Refugi 307 (Shelter 307) was one of thousands of bomb shelters built in Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War. Today, it is one of the interpretation centres of the Museu d’Historia de la Ciutat.
History of Refugi 307
During the Spanish Civil War, Barcelona was the most heavily bombed by Franco’s air forces. The first of 192 bombing raids was on 13 February 1937. The Passive Defence Board was set up in response as a means of trying to save local residents’ lives during what they predicted was going to be a very bloody war.
The first shelters were built under houses and in metro stations. As bombing intensified, more were built throughout the city, creating a virtual underworld of more than a thousand shelters and involving a great deal of cooperation between the people of Barcelona.
Comprised of over 400 metres of tunnels of 2 metres high and 1.6 metres tall and with facilities such as a hospital, infirmary, a drinking fountain, and toilets, Refugi 307 was was dug under a fold of northern Montjuïc by local citizens from 1937 to 1939.
Over these two years, the web of tunnels was slowly extended, creating the capacity to hold 2000 people.
Sleeping overnight in the shelter was forbidden, as work needed to be carried out when raids were not happening. The tunnels were narrow and winding, and were coated in lime to seal out humidity and whitewashed to relieve the sense of claustrophobia.
After the civil war ended, Franco extended the ‘refugi’ network while considering entering The Second World War on Hitler’s side. After he decided against joining the war, many shelters – including 307 – were abandoned, with the subsequent years of famine and rationing in the 1940s and 1950s meaning that many families from Granada took up residence in them.
Refugi 307 Today
Today, visitors can tour Refugi 307 as just one of the shelters and is now open to the public as part of the Barcelona History Museum. to understand how Barcelona’s citizens lived during the conflict. Tours are compulsory and reserving a place is essential. They run on a Sunday only and are in English at 10.30am, Spanish at 11.30am, and Catalan at 12.30pm.
Getting to Refugi 307
From the centre of Barcelona, Refugi 307 is a 25 minute walk via Carrer Nou de la Rambla. There’s also a regular bus and metro network which takes between 15 and 25 minutes to reach the site. By car, the site is a 15 minute drive via Carrer de Sepúlveda, though parking might prove somewhat tricky at the other end during peak times.
During the 1930s the medieval Royal Palace was dismantled to make way for Via Laeitana.
The Gothic palace was then moved stone-by-stone to its current location. During the construction work to build new foundations for the building, archaeologists unearthed the remains of the old Roman and Visigoth city.
There then followed approximately 10 years of archaeological works to rebuild the palace whilst preserving the Roman and Medieval remains buried beneath it.
MUHBA Barcelona History Museum
About the Barcelona History Museum
As you enter the museum at street level make sure you get one of the free audio guides which explain everything that you will see during your visit.
Like the majority of Roman remains that I’ve visited, we’re mainly talking floors and the first few feet of the walls here. So you need the audio guide in order to appreciate what you are looking at.
The tour starts by taking the lift down to the Roman level of the museum. Here you will see the remains of Roman villas, the winery, laundry, fish drying plant and other buildings.
As you progress through the museum you will see how medieval Barcelona was built on top of the remains of Roman Barcino, often re-using masonry taken from older buildings as well as headstones and other recycled materials.
Back at street level in the Count’s Palace, Royal Palace and Chapel, there are a series of displays explaining the medieval history of Barcelona.
Roman Statue MUHBA
The remains of Barcino – Roman Barcelona
How to get there:
The nearest metro stop is Jaume I on the green line (L4)
Tuesday – Saturday 10:00 – 19:00
Sunday 10:00 – 20:00
Online ticket price €6.65
Reduced €5 (includes 16 – 29yrs and >65yrs)
Under 16 years and Barcelona Card holders – FREE ENTRY
The ticket also includes several other MUHBA sites and is valid for 6 months.
The Palau Reial and the statue of Ramon Berenguer III on Via Laeitana
The other MUHBA sites which are covered by the ticket are:
- Museu Casa Verdeguer (museum)
- Espai Santa Caterina (archaeological site) (museum explaining the history of Jewish Barcelona)
- MUHBA Refugi 307 (Civil war air raid shelter)
The museum is FREE for everyone at the following times:
Every Sunday from 3pm to 8pm
From 10am to 8pm on the first Sunday of each month
Going Underground in Barcelona: A Visit to Bomb Shelter Refugi 307
In the belly of Barcelona lies a secret: a web of tunnels running beneath the streets, remnants of the dark days when the city was systematically bombed during the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939). Some 1,400 of these labyrinthine air raid shelters were constructed there during those years, serving as a refuge for citizens from aerial attacks, mainly by Italian forces under Mussolini.
Today, just a handful remain, and of those, only a few are open to the public. The best preserved is Refugi 307, located in Poble Sec, a neighborhood just east of the city center.
While electric lights were added and most of the tunnel floors are now paved, many of the original features are still extant—the white-washed walls, a faded sign outlining the list of rules (among them: don’t discuss politics or religion), the nooks for toilets, the water fountain.
The Boeing 307 Stratoliner – What Was It Like To Fly On?
The Boeing Model 307 Stratoliner made history when it performed its first flight in December 1938. It became the world’s first passenger aircraft to hold a pressurized cabin. This feat allowed airlines to avoid harsh weather conditions by cruising at 20,000 feet (6096 meters), which was a revolutionary altitude for the time.
Boeing highlights the plane as the first four-engine airliner in scheduled domestic service. Pan American World Airways introduced it on its operations on Independence Day, 1940, marking a landmark moment in United States aviation. The airline operated three units of the Wright Cyclone-powered plane.
In addition to Pan Am, five other carriers in five different countries flew the aircraft type. The following operators performed flights with the 307:
- Cambodia Air Commercial (Cambodia)
- Aerovias Ecuatorianas CA (Ecuador)
- Aigle Azur (France)
- Royal Air Lao (Laos)
- Trans World Airlines (US)
Additionally, Howard Hughes, who was a multimillionaire business magnate, with a love for aviation, purchased a Stratoliner for his own use and transformed it into a ‘flying penthouse’. Inside his aircraft, there was a master bedroom, two bathrooms, a galley, a bar, and a large living room. Eventually, the pilot sold it to an oil tycoon, and it soon became a houseboat in Florida.
Even though the interior wasn’t as extravagant as Hughes’ unit, there was still plenty of room to maneuver on standard services. The 307’s circular fuselage allowed for maximum space for its five crew members and 33 passengers on board.
Furthermore, the cabin had a width of nearly 12 feet (3.6 meters) and could fit in comfortable sleeper berths. These beds were perfect for tired passengers on overnight flights.
With the new wave of technology being used on its services, the Stratoliner had a flight engineer as a member of the crew. This was the first plane to have such a role onboard. This professional was needed to maintain power settings, pressurization, and other subsystems. Therefore, the pilot was able to focus more on handling the flight of the aircraft.
Within the US, the plane was usually used on services between New York and California. Additionally, flights to Latin America were often handled with the 307. However, World War II forced the end of production for these original units, and five of them were taken on by the Army Transport Command as C-75 models. However , the cabin’s famous pressurization was removed to save weight on military campaigns.
In 1969, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum purchased the last remaining Stratoliner, flown by Pan American as Clipper Flying Cloud. This marked an end of an era for the ambitious aircraft.
Altogether, by flying in cozy cabins and avoiding bad weather, passengers were able to cruise through the skies smoothly. Pressurized aircraft are now the norm. However, travelers would have loved this Boeing breakthrough 80 years ago.
What are your thoughts on the 307 Stratoliner? Do you have any fond memories traveling on this historic aircraft? Let us know what you think in the comment section.
Wednesday, 10 June 2009
Putting out the fire with gasoline
"Whenever I hear the word culture, I reach for my Browning"
Hermann Göring .
Last April, in Strasbourg, they celebrated the 60th Anniversary
Summit of NATO.
With pomp and ceremony and Obama.
And riot police armed to the teeth.
Because members of anti-war and peace movements from
19 different countries had planned a counter summit with
cultural events and demonstrations in protest as they believe
that NATO has become the "key vehicle for the US and its allies
to pursue their wars."
And sell themselves the arms they produce.
Only the violent protesters got media coverage.
One has to justify the million cost of policing the 3-day
Some figures from the NATO Defence Expenditure Report
(Estimated for 2007)
- USA. 545,328,000,000 dollars
- France. 44,283,000,000 euros
- UK. 31,629,000,000 pounds
- Germany. 30,739,000,000 euros
- Spain. 12,771,000,000 euros
When, during the Civil War, the people of Barcelona had to face the new phenomenon of aerial bombardments, they built numerous underground shelters to protect themselves. Refugi 307 in Poble-sec, one of the biggest, is today an interpretation centre for the history and memories. Part of the Museu d’Història de Barcelona, it also offers guided tours.
During the Spanish Civil War, Barcelona was the first city to be systematically bombed from the air. The city's people set up the Passive Defence Council, which built a great number of air-raid shelters around Barcelona to protect themselves. There is evidence of almost 1,300 bomb shelters, and that of Poble-sec was among the largest, able to hold around 2000 people.
Built by the local residents themselves, Refugi 307 takes advantage of the topography and the slope of Montjuïc, where it is located, which enables it to have a street-level entrance at the end of Carrer Nou de la Rambla. Inside, it opens up into a network of almost 400 m of tunnels, which have electricity, a toilet, kitchen, seating and a play area for the little ones, as well as a small nursing station that could tend to the injured.
As a historical location testifying to the difficulties of that era, today Refugi 307 is managed by the Museu d’Història de Barcelona (MUHBA). A guided tour allows you to walk through the tunnels and see the elements that still remain from those times, like posters stuck on the wall specifying some surprising rules for coexistence, such as forbidding you to talk about politics and religion or foster pessimism. A real legacy of the atrocities of war.
Air raid shelters were built to serve as protection against enemy air raids. Existing edifices designed for other functions, such as underground stations (tube or subway stations), tunnels, cellars in houses or basements in larger establishments and railway arches, above ground, were suitable for safeguarding people during air raids.  A commonly used home shelter known as the Anderson shelter would be built in a garden and equipped with beds as a refuge from air raids. 
Cellars have always been much more important in Continental Europe than in the United Kingdom and especially in Germany almost all houses and apartment blocks have been and still are built with cellars. Air-raid precautions during World War II in Germany could be much more readily implemented by the authorities than was possible in the UK. All that was necessary was to ascertain that cellars were being prepared to accommodate all the residents of a building that all the cellar hatch and window protections were in place that access to the cellars was safe in the event of an air raid that once inside, the occupants were secure for any incidents other than direct hits during the air raid and that means of escape was available.
The inadequacies of cellars and basements became apparent in the firestorms during the incendiary attacks on the larger German inner cities, especially Hamburg and Dresden. When burning buildings and apartment blocks above them collapsed in the raging winds (which could reach well over 800 °C), the occupants often became trapped in these basement shelters, which had also become overcrowded after the arrival of inhabitants from other buildings rendered unsafe in earlier attacks. Some occupants perished from heat stroke or carbon monoxide poisoning.
Hochbunker(s), "high-rise" bunkers or blockhouses, were a peculiarly German type of construction, designed to relieve the pressure German authorities were facing to accommodate additional numbers of the population in high-density housing areas, as well as pedestrians on the streets during air raids. In contrast to other shelters, these buildings were considered completely bomb-proof. They also had the advantage of being built upward, which was much cheaper than downward excavation. There were no equivalents of hochbunkers in the cities of the Allied countries. [ citation needed ] Hochbunkers usually consisted of large concrete blocks above ground with walls between 1 m and 1.5 m thick and with huge lintels above doorways and openings. They often had a constant interior temperature of 7 to 10 °C, which made them perfectly suitable for laboratories, both during and after the war. They were used to protect people, administrative centres, important archives and works of art. [ citation needed ]
Their structures took many forms: usually consisting of square blocks or of low, long rectangular or triangular shapes straight towers of a square plan rising to great heights, or round tower-like edifices, even pyramidal constructions. Some of the circular towers contained helical floors that gradually curved their way upward within the circular walls. Many of these structures may still be seen. They have been converted into offices, storage space some have even been adapted for hotels, hospitals and schools, as well as many other peacetime purposes. In Schöneberg, a block of flats was built over the Pallasstrasse air-raid shelter after World War II. During the Cold War, NATO used the shelter for food storage.   
The cost of demolishing these edifices after the war would have been enormous, as the attempts at breaking up one of the six so-called Flak towers of Vienna proved. The attempted demolition caused no more than a crack in one of the walls of the tower, after which efforts were abandoned. Only the Zoo Tower in Berlin was successfully demolished. [ citation needed ]
One particular variant of the hochbunker was the Winkeltürme, named after its designer, Leo Winkel of Duisburg. Winkel patented his design in 1934, and from 1936 onward, Germany built 98 Winkeltürmer of five different types. The towers had a conical shape with walls that curved downward to a reinforced base. The dimensions of the towers varied. Diameters ranged between 8.4 and 10 meters and the height between 20 and 25 meters. The walls of the towers had a minimum thickness for reinforced concrete of 0.8m and 1.5m for ordinary concrete. The towers were able to shelter between 164 and 500 people, depending on the type. The intent with the Winkeltürme and the other hochbunkers was to protect workers in rail yards and industrial areas. Because of their shape, the towers became known colloquially as "cigar stubs" or "sugar beets". [ citation needed ]
The theory behind the Winkeltürme was that the curved walls would deflect any bomb hitting the tower, directing it down towards the base. The towers had a small footprint, which was probably a greater protection. A US bomb did hit one tower in Bremen in October 1944 the bomb exploded through the roof, killing five people inside.
United Kingdom Edit
Cellars in the UK, were mainly included only in larger houses, and in houses built up to the period of World War I, after which detached and semi-detached properties were constructed without cellars, usually to avoid the higher building costs entailed. Since house building had increased vastly between the wars, the lack of cellars in more recent housing became a major problem in the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) programmes in the UK during World War II.
Alternatives had to be found speedily once it became clear that Germany was contemplating air raids as a means of demoralising the population and disrupting supply lines in the UK. Initial recommendations were that householders should shelter under the stairs. Later, authorities supplied materials to households to construct communal street shelters and Morrison and Anderson shelters. [ citation needed ]
Basements also became available for the use of air raid shelters. Basements under factory premises, schools, hospitals, department stores and other businesses were utilised. However, these ad hoc shelters could bring additional dangers, as heavy machinery and materials or water storage facilities above the shelter, and insufficient support structures threatened to cause the collapse of basements.
When the Wilkinson's Lemonade factory in North Shields received a direct hit on Saturday, 3 May 1941 during a German attack on the north-east coast of England, 107 occupants lost their lives when heavy machinery fell through the ceiling of the basement in which they were sheltering.  
Railway arches and subways (underpasses) Edit
Railway arches and subways were also used in the UK for air raid protection at all times during World War II.
Railway arches were deep, curved structures of brick or concrete, set into the vertical sidewalls of railway lines, which had been intended originally for commercial depots, etc. The arches were covered usually with wooden or brick screen- or curtain walls, thus giving a considerable amount of protection against air raids – provided, of course, that railway lines were not the prime target of the attack at the particular time and so being more likely to suffer from direct hits. Each arch could accommodate anything from around 60 to 150 people. However, fewer people could find shelter at night as sleeping areas for the occupants took up more of the space available – a limitation applying to any other type of shelter as well. Subways were actual thoroughfares also in the shape of arches, normally allowing passage underneath railway lines.  
London Underground tube stations Edit
Prior to the beginning of the war, shelter policy had been determined by Sir John Anderson, then Lord Privy Seal and, on the declaration of war, Home Secretary and Minister of Home Security. Anderson announced the policy to Parliament on 20 April 1939,  based on a report from a committee chaired by Lord Hailey. This reaffirmed a policy of dispersal and eschewed the use of deep shelters, including the use of tube stations and underground tunnels as public shelters. Reasons given were the spread of disease due to the lack of toilet facilities at many stations, the inherent danger of people falling onto the lines, and that people sheltering in the stations and tunnels might be tempted to stay in them day and night because they would feel safer there than outside the stations.
None of these concerns had been borne out by experience during the bombing raids of the First World War, when eighty specially adapted tube stations had been pressed into use, but in a highly controversial decision in January 1924, Anderson, then chairman of the Air Raid Precautions Committee of Imperial Defence, had ruled out the tube station shelter option in any future conflict.
Following the intensive bombing of London on 7 September 1940 and the overnight raids of 7/8 September, there was considerable pressure to change the policy but, even following a review on 17 September, the Government stood firm. On 19 September, William Mabane, parliamentary secretary to the Ministry of Home Security, urged the public not to leave their Anderson shelters for public shelters, saying it deprived others of shelter. "We're going to improve the amenities in existing shelters", he promised. "We're setting about providing better lighting and better accommodation for sleeping and better sanitary arrangements." The Ministries of Home Security and Transport jointly issued an "urgent appeal", telling the public "to refrain from using Tube stations as air-raid shelters except in the case of urgent necessity".
However, the Government was then confronted with an episode of mass disobedience. Over the night of 19/20 September, thousands of Londoners were taking matters in their own hands. They had flocked to the Tubes for shelter. At some stations, they began to arrive as early as 4pm, with bedding and bags of food to sustain them for the night. By the time the evening rush hour was in progress, they had already staked their "pitches" on the platforms. Police did not intervene. Some station managers, on their own initiatives, provided additional toilet facilities. Transport Minister John Reith, and the chairman of London Transport, Lord Ashfield, inspected Holborn tube station to see conditions for themselves.
The Government then realised that it could not contain this popular revolt. On 21 September, it abruptly changed policy, removing its objections to the use of tube stations. In what it called part of its "deep shelter extension policy", it decided to close the short section of Piccadilly line from Holborn to Aldwych, and convert different sections for specific wartime use, including a public air raid shelter at Aldwych. Floodgates were installed at various points to protect the network should bombs breach the tunnels under the Thames, or large water mains in the vicinity of stations. Seventy-nine stations were fitted with bunks for 22,000 people, supplied with first aid facilities and equipped with chemical toilets. 124 canteens opened in all parts of the tube system. Shelter marshals were appointed, whose function it was to keep order, give first aid and assist in case of the flooding of the tunnels.
Businesses (for example Plessey Ltd) were allowed to use the Underground stations and unopened tunnels government offices were installed in others, and the anti-aircraft centre for London used a station as its headquarters. However, tube stations and tunnels were still vulnerable to a direct hit and several such incidents did occur:
On 14 October 1940, a bomb penetrated the road and tunnel at Balham tube station, blew up the water mains and sewage pipes, and killed 66 people.
At Bank station a direct hit caused a crater of 120 ft by 100 ft on 11 January 1941 the road above the station collapsed and killed 56 occupants.
However, the highest death toll was caused during an accident at the unfinished Bethnal Green tube station on 8 March 1943, when 1,500 people entered the station. The crowd suddenly surged forward upon hearing the unfamiliar sound of a new type of anti-aircraft rocket being launched nearby. Someone stumbled on the stairs, and the crowd pushing on, were falling on top of one another, and 173 people were crushed to death in the disaster.
Nevertheless, the London Underground system during the war was considered one of the safest means of protecting relatively many people in a high-density area of the capital. An estimated 170,000 people sheltered in the tunnels and stations during World War II. Although not a great number in comparison to the total number of the inhabitants of the capital, it almost certainly saved many lives of the people who probably would have had to find alternative, less secure means of protection. 
Artists and photographers such as Henry Moore and Bill Brandt  were employed as war artists to document life in London's shelters during the Second World War.
Other tunnels Edit
Many other types of tunnels were adapted for shelters to protect the civil population, and the military and administrative establishment in the UK during the war. Some had been built many years before, some had been part of an ancient defence system, and some had belonged to commercial enterprises, such as coal mining.
The Victoria tunnels at Newcastle upon Tyne, for example, completed as long ago as 1842, and used for transporting coal from the collieries to the river Tyne, had been closed in 1860 and remained so until 1939. 12 m deep in places, the tunnels, stretching in parts beneath the city of Newcastle, were converted to air raid shelters with a capacity for 9,000 people. Furthermore, tunnels linked to landing stages built on the River Irwell in Manchester at the end of the nineteenth century were also used as air-raid shelters.
The large medieval labyrinth of tunnels beneath Dover Castle had been built originally as part of the defensive system of the approaches to England, extended over the centuries and further excavated and reinforced during World Wars I and II, until it was capable of accommodating large parts of the secret defence systems protecting the British Isles. On 26 May 1940 it became the headquarters under Vice Admiral Bertram Ramsay of "Operation Dynamo", from which the rescue and evacuation of up to 338,000 troops from France was directed.
In Stockport, six miles south of Manchester, four sets of underground air raid shelter tunnels for civilian use were dug into the red sandstone on which the town centre stands. Preparation started in September 1938 and the first set of shelters was opened on 28 October 1939. (Stockport was not bombed until 11 October 1940.) The smallest of the tunnel shelters could accommodate 2,000 people and the largest 3,850 (subsequently expanded to take up to 6,500 people.) The largest of the Stockport Air Raid Shelters  are open to the public as part of the town's museum service.
In southeast London, residents made use of the Chislehurst Caves beneath Chislehurst, a 22-mile-long (35 km) network of caves which have existed since the Middle Ages for the mining of chalk and flint.
Street communal shelter Edit
In the United Kingdom, it was being recognised early that public shelters in open spaces, especially near streets, were urgently needed for pedestrians, drivers and passengers in passing vehicles, etc. The programme of building street communal shelters commenced in March 1940, the government supplying the materials, and being the moving force behind the scheme, and private builders executing the work under the supervision of surveyors. These shelters consisted of 14-inch brick walls and 1-foot-thick (0.30 m) reinforced concrete roofs, similarly to, but much larger than, the private shelters in backyards and gardens being introduced slightly later. The communal shelters were usually intended to accommodate about fifty persons, and were divided into various sections by interior walls with openings connecting the different sections. Sections were normally furnished with six bunks.
The construction work then went on rapidly, until the resources of concrete and bricks began to be depleted due to the excessive demand placed on them so suddenly. Also, the performance of the early street shelters was a serious blow to public confidence. Their walls were shaken down either by earth shock or blast, and the concrete roofs then fell onto the helpless occupants, and this was there for all to see.  At around the same time rumours of accidents started to circulate, such as on one occasion people being drowned due to a burst main filling up the shelter with water. Although much improved designs were being introduced whose performance had been demonstrated in explosion trials, communal shelters became highly unpopular, and shortly afterwards householders were being encouraged to build or have built private shelters on their properties, or within their houses, with materials being supplied by the government.
Refugi Antiaeri 307, interior
In 2004, the historian Andreu Besolí Martin wrote an article in the magazine Ebre about the shelters, describing them as invisible to the citizens of Barcelona, a consequence of the “incomprehensible pact of silence” that came out of the transition to democracy in Spain. He lamented that while places like London and Berlin had created museums and educational centers dedicated to wartime air attacks, in Barcelona there was a lack of both institutions and publications that could tell people about the shelters and their importance.
In 2008, Besolí told Metropolitan, there have been shifts in attitude in regard to the refugis “not only in Barcelona, but also in Catalunya and the rest of Spain.” The 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the war in 2006 resulted in the renovation and opening of various other shelters (Sant Adrià and La Garriga among others).
While shelters such as Refugi 307 helped protect people from the 194 total air raids carried out over the city, there were still approximately 2,500 casualties and thousands more were injured. However, in a population of a million — and considering the revolutionary nature of the raids — it could have been much worse. It was all a forerunner of how other European cities would react to air raids just a few years later in the Second World War.
Yet despite Churchill’s belief that Britons would follow Barcelona’s example, it was not to be. Ramón Perera, a refugee from the Nationalist forces, was spirited to the United Kingdom by British authorities who were interested in his designs for underground shelters. However, ultimately, the government decided that creating such public shelters could make people “cowardly and lazy,” and felt that the community spirit that had motivated the citizens of Barcelona to make their shelters did not exist in Britain. Confidential reports later expressed regret that the Perera model had not been adopted. In London alone, some 40,000 people died in air raids.
This article was updated from a 2008 article in Barcelona Metropolitan by the same author.
MUHBA Refugi 307
Barcelona was the city most heavily bombed by Franco's air forces during the Spanish Civil War, and as a result developed more than 1300 air-raid shelters. Now overseen by the Museu d'Història de Barcelona (MUHBA), the city's 307th refuge (one of its best preserved) was dug under a fold of northern Montjuïc by local citizens from 1937 to 1939. Compulsory tours (reservations essential) run on Sunday only: English at 10.30am, Spanish at 11.30am and Catalan at 12.30pm.
Over two years, the web of tunnels was slowly extended to 200m, with a theoretical capacity for 2000 people. Sleeping overnight in the shelter was not allowed – when raids were not being carried out work continued on its extension. Vaulted to displace the weight above the shelter to the clay brick walls (the porous clay allowed the bricks to absorb the shock waves of falling bombs without cracking), the tunnels were narrow and winding. Coated in lime to seal out humidity and whitewashed to relieve the sense of claustrophobia, they became a second home for many Poble Sec inhabitants – and today remain a testament to Barcelona's resilience.
When the civil war ended, Franco extended the refugi while considering entering WWII on Hitler’s side. When he decided not to join the war, many shelters including 307 were largely abandoned. In the tough years of famine and rationing during the 1940s and 1950s, families from Granada took up residence here. Later on, an enterprising fellow grew mushrooms here for sale on the black market.
Barcelona’s bomb shelters – Refugio 307
Spend any amount of time in Barcelona and the chances are that beneath the Mediterranean façade of frolics and frippery, you will pick up on a much darker side of its history. This is, quite literally, under the surface – in the over 1,800 air raid shelters built underground during the Spanish Civil War.
Barcelona under the bombs
The war, which lasted from 1936 to 1939, had a particularly cataclysmic effect on the Catalan capital. In fact, Barcelona has the dubious accolade of being the first city in Europe to have had its civilian population systematically bombed. Both a front and a rear-guard at the same time, the city presented the perfect guinea-pig scenario for the aggressors.
The aerial attacks lasted two years and killed more than 2,000 of Barcelona’s civilians in that time. The bombings were in many ways a training exercise for the subsequent bombing tactics of the Second World War, which started in the same year the Spanish Civil War came to an end.
This experimentation in the techniques of warfare even earned its own chilling neologism – ‘urbicide’.
The air raid shelter in Poble Sec – Refugio 307
I had heard of the underground safety network in passing, and was even more interested when I heard that one of few shelters open to the public is in my own Barcelona neighbourhood, Poble Sec. On a scorching August morning I accompanied my friend and neighbour Eva to Refugio 307, on Nou de la Rambla, for a guided tour of this large subterranean labyrinth.
What is immediately apparent is that no. 307 was a shelter far from the norm. Most of the 1,800 shelters, our guide tells us, had to be dug out of the ground – downwards. There were some city townhouses with air raid shelters in their basement, but mostly, it was a case of grab your shovel. And people did, partly organised by the Generalitat (Catalan government) but largely left to build the shelters of their own accord with whatever resources they could muster.
This particular refuge was built thanks to the charity of a Poble Sec local, who has remained anonymous. Not because the records are lacking, but because his family fear reprisals to this day.
This is one of the first facts we’re hit with before we enter the stone passageways, and it takes me a minute to fully assimilate the significance of the statement.
Here we are in a democratic country in western Europe, in the 21 st century. But names have to remain secret in case…what? All of a sudden I feel that in my naiveté, I have spent the last 15 months living here in the mistaken notion that the city’s past is negligible. We bow our heads to enter the labyrinth and I feel a flush of shame.
The shame quickly turns to awe and admiration. Battle-axed into the bedrock of Montjuïc hill lie 400 metres of vaulted tunnels, with crudely smoothed walls painted white in a deliberate attempt to combat claustrophobia. Initially, near the entrance, all bends are curved, to make it easier for the injured to be ferried in on stretchers.
Refugio 307, we learn, was a bit of a privileged spot, as air raid shelters go. Rather than digging down, Poble Sec locals were able to dig in – straight into the heart of Montjuïc mountain. The mountain has long been thought of as a spiritual source, and obligingly produced a source of running water that allowed the residents to install a plumbing system (of sorts).
The ladies and gents in Refugi 307
Lit inside by oil lamps, the shelter had capacity for 2,000 people sat on wooden benches. But there was no ventilation (people feared chemical warfare) and consequently, you only had around two hours at a time inside before the air began to run out. Usually, this was adequate…until March of 1938, which saw the most protracted bombardment yet. For almost three days straight, Mussolini’s planes flew back and forth from their refuelling station on Mallorca, dropping 44 tons of bombs at random over Barcelona’s population.
Every two hours, the attack would begin again, meaning that locals were confined to the shelters for the duration. Normally when the air raid siren sounded you had, on average, less than two minutes to gather up your family and run to the nearest shelter. (Our guide tells us that people used to take their cue from dogs and chickens, which would start to become agitated long before humans picked up on the looming threat.) On this occasion, though, the sirens were useless – no-one could tell if they signalled the beginning or end of yet another attack.
“And I heard you scream/from the other side of the mountain…”
Despite the venue’s attempts to recreate something of the conditions of the time, with a sound track of sirens and bombs playing faintly in the background, it is of course impossible to imagine what Poble Sec residents must have felt. This district was particularly devastated by the aerial attacks, and plenty people emerged from the shelter time after time to find that their home had been razed to the ground in the meantime.
The personal and communal catastrophe is something our guide doesn’t gloss over.
She leads us through to the belly of the mountain, where, hacked into the rock is the ‘infirmary’. In reality, it’s a cave, with the remnants of a shelf chiselled into the stone. Touchingly, or perhaps practically, people here had made an attempt to pave the ground rather than leave it as the normal mud. Many residents suffered panic attacks during the course of the bombings – hardly surprising, when you imagine a dark, dank environment with fighter planes screaming overhead and both children and adults screaming in the vicinity. Since all the doctors were off at the front, ‘nurses’ volunteered to staff the infirmary – essentially local teenage girls off the streets.
There are touches of farce, of course, as well.
Our guide points out a plaque on the wall that spells out the topics that were off-limits inside the sanctuary.
- No politics (most folk taking shelter were on the side of the Republicans – but not all)
- No religion (probably goes without saying)
- No sleeping (wastes oxygen)
- No animals (leave your chicken at home – the guy next to you might not have eaten meat for six months)
- No furniture (looters used to raid houses while people were sheltering)
- No football (!)
And as the tour ends, our small party emerges blinking back into the sunlight, looking a little dazed in more ways than one. It’s been a sobering start to the weekend, and it leaves me wanting to find out more about the lives of the locals of my neighbourhood over the last century.