Archived Barcelonas

Autobiografia de Barcelona: la història de la ciutat a través dels documents de l’Arxiu Municipal de Barcelona

[An autobiography of Barcelona: the history of the city through the documents of the Municipal Archive of Barcelona]

  • Daniel Venteo
  • Ajuntament de Barcelona / Editorial Efadós
  • Barcelona, 2013
  • 320 pages

“It was in the time of King Jaume I, with the constitution of the city’s fledgling government in the thirteenth century, when the municipal officers were commanded to take care of the archives…” So begins this autobiography of Barcelona, a powerful book written by the historian Daniel Venteo, with an introduction by Joaquim Borràs, chief archivist of the City Council, that brings to life over 550 documents spanning more than eight centuries of history. Easier said than done.

Through writings, engravings and photographs we regain our memory of the city, of its government, urban planning and economic development… history on a grand scale, but also the civic and collaborative fabric, that of the people, the natives of Barcelona old and new, the marginalised and the powerful, the rich and the poor, ethnic minorities, children, the elderly, women: this book gives them all a voice. We see how they live and work, have fun, organise their struggles, and we feel their collective pulse. The protagonist of the book is the city of Barcelona together with its people, but these players are the chorus line. The real stars are the documents from the Municipal Archives, unquestionable witnesses to this individual and col­lective memory.

We begin our journey in the thirteenth century with the granting of royal privileges, taxes and franchises for marketing to other territories of the crown, with the four paers, an advisory council of eight members and a general assembly that during the reign of Peter the Great became the Consell de Cent [the Council of One Hundred]. This political elite came from the families of great men. Also from this time there are documents of clerics and lords bearing witness to transactions based on the recognition of properties. During the War of Succession, with the removal of the Consell de Cent constitutional system, a new Spanish-style government was established, the Ayuntamiento de Regidores.

The book contains illustrations from the Llibre Verd and the Llibre Vermell [the Green Book and the Red Book], two collections that bring together the legal texts with which the city government defended its independence, and El llibre dels salaris dels oficials municipals [The book of the salaries of municipal officers].There are also references to the area of influence outside the “hort i vinyet” [garden and vineyard] that ran from Montgat to Castelldefels, thanks to carreratge [the right of a town under the jurisdiction of a barony to be incorporated within a royal town and so acquire the corresponding citizenship status and privileges] and the territorial and baronial domains – a kind of avant la lettre Metropolitan Area.

The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries saw the first initiative to save these documents: the notary Esteve Gelabert Bruniquer wrote the Cerimonial dels magnífics consellers i regiment de la ciutat [Ceremony of the Magnificent Councillors and Regiment of the City]; later historians who oversaw the heritage were Antoni de Capmany de Montpalau (1742–1813) and, even more recently, Agustí Duran i Sanpere (1887–1975).

During the current democratic period came the creation of the Xarxa d’Arxius Municipals [the Network of Municipal Archives] and administrative decentralisation, the Arxiu Fotogràfic [Photographic Archive], the digitization of collections and so on. In overwhelming figures: 40 km of documents, 10 centuries of history, 60,000 users, 200,000 documents, more than 10,000 loans. The Archives have opened to the general public.

From Barcino to Barcelona we learn about the Llibre del Consolat del Mar [the Sea Consulate Book], the expulsion of the Jews, the eradication of the Somorrostro slums, the shelling and bombing, the attacks – like those against King Ferran, in 1492, or in the modern era, against Hipercor and Ernest Lluch – the industrial advances, the Barcelona-Mataró railway in 1848, the tram in 1872, the underground in 1924, the first car – a Berliet, licence plate B-1 –, the first regular flight to Madrid in 1927 and the first to New York in 1948. The zoological collections – from Martí Codolar to Snowflake the gorilla – Einstein’s visit in 1923, that of Fleming in 1948 and the creation of the Observatori Fabra in 1904. You will find all this and much more in the extraordinary Autobiografia de Barcelona.

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