portada de BMM

by J. Fabre, J.M. Huertas and R. Pradas.

In the nineteen fifties, Barcelona started to see the light at the end of the tunnel-like post-war years.

The decade opened with the tram employees' strike and closed with the court-martial ordered against Jordi Pujol. Two events that left indelible marks on the history of Catalonia. In between, there were two triumphal moments that Franco's regime used as a showcase to publicly demonstrate that Spain's years of autarchy and diplomatic isolation had come to an end : the Eucharistic Congress that took place in 1952 and the 1955 Mediterranean Games. Besides, the second half of the decade would be marked by the Galinsoga affair and a second strike called by the tramway employees that prompted the replacement of mayor Antoni Maria Simarro by Josep Maria de Porcioles, a change that was the starting point for one of the longest and most significant term of office as head of Barcelona's City Council in the twentieth century.

Between the 1929 Exhibition and the Olympic Games

In the early nineteen fifties, the Vatican rendered Franco's regime invaluable assistance in its endeavours to break out of the state of international isolation in which Spain had remained ever since the end of World War Two. The excuse was the International Eucharistic Congress that was to be held in Barcelona in 1952. It was an important event that, under the pretext of diverse religious ceremonies, made it possible for people from many foreign countries to travel to Barcelona. (...)

The announcement about the Eucharistic Congress opened up a period of urban transformation. (...) A dozen of new hotels were built, among them the Avenida Palace, the Arycasa and the Manila, nowadays called Ramada Renaissance. The small Muntadas airfield was enlarged to make room for the new El Prat airport. The last stretch of Diagonal avenue, an area that would be used as the setting for the most important celebrations marking the Congress, was duly developed after the authorities had ordered the demolition of the shanties that occupied the ground. Several downtown aeras were remodelled and prettified : the Granvia gardens, located between passeig de Gracia and Rambla de Catalunya, date back to that time. (...)

An other inheritance from the 1952 Eucharistic Congress is the neighbourhood that bears its name. Its construction was an initiative led by the "Associaciˇ Cat˛lica de Dirigents" (Catholic Association of Managers), patently supported by Bishop Gregorio Modrego. (...)

Three years after the Congress, Barcelona was granted another opportunity to carry out urbanistic reforms with the help of the state goverment. The 1955 Mediterranean Games were the first major sporting event to be held in the city since the end of the Civil War and they were an occasion for important town-planning improvements in the Montju´c area which was to be the central venue for the Games. (...)

The Mediterranean Games were the last opportunity Mayor Simarro - who had made his debut with the organization of the Eucharistic Congress - would have to shine as head of the City council. He had been appointed after the first tram workers' strike and would be discharged soon after the Games when a second strike was called in 1957.

The tram workers' strike, the close of the nineteen forties

The general strike that started in Barcelona on Monday, March 12th, 1951, was to go down in history as one of those social uprisings that take everybody - its organizers included - by surprise. At that time, the policy of repression pursued by Franco's regime was still as harsh and rigorous as it had been in the post-war years, and the once powerful CNT (the anarchist National Confederation of Workers), the only clandestine organization that had managed to retain some social influence during the decade of the nineteen forties, had been considerably weakened. (...)

The consequences of the strike were drastic : first of all, as a punitive action against the local authorities that had failed to bring the situation under control efficiently enough, the city Mayor, the Provincial Governor, the local representative of the state-controlled "vertical" trade union and the heads of the Barcelona Police Force were summarily dismissed. Soon after, ration books would be abolished.

The covering of the railway track in carrer Aragˇ

One of the first photographs of Mayor Josep Maria de Porcioles published in the newspapers shows him leaning over and checking on the works that were being carried out to cover the open-cast railway track dug in carrer Aragˇ. He had just taken over as Mayor the day before his name day in 1957, and the covering works had started on January 8th. It was therefore an important urbanistic undertaking inherited from his predecessor, which he was nevertheless able to capitalize upon. (...)

The "Free Meeting of Students" held i n the Assembly Hall accelerated the building of a new university campus

The development works on the final stretch of Diagonal avenue, i.e. the construction of the buildings that were to be used for the main ceremonies of the 1952 Eucharistic Congress, were a first step in the shaping process of a section of the city which, over the last third of the twentieth century, has become an important urban area the focal point of which is the plaša de la Reina Cristina.

The second step was the construction of the Barša football stadium that was carried out between 1954 and 1957 and the creation of the university campus. The first school to be built was the Faculty of Pharmacy; the construction works started in 1955 and the school was officially opened in 1957. The following year, the Faculty of Law - which won the top FAD architectural award - opened its doors to the students. It only took eight months to complete the construction of the latter, the main reason for hastening the building works being that the authorities were eager to move the disquieted law students away from the building on plaša Universitat. In effect, in February 1957, an "Assemblea Lliure d'Estudiants" (Free Meeting of Students) had been held in the Assembly Hall in that ancient building and the academic authorities had considered that a change of residence would check - even if only momentarily - the gusts of democratic wind that were blowing among the students' organizations. From those years on, the Pedralbes university campus has never ceased to grow. (...)

Jordi Pujol's debut on the political stage

"All Catalan people are shit". Those words were uttered by Luis de Galinsoga, then editor of the "La Vanguardia" local newspaper, inside the Sant Ildefons church in Barcelona (...) It was the last straw that broke the camel's back in large sectors of Catalan society and their indignation ran high. Galinsoga had never hidden his anti-Catalanist feelings since his promotion to editorship of the "La Vanguardia" newspaper in the autumn of 1939 as a replacement for the team formed by Manuel Aznar and Josep Pla. (...)

Young Catalanists, most of them assembled within the only kind of association allowed by law at that time - groups of lay persons closely connected with the Catholic Church - decided to launch a campaign to let the general public know about the insulting words uttered by Galinsoga after hearing a priest preaching in the Catalan language during a church service at Sant Ildefons. That diffusion campaign was soon paralleled by the promotion of a boycott of "La Vanguardia". (...)

The following year, Franco visited Barcelona in an attempt to placate Catalan society by making a few goodwill gestures such as the cession of Montju´c Castle to the city and the promulgation of a Municipal Chart that granted Barcelona a special political and financial regime. Anyway, those concessions did not really serve their purpose in view of the events that took place at the "Palau de la M˙sica" auditorium a mere two days after Franco's departure from Barcelona. The same people who had launched the campaign against Galinsoga attempted to sing the "Cant de la Senyera", the Catalan national anthem, during a concert given by the emblematic "Orfeˇ CatalÓ" and attended by several ministers from Franco's government. A few days later, Jordi Pujol and printer Francesc Pizon were arrested by the police. Even though they had not been present at the "Palau de la M˙sica", they were accused of instigating the whole event as well as the campaign against Galinsoga. After they were tried in a court-martial and found guilty, Pujol was sent to prison in Saragossa where he stayed until november 1962 and was later banished from Barcelona for a few more months during which he lived in private houses in Gerona.

A popular thermometer

The gigantic Can Cottet thermometer is a highly significant manifestation of the spirit of an age when the public exhibition of technological developments that we would find rather risible nowadays used to bewitch the people of Barcelona. Placed in 1956 at the top of the avinguda del Portal de l'Angel, just across the newly opened "Banco de Espa˝a" building, the thermometer has remained for many years side by side with the angel set by sculptor Angel Ferrant in a niche but a few metres away. (...)

Everyday life in Barcelona, 1950-1960

(...) One of the most vivid recollections that the people who lived in Barcelona in the nineteen fifties and sixties have of those decades is that it was strictly forbidden to drive a car through the centre of the city during Holy Week. They also remember quite well how the week before Easter would bring drastic changes in the programmes of the cinemas which could only show films on Biblical subject matters, the life of Jesus Christ or other edifying stories that accorded with the moral standards of the times. (...)

In the nineteen sixties, to own a car was the life's dream of a majority of citizens. The car was synonymous with wealth, a different world of luxury and well-being that existed north of the Spanish border and that people were acquainted with mainly through American films and the "Nodo" newsreel. People of small means - as was the case with the great majority of the city's inhabitants - who wanted to have a certain freedom of movement had to make do with motocycles with sidecars or the local invention called "Biscuter", a cheap but rather likeable caricature of the car they longed for.

In 1950, running parallel with a relative improvement of the standards of living, Barcelona saw the setting up of the "Sociedad Espa˝ola de Automˇviles de Turismo" - known more widely by its abbreviation "SEAT" - which built a car factory in the Zona Franca. (...)

The appearance of the best-selling model ever manufactured by SEAT - the "600" -, the most popular car in the whole history of the motor vehicle industry in Spain, would have a very great influence on Barcelona residents' collective life. (...)

In the nineteen fifties, there was a revival of traditional Christmas festivities that broke with the atmosphere of gloom that had pervaded the post-war years : the illuminations put up in the main streets of Barcelona and on the fašades of the largest shops and stores (Vilardell, Jorba, etc...) conjured up an illusory image that spoke of a state of prosperity which would still cost a great deal of effort to achieve. A few "exotic" products such as smoked salmon and fresh pineapple appeared in and disappeared from the most exclusive grocery stores according to the festivity calendar.

Other festivities, such as the celebrations in honour of the old or the patronal commemorations traditionally organized by the local associations of craftsmen and workers, gradually lost importance and vanished from the scene. Old people would soon become "senior citizens" and the skilled workers of SEAT or La Maquinista would be left without the protection of a patron saint. (...)