Ca lAranyˇ, La Sedeta, Farinera, Can Fabra, Pegaso, Can Battlˇ, the Sants
train sheds, Hispano Olivetti, Vapor Vell, the three chimneys on the Paral.lel, the
Philips factory ... The city still conserves numerous reminders of its industrial past.
Former factories have been converted into recreational complexes, civic centres and even
bars. Other less fortunate ones have fallen prey to speculation and the wrecking ball. In
his article, MartÝ Checa Artasu evokes the heritage value of these memorials to
Further proposals have been made for compilation of a catalogue in connection with the
content of the exhibition, and for setting up organised visits, didactic workshops and
other activities, such as conferences, audio-visual presentations or creation of a web
Two Centuries of Industrial History
Barcelona has been an industrial city since the beginning of the 18th
century. In effect, the city became the centre of one of the first regions in the
Mediterranean area to become industrialised, and in the course of these two centuries its
importance in industry has been comparable to other European regions, such as the Basque
Country and the Piedmont. In spite of the growing trend towards tertiary activities, it
remains a strategic centre in this sense. In addition, this industrial presence has
accompanied modern urban growth, occupying certain areas within the city and forming a
part of its landscape.
Beginning in the second quarter of the 18th century, the outlines of this industrial
Barcelona began taking shape, with two of its outstanding features being the manufacture
of calico and the Rec Comtal. The calico industry, consisting of the spinning, dying and
printing of cotton, required a great deal of water. This requirement conditioned its
location near water supplies, and in Barcelona it led to these manufacturing activities
being situated near the Rec Comtal, an irrigation channel carrying water from Montcada
through the towns on the coastal plain and finally the city. As a result of this
obligation, the first calico factories were located in the Sant Pere and Portal Nou
neighbourhoods. With later expansion and creation of new industrial activities, they
spread during the rest of the 18th century to the Raval, an area that was still
unpopulated at the time.
These factories were not purpose-built; instead, they were installed in already existing
buildings that were modified to accommodate them, such as on the ground floor of houses or
in craft workshops, where they were adapted to the existing pattern of narrow properties.
The second quarter of the 19th century saw a renewed impulse in the citys
industrialisation, with the textile sector playing a leading role.
A number of turning points are indicative of this process. The first was the installation
of the company Bonaplata, Rull, Vilaregut i Cia on Carrer Tallers, traditionally
considered the first factory to use steam power. Others soon followed its example, and
steam power became the new driving force behind industry, evident in the new name used for
factories: vapors (steam plants). The second, the need to import the fuel needed
for steam generation, i.e. coal, turned the port of Barcelona into the hub through which
shipments of this commodity were moved. This circumstance, and the mere fact of
geographical proximity, had far-reaching economic and logistic consequences for the city.
The presence of the port encouraged the installation of more factories, augmenting
Barcelonas dominant role in the industrialisation of Catalonia.
The third was the founding in 1820 of the Catalan Factories Commission, an organisation
symbolising the rise of the Catalan industrial bourgeoisie, the social class that was to
lead the industrial revolution in this country. The last was the introduction of new
textile manufacturing equipment, i.e. the spinning jenny, which replaced the old hand
looms and boosted production to previously unheard of levels.
All of these circumstances together meant that industry had to seek new sites for its
installations and a new concept of construction, with larger dimensions and greater
flexibility of use. The new buildings were patterned on models already existing in other
countries with a much longer history of industrialisation, such as England. These were
multi-storey factories, isolated industrial premises and buildings with sawtooth roofs,
known as sheds. A minor revolution in construction techniques, based on the use of
cast-iron pillars, allowed bearing walls to be replaced by stylised rows of columns,
making interior spaces much more useful and versatile.
These new factories, with their requirement for larger surface areas and the inherent
dangers of steam machinery, caused the burgeoning industrial activity to gravitate to
vacant areas in the Raval, away from the more densely populated districts. This tendency
also led industry to move outside the bounds of the historical city to establish itself in
neighbouring small towns. This was the case with Vapor Vell, installed in Sants in 1842,
Can Fabra, installed in Sant Andreu in 1839, and many others in Sant MartÝ de
Provenšals. By the turn of the century, this last town had become the leading industrial
centre in the country and was known as the Catalan Manchester. A number of enterprises
also found sites in the newly developed Eixample, among them such outstanding examples as
La Sedeta, Damm, and others.
While industrialisation in Barcelona and Catalonia was led by the textile sector, other
related activities began growing in importance during the last quarter of the 19th
century. Metallurgy, which had been subjected to an absurd protectionist policy, found
potential for growth in the manufacture of machinery, with a similar situation arising in
the chemical industry.
The loss of Spains last colonies in the Americas and the resulting new market
circumstances impelled the transformation of Catalan industry, and in particular
Barcelonas, up until 1936, with increasing diversification of business structures,
along with their concentration and specialisation. This transformation was facilitated by
the implantation of substantial technological innovations that had occurred during the
final quarter of the 19th century and that were then being incorporated into industry.
These innovations paved the way for the development of the automobile industry, expanded
the availability of electricity and its industrial applications, and led to the creation
of such sectors as synthetic fibre textiles and plastics. As a result, the textile sector,
which had enjoyed undisputed dominance until then, had to make way for other rapidly
expanding sectors, such as metallurgy and chemicals, and for the positioning of others,
such as the construction, food or graphic arts industries. This development has left an
indelible imprint on the citys physiognomy, with enterprises such as Damm, Myrurgia,
Titan and Can Girona, later re-named MACOSA.
The autarchic economic policy that dominated the period subsequent to the Civil War caused
a drastic slowdown in business development, but at the level of Barcelona, took on highly
contradictory aspects; on the one hand, companies were created under the auspices of the
National Institute of Industry (INI), such as SEAT, ENASA or ENMASA, the first one
acquiring enormous importance for the city, while at the same time the metallurgy sector
was undergoing a minor revolution, with an increase in production capacity to respond to
growing market potential. During the 1960s, a renewed entrepreneurial impulse was
reflected in a new economic policy, with the appearance on the scene of multinational
companies, the consolidation of certain sectors, such as pharmaceuticals, and the
construction of industrial estates to centralise activities.