Refugi 307 – A Spanish Civil War air raid shelter in Barcelona

Refugi 307 - 177 Carrer Nou de la Rambla - Barcelona

Refugi 307 – 177 Carrer Nou de la Rambla – Barcelona

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Refugi 307 – A Spanish Civil War air raid shelter in Barcelona

Refugi 307 (an air-raid shelter during the Spanish Civil War, 1936-39) is one of the few existing shelters from that conflict which it’s possible to visit. Situated in the working class district of Poble Sec it’s very close to Montjuic Hill. The opening of these places to the public throughout Catalonia was part of a project called Memorial Democràtic, started under a more left leaning regional government. The right, who’ve regained control of Catalonia, have messed around with the organisation and I’ve found it impossible to discover exact details of the present state of affairs. This shelter is now under the control of the Museu d’Història de Barcelona.

The Spanish Civil War – even though we’re talking about an event which was almost 70 years ago – has still not found a resolution in Catalonia (or even in Spain). This is the reason, I believe, why Memorial Democràtic has become such a political football. Civil wars are more complicated than conventional wars as they tend to arise at times of potentially radical changes in society.

The extreme nature of the hostilities that are an inevitable consequence of this situation means that fears, hatreds and animosities last much, much longer than the actual military hostilities. These are then passed on to future generations and just fester. Although the North Americans always claim the moral high ground when criticising more recent conflicts we only have to look at that country to see that many in the Confederate south have never accepted the victory of the Union – the preponderance of the rebel flag being the most obvious example of this.

History still hasn’t condemned Franco for the murders committed well into the 1950s, such as the public executions in the Camp de la Bota. This was right by the sea but the location has been obliterated and is where the luxurious yachts are now parked in the Barcelona marina. Many families of those killed by the Fascists still won’t speak out even though Franco himself was put in the ground almost 40 years ago. Bizarrely, at least to me, the family of the architect who designed Refugi 307 don’t want his name to appear in a public place, presumably as they fear reprisals from some unknown group of Franco admirers.

It’s long been accepted and understood that the Spanish Civil War was a proving ground for some of the military tactics that were to be used in what came to be known as the Second World War – more properly World War One – Part 2. Blitzgrieg tactics would be used both at the front and on the civilian population. The idea of total war was born where anyone and anything on the opposing side was fair game, however far they might be from the actual fighting.

These tactics of the Nazis were condemned by the British and the Americans as barbaric and many of those tried at Nuremburg were condemned for pursuing this course of action. However, the same tactics when followed by the so-called ‘Allies’, such as the bombing of Dresden when German control of the skies was lost, were not considered war crimes. On the contrary, Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris, Commander-in-Chief of the RAF Bomber Command towards the end of WWII, was considered a hero, although the erection of a statue to his honour in 1992 was controversial.

When it came to Vietnam B53’s dropping bombs from miles up in the sky onto Hanoi, F111’s destroying thousands of acres of jungle and agricultural land with their napalm bombs and Bell ‘Huey’ helicopters pouring millions of gallons of Agent Orange on to Vietnamese villagers was considered legitimate in the illegitimate war against a population that merely wanted the right to determine their own future, free from foreign interference. And let’s not get on to Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya where hundreds of thousands have died as a consequence of ‘collateral damage’.

But back to Poble Sec.

Refugi 307 is very different from the other air raid shelter it’s possible to visit in the Barcelona city area, the one in Plaça Macià in Sant Adrià – only a short Metro ride (Line 2) from the city centre.

Throughout Barcelona many people would use the basements of the bigger shops and department stores, hotels or the basements of the grand house of the L’Eixample. Poble Sec had none of these close by which meant other means of protection had to be found. A couple of similar shelters were also built in the Gràcia district – at Plaça Diamant and Plaça Revolució.

The air raid shelter below Montjuic is constructed in a manner similar to the galleries found in commercial mines, was started sometime in 1936 at the initiative of the local residents and was predominantly the work of old men, women and children – most of the young men of military age at the front – (why should there be an age limit or a gender separation of fighting for your freedom?) – and was still being extended when the war was lost by the legitimate Republican forces in 1939. It was carved out of the relatively soft sandstone rock of Montjuic hill and then faced with brick. At one time there were three entrances, in actuality now there are two. More than one entrance was necessary to avoid the risk of turning a shelter into a tomb in the event of a bomb blocking the one and only entrance.

The shelter followed a similar pattern to others found throughout the Spanish peninsular. A zigzag design of the tunnels meant that blast shock waves couldn’t go deep into the shelter and there was always a 90 degree turn right by the entrance. It had electric lighting, provided by batteries which could provide power for up to 2 hours, but no means of ventilation so would have become very hot if full. For that reason smoking was banned.

There were male and female toilets (each with its gender defining coloured tiles) constructed close to the principal entrance but as the shelter could take up to 2,000 people by the time of its greatest extent the queues must have been quite long at times. Running water was installed and during the later construction, deeper into the hill, a stream was struck so it was decided to dig a cistern to capture the water. There was also a small infirmary to deal with the small, but potentially serious, injuries of civilians under bombardment such as cuts, bruises and fractures. Anything more serious you would have had to take your chances.

The smaller galleries off the main ones were provided with basic wooden benches as the time spent in the shelters was relatively short, unlike the situation, for example, of the Londoners during the Blitz. Barcelona was being bombarded by Italian planes that were based in Mallorca and the numbers of bombers available were not as great as they were a few years later over British cities and nothing like the Thousand Bomber Raids over Germany from 1942 onwards. The bombers would arrive and then as quickly as possible get out over the Mediterranean away from hostile anti-aircraft fire. The logistics of the situation meant the raids were short and sharp.

An anti-aircraft gun battery was located near the old castle on Montjuic and that might have accorded Poble Sec a bit of added protection. Seemingly the gunners were not seeking to shoot down the planes, just to put the fear of God up the airmen, as a bomber falling on the tightly packed streets of central Barcelona would have had a more devastating effects than a bomb falling.

Being trapped in a tunnel underground isn’t to everyone’s liking and as time went on some people decided to face the consequences of the raids in their own homes rather than worry what was going to happen to those homes. However that might have been the case this shelter, and others like them, most certainly prevented the death toll amongst civilians from being much higher.

The story goes that British engineers came to visit this shelter (although this might be apocryphal as I’ve heard the same story at other shelters elsewhere in Catalonia) as they knew there was a great likelihood that British cities would face the same danger from the German Nazis in a future war. If that was the thinking in Britain at the time the question has to be asked: Why was it the British didn’t fight on the side of the legitimate Republican government? That’s a rhetorical question as the British establishment has not in the past, and doesn’t seem to at present, realise that once you let out the dogs of war they don’t always attack the ones you want and end up turning on their previous ‘masters’.

Neither did the Spanish/Catalonian engineering experience seem to travel to Britain. I’m not aware of any such gallery shelters being built anywhere. Londoners had the Underground but the rest of the country had to rely on individual Anderson shelters in back gardens or basements in big buildings. As I wrote that I thought: Why no community initiative to build their own shelters as there was in Spain?

The life of the shelter as a shelter was relatively short. After the war a family took over the most recent area of construction for their house, with a quite ingenious system of getting rid of the smoke, as well as drawing the fire, for the oven. Later the tunnels were used for the cultivation of mushrooms.

Now you can visit it. Although an understanding of Spanish/Catalan would be useful, for the details, a visit of the place would still be worth it to get a feeling of how Barcelonans survived the bombings.

And afterwards, on returning to the centre of Barcelona, you could always call into Le Nou for a drink or a meal.

Practical Information:

Location: 177 Carrer Nou de la Rambla, just below Montjuic in the barrio of Poble Sec.

Nearest Metro: Paral.lel on Lines 2 and 5.

Opening Times: Sundays from 10.00 to 14.00

Tours in Catalan at 10.30 and 12.30, in Spanish at 11.30.

It’s recommended you call the Museu d’Història de Barcelona on 93 256 21 22, Monday to Friday between 10.00 – 14.00 and 16.00 – 19.00 to reserve a place but if the groups are not full they will slot you in on the day. Organised groups can make arrangements for tours on other days of the week.

Entrance: €3.40 per person.

The tour lasts between 45 minutes and an hour.

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Palau de la Música Orfeó Català – Barcelona

'The Sun' Concert Hall - Palau de la Música Orfeó Català

‘The Sun’ Concert Hall – Palau de la Música Orfeó Català

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Palau de la Música Orfeó Català – Barcelona

If you have any interest at all in Modernisme (the Catalan name for what is called Art Nouveau in Britain) then any visit to Barcelona has to take in the unique Palau de la Música Orfeó Català at the Via Laietana end of the narrow Sant Pere Més Alt. The work of the Barcelonan Moderniste architect, Lluís Domènech i Montaner (whose other great monument to Modernism is the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau) this one building encapsulates all the aspects which arose time and again in the short 20-30 year period of Moderniste dominance which straddled the 19th and 20th centuries. Love it or hate it you can’t ignore it!

Here I don’t intend to give a history of the building, facts and figures and all the rest. Others have done that before with more authority and knowledge and all I would be doing is paraphrasing what they’d already written. Here I want to address a few matters that came to me after my visit in February 2014.

If Modernisme was to have a revival in Barcelona in the 21st century it could never take off in the same way that it did in the 1880s. Most of the skills that were used in the buildings that litter the Eixample district (and which appear in other locations in the city and Catalonia in general) have been lost in the intervening years and bringing together craftsmen with such a variety of skills would be a Herculean task in itself.

The lack of skills is one thing, the lack of materials is another. All the materials that were used in buildings such as the Palau de la Música were sourced and manufacture locally. At the end of the 19th century Barcelona had become a centre for ceramics and provided the Moderniste architects an inexhaustible supply of materials for the trancadís (which means broken) style of using tiles on curved surfaces so beloved by Gaudí – as is seen in Park Güell – and by Domènech i Montaner’s construction for the Orfeó Català.

The other materials used extensively included wrought iron, bricks and coloured glass all again major industries in Barcelona and the surrounding areas at the turn of the 19th/20th centuries. The de-industrialisation that Barcelona (as have so many other European cities) has undergone in the last 30 years or so means that all such material would have to be brought in from abroad, most likely from China. And China is now probably the only country in the world which could produce such buildings and I wouldn’t be surprised to read that some opportunistic capitalist in the once great Socialist country is planning to open a Moderniste theme park.

When I had the opportunity to go inside the Palau de la Música in the late 90s there were only something like one or two chances a week. If you didn’t book well in advance there was little chance of getting in. I also think, but can’t be sure, that the numbers in those groups were relatively small. Now there are tours on the hour and they take up to 60 people at a go. At €18 a go that adds up to a lot of money.

One of the consequences of this huge rise in visitors is a dumbing down of some of the history of the building. When it was started in 1905 Catalan nationalism was big and as well as the influences from nature, the moving away from the man-made straight line with a greater use of curves and the depictions of women as an integral part of the designs this nationalism became a fourth strand in the Moderniste architects armoury.

This meant the repeated representation of the Catalan flag, the yellow and red, and the red cross on white, symbolising St Jordi (St George) especially in glass but also in ceramics. The shield of the Catalan lines also appears carved into both wood and stone. But come the victory of the Fascists under Franco in 1939 this all became a no no.

Franco was for a ‘united’ Spain at any cost and imagery that contradicted that ideology was removed from view. That meant that the Catalan flag that appears on the top half of the windows on all three levels of the main concert hall were blanked out. Why they weren’t just destroyed and removed forever I don’t know. Presumably the Fascist in charge had an uncharacteristic sense of culture. This was mentioned as part of the tour some years ago but is not considered to be of relevance now, or so it seems.

This de-politicisation of the past, more significantly the period between 1939 and Franco’s death in 1975, is something which none of the regions of Spain that I’ve had the opportunity to get to know seem prepared to face. Just ignore it and it will go away, seems to be the hope. But that won’t happen when parties like the PP (Partido Popular, a mish-mash of proto-Fascists and head banger Opus Dei Catholics) are around and even in power at a national level at the moment.

On a completely different tack, and something which I can’t remember occurring to me in the 90s, is how Domènech i Montaner was able to design a structure which uses so much hard material (such as marble, ceramic tiles and glass, as well as a not insignificant amount of wrought iron) was able to produce a concert hall that has been used for solo singers to full-blown orchestras and no one complains about the acoustics.

I’ve never attended a concert in the building (which must be difficult for those who either love or hate the design – one group would be forever looking around in admiration and the other with their eyes closed) but just experiencing the voice of a female guide, talking quite normally in a large space, I had no impression that sound quality was an issue.

This I find difficult to understand. Most concert halls I’ve been to seem to be buried in the deepest heart of the building away from any outside influence but here the main concert hall, on three sides, has the outside world just the other side of the glass windows. (OK they are now ‘double glazed’ but that’s not making much of a difference from the original arrangement.) It even gets lit in the day time by the light provided by the sun.

If I compare this place with the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, for example, they are so completely different. In the Liverpool Phil there’s nothing harder than the brass instruments (if you ignore the heads of some of the patrons) to interfere with the acoustics – soft wood and highly technological design of the padding is the order of the day there. All missing from the Palau de la Música Orfeó Català, which has been around for considerably longer.

Finally, everything must change, nothing stays the same, but why is it that so much change is for the worse?

Although I’ve been to Barcelona over the last few years (there was a gap in the early 21st century when I wasn’t in Catalonia at all) for different reasons I hadn’t been around the Sant Pere district, where the Palau de la Música is located. So it was with an element of shock that I returned to find that someone, in their infinite wisdom, had decided on a modern extension to the building on its western side, the one facing Via Laietana.

I might have known, but hadn’t remembered if I did, that the building had been given a World Heritage Building status in 1998. I can go with that. It’s unique and seems to deserve that level of recognition as a form of protection – but that hasn’t been the case.

I fail to understand what ‘World Heritage’ status really means.

I’m not, I believe, against modern architecture. In fact just the opposite, it’s just that where I live we seem to get the worst of the results. If ‘planning’, as we’ve got to know it in the 20th century and subsequently (even though the Tory philistines are seeking to claw back what little we’ve gained in the UK), means there are restrictions on what and where developers can build this should be supported by international bodies.

If cities and, in the case of the Palau de la Música, buildings are going to boast about and promote the fact of their World Heritage Status (it’s even on the entrance ticket) then the awarding body has to take some action if, after the designation of such an accolade, the city/building then goes and does something which, for any normal, thinking and concerned individual, seems to go against the principles of the award in the first place.

For example: the building of three totally inappropriate buildings on Mann Island, between the Albert Dock and the Pierhead in Liverpool.

For example: the building of a huge (though almost certainly impressive technologically) road bridge over a valley close to Dresden, Germany, and destroying the classic view of the city, known as the Waldschlösschenbrücke.

For example: the building of a high-tech extension to the Palau de la Música.

When I first saw the building I’m sure I came from the direction of Via Laietana. That’s how most people arrive. When it was planned,and then built, in the first years of the 20th century it was on a limited space, a church being on the west and apartment buildings already on the north, east and south. Some years ago the church was knocked down which opened up a square so that by turning the corner from the main road you would, all of a sudden, be confronted by this wonder/monstrosity – depending upon your attitude.

Now that’s all gone.

The western façade is hidden behind a glass walkway and the part directly joined to the main entrance of the original building has been totally obliterated. So what at one time was an opening up of the view of the building has been lost behind modern concrete, glass and brick.

The rounded brick corner that follows the line of the main entrance is a clever piece of brick work and design, but it’s in the wrong place. On the corner there’s a representation of a tree and if it had been anywhere else I would have had nothing but praise for the architect/designer. As it is this structure houses a smaller concert hall – if one was really necessary in the centre of Barcelona did it need to be there? – and, I’m sure, of more importance to the owners/managers of the space, a fancy corporate entertainment space. The day that I was there was the day before the opening of some the Mobile World Congress conference/jamboree/blowout/extravaganza.

Now in all these cases the owners/managers/politicians would have said that this was vital for the economy of the building/enterprise/economy/employment/etc./etc. I’m not from Barcelona but I’m not aware that all this wealth has ‘trickled down’ to those who are facing dire consequences due to the bankers/politicians created ‘crisis’. (How can it be a ‘crisis’ if the rich continue to get richer and the poor get poorer?)

But my final comment/question is: Why does World Heritage continue to go against its stated aims? If the organisation doesn’t care about these places and puts the dollar/pound/euro before any historical or cultural considerations then at least be honest and say so. Don’t maintain the moral high ground and then fall at the first hurdle.

Next we will read that Coca Cola has put a flashing neon/LED sign on top of the Taj Majal and McDonalds are serving their special, unique and nourishing creations to visitors as they behold this monument to love and devotion.

And no one will care a toss.

Practical Information:

Location: From Via Laietana the Palau is at the beginning of the narrow Sant Pere Més Alt. The ticket office is in the new part of the building, at the opposite end to the main entrance, and after the corporate entertainment section – few of you will be invited there.

Getting there: From Metro L4 (the yellow line) on the Via Laietana exit it’s only a few metres from the beginning of Sant Pere Mès Alt,


There are two types of tour, with a physical guide or self guided. For either it is probably best to book online – although you can also book at the ticket office attached to the building.

Guided Tour 

Price: Online €11 + €1 booking fee, children under 10 Free

Self-guided Tour

Price: Online €10 + €1 booking fee, children under 10 Free

The tour is offered in the following languages: Catalan, Spanish, English, French and Russian – check the screen beside the ticket office for the times when your choice of language is being offered. The guided tour is about an hour long, entering and leaving at the same place, the original main entrance in Sant Pere Mès Alt.

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Le Nou – Restaurant – Barcelona

Le Nou - 93 Carrer Nou de la Rambla - Carrer de l'Est

Le Nou – 93 Carrer Nou de la Rambla, Barcelona

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Le Nou – Restaurant – Barcelona

If you’re going to eat one main meal of the day in Catalonia the best you can do, in terms of value for money and often in terms of quality, is to go for a ‘Menu’. Although in a place like Barcelona they are used to foreign tourists the pronunciation of this is phonetic, no fancy messing around with the ‘n’ as if it were a Castilian ‘ñ’.

This is a set meal, normally of three courses, that is: starter, main meal, and the 3rd which is often given as a choice between a dessert or a coffee. Check to see if the bread (pa) is part of the deal, as well as the beguda (drink). The drink can be something soft, like the ubiquitous and disgusting sugary drink that comes in a red can, a beer, water or wine. Decide at the beginning as if you change your mind that goes outside of the arrangement.

I had been exploring the area of Montjuic, an area I had been to before but many years ago, looking for a common grave that was supposed to exist of those who had been murdered by the Franquista Fascists during and after the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39.

By 14.00 I was getting hungry and passed a place that was busy (always a good sign) and had a ‘Menu’ on a blackboard outside that looked reasonable. (If you want the menu, in the English sense, then you ask for the ‘carta’.) Here it’s perhaps worth while saying that you can spend your time looking for a cheap Menu – and they do exist – but you get what you pay for. Pay little and the main course will be a hamburger and your drink will be served by the glass.

I chose Le Nou, at 93 Nou de la Rambla, a long, narrow street that runs west from La Rambla. It’s the street that has the Palau Güell at one end, the London Bar somewhere towards the first third and, if you keep on this road, just after passing Refugi 307 on your left, you’ll eventually pick up a path and then steps that take you alongside the diving pools of Montjuic – which older readers might remember from the 1992 Summer Olympics – (now sadly left to go to rack and ruin and with seagulls being the only patrons but I suppose that’s better than the situation in the late ’90s when dogs and children were swimming in the stagnant water).

The 1992 Olympic Diving Pool in 2014

The 1992 Olympic Diving Pool in 2014

But back to the meal.

I choose the fish soup as a starter and lamb cutlets for the main, which came with potatoes strongly influenced by garlic. There’s a lot of fish served in this restaurant so there’s no excuse for an infinite supply of good, fresh and strong fish stock, and that was what this soup was all about. Added to that stock were some shellfish, mussels and clams, as well as a large king prawn/Dublin Bay prawn/Langostine, choose your definition – I can’t always keep up with the gradations.

As I sat there waiting for my food what convinced me that my choice of restaurant a good one was the fact that although there were a few tourists, including myself, the majority of people were locals having their lunch break. If a place can provide a silent recommendation it can do much worse than indicate that local people keep on coming back. Whilst waiting for the first course, and during it, I heard a number of paella orders being called for the starter. This also seemed to go down well but as I make one of the best paella’s outside of Valencia (the home of the dish) it made no sense for me to go for it here.

As a drink I chose the red wine. This came as a bottle opened in front of me and basically you can drink as much as you want. One or two glasses, or the whole bottle, the damage when it comes to pay is the same. This used to be the case when I first started travelling around Spain/Catalonia 20 years ago but wasn’t sure if this was still the case now that we’re in the middle of the supposed ‘economic crisis’ but was glad to see that the tradition still continues.

Not that it was a great wine. Let’s be real here. We’re talking about a bog standard house wine and at 11% it was a bit young and thin and I won’t be looking for it in the shops in the future – I’ve already forgotten the name – and it tasted no more appetising at the bottom as it did at the top but I had to try for the sake of the blog (how I sacrifice myself for the internet?).

For the main course I had three thin, lamb cutlets – but not that thin you felt yourself being given short change. Well done, so if people like their lamb a bit raw perhaps this should be mentioned on ordering (don’t know what would be the result but my experience at this restaurant gives me the impression they would at least consider what was asked for) and the dish was more than adequate for my needs at midday after 4 or so hours walking around.

(It was my misfortune to sit next to a couple of young tourists. That’s not really a problem but they were of the generation that takes a picture of their food and posts it on some of the social networks. That’s not really my scene so you’ll just have to take my word about the food. Sorry!)

These places are also good for people watching, especially if you travel alone, and it’s fun to work out who are the regulars and who the newbies and perhaps one-timers. However the staff were quick and efficient without rushing the diners. They understood when the next course was needed and the orders were processed in an unhurried and competent manner.

A TV was showing music videos in the corner but not obtrusively. For me it was interesting as although I might know the names of these groups/individuals not having a tele I wouldn’t recognise them if the walked past me, in the same way as I wrote about the politicians I saw on the TV when I was just about to start the Coast to Coast walk at St Bees Head. The jury’s still out about whether I gained from seeing the tele during my meal or not but the experience hasn’t encouraged me to get one on returning home.

I went for the dessert instead of the coffee and was presented with a slice of cheesecake. Perfectly adequate.

I wasn’t rushed. I entered at about 14.00 when it was busy and left about an hour and a half later when it was quiet. A few people were coming in for the Menu and still getting, at least as far as I could see, the same options quite late in the afternoon – from my experience most Menus will finish around 15.00.

Menus (in the English sense) were in English for those who were obviously not Catalan/Spanish. I came in wearing a short-sleeved shirt so that put me in the camp of the foreigners right away as it was the middle of February. Although it was a pleasant spring day to me it was still winter for the locals.

If you’re up this end of the city, not exactly in the centre of the tourist attractions, I think you could do much worse than taking in the ‘Menu’ at Le Nou.

Practical Information:

Menu €9.90 – lunch time, more or less, 12.00 – 16.00

Address: Le Nou Restaurant and Bar, 93 Carrer Nou de la Rambla/Carrer de Santa Madrona

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