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  • Writer's pictureSonia Cuesta Maniar, PhD

A Brief History of the Font de Canaletes in Barcelona

What is Font de Canaletes?

Font de Canaletes is an ornate fountain in Barcelona that’s crowned by a lamp post and has long served as a gathering place for sporting celebrations, its name comes from the channels that once brought water into the city.

Font de Canaletes History

This ornate fountain at the heart of the city has been a rendezvous point in Barcelona for centuries. Nowadays, it’s mainly visited by travellers looking for a sip of fresh water after a long day of walking and by the locals who flock to the fountain to celebrate Barcelona’s footballing victories. However, the Font de Canaletes tells a much older and fascinating story about the history of the city's water supply. Until the 19th century, Barcelona's water came from the Collserola mountain range northwest of the city. It was channelled into the old walled city in two pipelines. One of these terminated in the primitive Font de Canaletes, then located within the old Barcelona University building that once stood here.

In 1714, during the War of the Spanish Succession, Barcelona was surrounded by Bourbon forces championing Philip V under the Duke of Berwick's command. As part of the military offensive, the troops began systematically bombarding the city. The army targeted citizens’ houses and essential locations in Barcelona, in a bid to force the city to surrender. Amongst these were the old university building and thus the original Font de Canaletes. In the mid-19th century the building was demolished, which led to the creation of the fountain you see today. The iron structure, designed by architect Jaume Rodelles in 1892, has four waterspouts mounted on its shield-shaped sides, together with the badge of the city; an imposing streetlamp tops the fountain.

Font de Canaletes

After its revamp Canaletes did not lose its traditional status as a meeting place but gained even more importance as people began gathering at the spot to drink the city's freshest water. The fountain retains a symbolic significance to this day, mainly to those celebrating Barça's victories. This tradition stems from a time when most people didn’t have a radio or television in their home. In the early 20th century, the offices of Spanish newspapers announced the results of football matches on blackboards as they came in. The blackboards of Las Noticias and El Sol newspapers were located here next to the fountain. Over time, this became the most popular gathering spot for Barça fans eager to learn the latest football news.

It was not only culés – the nickname for Barça fans, meaning ‘backsides’ in Catalan, the view of them that passersby would see as they neared the overcrowded stadium – who received their football results from these offices. Naturally the news that brought celebration for some, was disappointing for others. Disagreements over the latest scores often led to political debates, frequently ending in street fights. This led the newspapers’ owners to demand a police presence at the site, and though the offices shut many decades ago, the police still make regular patrols in the area today.

Despite the fountain’s history as the scene of political confrontation and sporting rivalry, the Font de Canaletes is a classic city sight. In fact, legend has it that anyone who drinks from the fountain will fall in love with Barcelona and always return to the city.

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