Barcelona (23) War Memories



My father’s parents never talked to my mother’s, for the plain good reason that they didn’t speak each other’s language. I have been in family celebrations in which there was even a third language, and most of the people were not even able to speak at least two. But everyone knew that the person in front was not speaking a different language to offend him. They also knew that even if the person by his side could speak a common language, if they were talking to their wife/son/cousin in their everyday language it was not a disrespect, but simply habit, instinct. This is why I don’t understand some attitudes towards Catalan in other parts of Spain, and mainly in Madrid (I don’t understand either any rational criteria in some attitudes by a minority of Catalans).

My family also has memories from the XXth century European wars; my grandparents lived them in bad situations, and my parents were born just in the middle of the wars that raged in their respective countries, having to endure uneasy post-war years. My mom says that the first concept she associated with the word German was “boots”, as she heard patrols at night. But this has not led them to define their identity on the memory of this suffering; it is just a part, but a minute one.

This long preamble arises from the fact that architecture has sometimes a sense that goes beyond physical shape. Some days ago I visited the El Born Cultural Center, a former market that was intended to become a public library. During refurbishment works the previous city streets were discovered; the neighbourhood had been razed after the invasion of Barcelona in 1714 during the Sucession War. This allowed the war winners to set up a citadel to control the rebel city, leaving around an open, barren area to see any enemy coming. The cultural centre, into the refurbished market, includes an exhibition on the historical moment and the siege which has been well funded (although some of its statements seem to be far from consensual)

Imagining today what the Sucession War for the Spanish crown meant is complex. I am not an historian, so I will accept any correction. Judging from what I have read it would be as if Mitt Romney had not accepted Obama’s victory and a civil war followed. Each of the two sides would have the help not just from a part of the States, but also their overseas bases and dependencies; and the help of a large foreign power (China, Russia…) eager to grab as much as possible from the larger empire on earth. The war wreaked havoc around the then known world, and what Barcelona experienced was the dubious honour of being the last visible bulwark (but for Cardona) of the losers

But Succession War was not started to destroy Barcelona, as many of the successive wars that unfortunately afflicted the city; Barcelona suffered during the 1936-1939 civil war, but Madrid was during that same time a front line city. That’s why I find hard to understand why there is a movement (sizeable in number) that wants to give that event, which happened 3 centuries ago, such a central role in Catalan identity, which seems vastly more interesting in other terms. I understand that for some this marked the advent of a new centralist regime under the Bourbon dynasty, but there is one thing that Catalans have proved again and again for three centuries: that an uniform regime does not produce homogeneous outputs, and that there is always a way to be different in a positive way.

Let’s not forget what the original intent of this post was: the market has been duly restored, and it is worth a visit.