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  • Writer's pictureSonia Cuesta Maniar, PhD

A Brief History of El Born Centre de Cultura i Memòria

What is El Born Centre de Cultura i Memòria?

El Born Centre de Cultura i Memòria ia an exhibition space in Barcelona that’s used to promote the remembrance of local and national events, in a building that was the city’s first cast-iron market.

El Born Centre de Cultura i Memòria

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El Born Centre de Cultura i Memòria History

During the Middle Ages, this site was part of the bustling area known as La Ribera. However, in 1714, after a 14-month-long siege at the end of the War of the Spanish Succession, Barcelona fell to the army of Philip V of Spain. To maintain control over the city and prevent the Catalans from rebelling as they had in the previous centuries, the king ordered a citadel (or military fortification) to be built in Barcelona.

To this end, he decreed the demolition of a large section of the Ribera neighbourhood. The owners of houses and buildings there were given just a few weeks to pack their belongings and leave; some were even forced to help tear down their own homes. In all, 1,200 houses were demolished, and many thousands of residents rendered homeless without compensation and relocated to the newly developed neighbourhood of La Barceloneta.

The government agreed to demolish the citadel in 1868 and decided to use the land to benefit the citizens of Barcelona after more than a century of military repression. The city council commissioned architect Josep Fontserè i Mestre to design and develop the Ciutadella area ‘to offer a space for learning, leisure and rest for – at least in theory – all citizens’.

As part of the development, Fontserè i Mestre built a spectacular structure (according to the design of architect Antoni Rovira i Trias) that was intended to house some of the area’s market stalls. Inspired by the style of cast iron construction that had dominated the rest of Europe since the middle of the century, the architect envisioned a large, rectangular market hall with two huge naves and four smaller lateral ones, all supported by cast-iron columns.

The market’s location close to the port was ideal. In the 1920s, the Mercat del Born became Barcelona's primary wholesale fruit and vegetable market. Unfortunately, by 1971 it was rendered obsolete when the city’s main produce market moved out of town. When it was facing demolition, local residents’ associations campaigned to repurpose the building. Finally, in the early 2000s, the city council decided to use the abandoned site to house Barcelona’s Provincial Library.

In 2002, during the preparatory stages of the renovation work, builders discovered significant 18th-century archaeological remains. These were identified as the foundations of the old Ribera neighbourhood destroyed 300 years ago. Along with these remnants of the vanished buildings, archaeologists found countless artefacts and household items. The regional government of Catalonia halted work on the library project. Instead, it declared the building a cultural asset of national interest.

The city council agreed to fund further archaeological surveys and turned the site into The Born Centre of Culture and Memory, a cultural space ‘created for the city to encourage and promote the remembrance of local and national events, as well as those affecting communities around the world’. This was officially inaugurated on the 11th of September 2013, coinciding with the anniversary of the fall of Barcelona, which had prompted the demolition of La Ribera three centuries before.

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