Homage to the resistance in the Spanish Civil War

The marks left by shrapnel on the façade of the Sant Felip Neri church are a visible reminder of the air-raids Barcelona suffered during the Spanish Civil War. The city still bears scars of the conflict above ground, but below ground the city bears witness to the resistance. The exhibition “Barcelona’s 1,322 air-raid shelters” is on at La Model and immortalises the city’s passive defences, paying homage to the value of the civil society. The exhibition is on from 30 March to 31 July.

29/03/2023 20:27 h

Ajuntament de Barcelona

Housed in galleries 3 and 4 of the memorial space at La Model, the exhibition was conceived by the Councillor’s Office for Democratic Memory and reflects the extensive network of air-raid shelters which saved thousands of lives between 13 February 1937, when the bombardments began, and 25 January 1939.

The display features 170 previously unpublished pictures by the photographer Ana Sánchez, revealing a civic, historical and architectural heritage which is unique in Europe. The images reflect the tunnels full of rubble, roots, bricks and rusty cables, as well as the blocks of cement that sealed the entrances. The photos depict communal shelters, private shelters, facilities beneath factories and shelters for political leaders, revealing a Barcelona hidden ten metres below ground.

Thanks to the collaboration of the MUHBA, the display also includes fifty objects found in archaeological digs at different shelters, helping to give an insight into life beneath the bombs. These items are conserved at the Collections Centre in the Zona Franca and this is the first time they have gone on public display.

Curated by Sánchez and the historian Xavier Doménech, the exhibition features images of forty air-raid shelters. Some will be on display for the first time, as is the case of the shelter at the headquarters of the Passive Defence Board, located in Passeig de Gràcia, the one at the Escola Popular de Guerra, located at the Escola Pia de Sarrià, and the one at the Damm factory.

The name of the exhibition refers to the figure of 1,322 air-raid shelters currently recorded by the city’s Archaeology Service. After fifteen years of documentation, research and investigation, a compilation of these shelters can now be found on the website “The city of shelters. Catalogue of Barcelona’s air-raid shelters”.

Over twenty kilometres of tunnels

During nearly two years of constant attacks on the city, Barcelona took 1,903 hits form over a million kilos of bombs, causing over 2,700 dead and 7,000 injured. The city became a testing ground in war techniques ahead of World War II, but also led to a new form of resistance, with pick axes and spades used to dig below ground and weave an efficient network of unprecedented protection through more than 20 kilometres of tunnels.

Only 5% of the air-raid shelters listed were built directly by institutions, while 10% received public subsidies. The rest were the work of a mobilised civil society, in an unprecedented citizen movement. The density of air-raid shelters does not actually correspond to the areas hit hardest by the Aviazione Legionaria and the Legión Cóndor, but is instead directly linked to the city’s network of associations.

This means that neighbourhoods such as Les Corts and Sant Gervasi, with lower density populations, had proportionately far fewer air-raid shelters than Ciutat Vella, Sants or Gràcia, where the culture of cooperation between local people was more firmly rooted.


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