the Jewish one, the remains of El Call crop out, unstoppably, in modern Barcelona, just like on a palimpsest.

© Dani Codina
A detail of the façade of Casa Padellàs.

The Middle Ages revisited in the 20th century

The cathedral quarter, more popularly known as the Barri Gòtic [Gothic Quarter], is a slice of the city where Barcelona reveals itself to be an urban patchwork. Today, the truly mediaeval constructions, like the Romanesque Santa Llúcia Chapel (Carrer de Santa Llúcia, 3) and the Gothic Santa Àgata Chapel (Plaça del Rei, 9), jostle with buildings that were substantially remodelled in the mid-20th century, such as the home of the Centre Excursionista de Catalunya and the remains of a Roman temple (Carrer del Paradís, 10), the Palau Reial Major and the Saló del Tinell in Plaça del Rei, and, above all, the Casa dels Canonges (Carrer de la Pietat, 2). Connected to the neighbouring Palau de la Generalitat via a 1928 neo-Gothic bridge across Carrer del Bisbe, the reinvention of this building in the 1920s is considered to be the founding action for the modern Barri Gòtic.

Even more surprising is the story of the travelling buildings, like Casa Padellàs (Carrer del Veguer, 2), transported stone by stone from its original location in Carrer dels Mercaders to where it now rests at the monumental site in Plaça del Rei, an act that made it possible to uncover the archaelogically important Roman subsoil.

In the case of the Cathedral, the contrast in historical periods and artistic styles is subtle, from the late 19th century neo-Gothic facade to the rest of the essentially mediaeval building. In front of it, two more buildings, Pia Almoïna, home of the Museu Diocesà (Avinguda de la Catedral, 4), and Casa de l’Ardiaca, home of the City History Archives (Carrer de Santa Llúcia, 1), are both good examples of how medi­aeval buildings constructed on the ancient Roman wall have gradually been transformed, becoming modern sites whose architectural evolution relates two thousand years of urban history.

© Dani Codina
The cathedral, with a Neo-Gothic nineteenth century façade, between Pia Almoina and the Casa de l’Ardiaca, historic buildings with contemporary interventions: examples of the mix of styles and eras that speak to us of two thousand year history.

The Barri Gòtic is anything but an invented neighbourhood, as is often claimed. Its transformation is the result of a perfectly designed plan responding to the opening up of Via Laietana in 1908 and a 1922 conference on making the Cathedral Quarter into a monument. The plan was carried out by the architect Adolf Florensa and the archaeologist and archivist Agustí Duran i Sanpere. One aspect of the Barri Gòtic that still draws the attention of locals and visitors alike is the solidity and the absolute pre-eminence of the stone facades. In 1511, the Florentine ambassador Francesco Guicciardini wrote in his travel journal, his Diario del viaggio in Spagna: unlike other peninsular towns, Barcelona stands out for having a city which is principally built of stone.

In the streets and squares of the three Barcelonas evoked by Robert Hughes, over two thousand years of history are summarised with a continuity only comparable to that of European state capitals like London, Paris and Rome.