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TWO TRAGICS EVENTS IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURIHE
SELECTION OF TEXTS BY Gabriel Pernau
JOURNALISTE

"I am writing in an extreme state of shock at the very sad moment when the flames of a voracious fire have just destroyed one of the most outstanding public buildings that conferred distinction and honour on Barcelona. The magnificent Gran Teatro del Liceo of H.M. Queen Isabel II no longer exists! In the brief space of three hours it disappeared completely. During this short period of time, alarm, fright and consternation were stamped on the faces of all the inhabitants of this city.

 

I have witnessed heart-rending scenes. Hundreds of families, whose dwellings were threatened by the fire that looked as though it was going to devour a whole block, were busy saving, as best they could, their lives and their possessions. Valuable items of furniture were thrown from the balconies. Seldom has such a frightful disaster been seen in Barcelona. The losses it has caused are considerable, its consequences incalculable.

 

What caused such a lamentable catastrophe? At these moments of general turmoil and at this late hour at which I take up my pen, it is impossible to say. (…) The most widely accepted version is that the fire broke out in one of the tailoring workshops on the upper floors on the side nearest the Rambla at about a quarter past seven, a time when there were some, though not many, members of the audience in the theatre and the members of the orchestra were due to take up their positions to begin the performance.

 

During the first few minutes (…) it seemed as if it would all be just a passing fright. Half an hour later, however, the flames engulfed the whole of the stage box and fire was gushing out of the upper windows just as a volcano spews out fire. The flames grew in intensity and for an hour they lit up the entire city with their sinister brilliance. (…)

 

The blaze spread through the wings and the drop curtains with the speed of an electric spark and the extreme measure of cutting the ropes of all the curtains proved to be useless. (…) The heat from the flames, the choking smoke given off as they consumed the paints and resinous materials, forced them to leave their posts and within a few short minutes the whole stagehouse was ablaze and the fire had begun to overrun the stalls. (…) When the adjustable proscenium caught alight, the ropes holding it having been severed by the fire, it fell onto the seats like a sea of flames, producing the same effect as a tempestuous swell. (…) The aisle of the first floor of the upper circle looked like the mouth of a huge oven. Adornments and pieces of wood falling from the upper floors and swept along aisle were rolling on fire down the marble staircase. A frightful draught was blowing through the doors of the portico and the noise of the flames was terrifying. (…) Everyone who was in the foyer rushed out just as the great central structure collapsed with a terrible crash that sounded as though the whole Liceo was coming tumbling down.

 

The whistle summoned the firemen to the scene and they arrived together with the authorities and forces from all the arms and institutes. But in the face of a fire of this kind, all the help at hand could never be enough (…). The actors, the musicians (…) fled in terror. Several of the former, including one of the actresses, ran out still half dressed.

 

All the other theatres suspended their performances: those taking place in a number of churches were also interrupted (…) some pipes burst (…). Several gangs of men, at great risk to themselves, knocked down whole walls in an attempt to smother the flames (…).

 

(…) Thanks to the numerous members of the army that arrived, several chains were organised to fetch buckets of water, while other soldiers, together with the civilians, evacuated the Liceo's sweet shop and cafÚ, the CÝrculo and the adjacent buildings. In addition to many smartly dressed gentlemen, I also saw some clergymen working as simple labourers.

 

At the most critical moment the carts of the establishments providing portable baths and the tanker carts used for watering arrived and started to bring water from the fountain (…).

 

The extraordinary brightness was such that not only did it light up the nearest villages along the coast and all those on the plain and banks of the Llobregat, but those watching from Sabadell, Tarrasa and other towns in the VallÚs could see a sort of aurora borealis.

 

By ten o'clock at night the fire appeared to be fairly well sealed off . (…) At the time of going to press the whole of the Rambla was full of soldiers. (…) The theatre's sitting room, clubroom and cafÚ had been saved.

 

By twelve o'clock a considerable conflagration could be seen on the Calle San Pablo side. This will probably have been smothered, but not entirely put out, by the time daylight reveals the rich and sumptuous coliseum, the jewel of Barcelona and pride of Europe's theatres, reduced to a sad heap of rubble.

 

Yesterday evening four pumps were still at work. (…) Gauging that it was at least very difficult, if not impossible, to put out the gigantic brazier in the timber framework of the coliseum's depths and basements. (…) At midnight, seeing the zeal and fatigue with which the troops and police were working, the City Council had sausage, bread and wine brought to the scene of the fire and everyone was given some. (…) Judging by the fašade, which has not been affected at all, nobody would say that last night Barcelona had suffered such a terrible occurrence.

 

(…) I have heard knowledgeable people say that the main walls that remain standing are sufficiently solid to allow them to be restored. Will this be done?

 

I have it on good authority (…) that the Board of Governors of the Sociedad del Gran Teatro del Liceo has met in order to work out the means for reconstructing the theatre to the same standards of grandeur and elegance while improving the standards of safety and incombustibility. (…)

 

The Anarchist Bomb

 

La Vanguardia, 8 November 1893

 

"I do not even know how to begin to recount the savage and miserable attack perpetrated last night: the magnitude of the crime; the picture before my eyes of a distressed, terrified crowd; the even more frightful sight of twelve or fourteen bleeding, mutilated bodies; of the wounded groaning, of the dying in their death throes, all this horrible picture stirring up anger in one's soul and causing emotion to well up in one's throat, prevents one from co-ordinating one's ideas to report the incident and condemn it as it deserves. (…)

 

At a quarter past ten at night, as the second act of the opera William Tell was being sung, a loud explosion was heard nearby. (…)The blast was followed by a horrendous vibration that shook the boxes and stalls and at the same time hundreds of splinters and a ball of smoke shot up from the centre of the stalls.

 

(…) No sooner had the explosion rang out than a frightful cry went up and people started running away half-crazed without knowing what was happening, falling down and picking themselves up again and injuring themselves on the rows of seats, leaping from row to row, pushing and shoving each other as they rushed to get out into the corridors with that instinctive panic that any being feels when its life is threatened by some catastrophe. (…) The doors of the boxes were suddenly flung open as people hurtled through in an effort to save themselves. (…) During the first few minutes all that could be heard was the din made by everyone fleeing. Then, as the panic abated a little, ladies, still frightened, could be heard crying out (…).

 

All one could see were pale faces distorted in horror and men and women (…) searching for the face of a loved one, a relative or a friend.

 

(…) The ghastliness of the scene was underlined by the semi-darkness filling that immense space as most of the lights had been blown out by the shock wave from the blast. (…)

 

Entering by the central aisle, on the right, in rows thirteen and fourteen, which is where the bomb must have been placed or thrown, one could see two shattered seats, completely reduced to splinters, and several others that had been tipped over.

 

There, among the splintered wood and the torn velvet, was a pile of corpses. In the foreground, in row fourteen, bathed in blood which had spread out in a great pool as far as row twelve, there lay a lady dressed in white with her face completely destroyed. The upper part of her trunk had been similarly affected and it gaped open revealing the chest cavity which had been turned into a vile mass of bloody pulp. (…)

 

From the number of dead and wounded it caused, it must have been a big bomb or one that contained a large amount of shrapnel in addition to the explosive. The first precaution the authorities took was to prevent the spectators leaving in order to arrest the criminal if that were possible (…).

 

The second bomb appears to have landed in the skirt of Sra. Cardellach, the sister-in-law of the well-known lawyer Sr. Guardiola. If this version is true, when Sra. Cardellach was taken into the rest room, the bomb must have fallen on the floor without anyone noticing, as a long while later it was found under one of the seats.

 

Besides the arrest reported elsewhere in this edition, the police also arrested another individual who was found to have on his person a handkerchief with several holes in it that are believed to have been caused by the percussion caps of the bombs. (… ) It should also be added that the hairdresser tried to catch the perpetrator of the attack and managed to grab him by his clothes but was unable to hold onto him as five or six fellows set upon the hairdresser. (…) Some people maintain that at the beginning of the second act they noticed the presence in rows eleven to fourteen of two ladies who remained seated for a while before suddenly getting up. (…)