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  • Writer's pictureSonia Cuesta Maniar, PhD

A Brief History of Refugi 307 in Barcelona

What is Refugi 307?

Refugi 307 is a preserved air-raid shelter in Barcelona that was built in the 1930s to protect the city’s population from attack by Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.

Refugi 307 entrance

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Refugi 307 History

Between February 1937 and April 1939, Barcelona was the target of 194 air attacks. Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany organised the bombings in support of Franco's Nationalist rebel army. Barcelona's City Council took steps to protect the population, setting up anti-aircraft weapons, detection systems and air-raid alarms. The Catalan government, aided by volunteers from the public, also built over 1,400 air-raid shelters and educated civilians in what to do during an attack. The shelters ensured the citizens' continued survival during the war. One of a few that remain, Refugi 307, bears silent witness to the cruelty of war.

Barcelona suffered systematic attack from early 1937 – bombs would hit the city almost every week. However, this campaign came to a head between the 16th and 18th of March 1938, when the Italian Aviazione Legionaria, part of the Italian Air Force fighting in the Spanish Civil War, bombed Barcelona continuously for three days. The first missiles hit the city at 10 p.m. on the 16th of March. After that, Barcelona suffered an additional 16 air raids, at three-hourly intervals until 3 p.m. two days later. The bombers silently glided over the city and only restarted their engines after releasing their missiles. This made the aeroplanes difficult to detect until after the bombs had exploded on their target below. The repeated wave of attacks also rendered air-raid alarms irrelevant, for it became unclear if the sirens were announcing the beginning or the end of an attack. Over 41 hours, Italian aircraft dropped 44 tons of explosives, causing 1,300 deaths and 2,000 casualties. Despite the tragedy, thousands of residents made it out alive thanks to the existence of bomb shelters such as this one.

Refugi 307 tunnel

Refugi 307, at the foot of Montjuïc Hill, is one of the largest surviving shelters in Barcelona, with capacity for around 2,000 people. It’s located a few metres underground and was easily accessible from the street via three entrances designed to shield citizens from shrapnel blast. Shelter 307 was built thanks to the efforts of Barcelona's very own citizens; women, children and the elderly excavated the 400-metre labyrinth of narrow underground tunnels, since most men were conscripted to the front lines.

Bombing raids could last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours, throughout the night or even for several days, as in March 1938. To fulfil people's basic needs, the facility included toilets, water fountains, an infirmary, a children's room, a kitchen and a fireplace. But sheltering in a confined underground space at a time of extreme stress could be difficult. It was not uncommon for fights to break out within the tunnels. To prevent this, the city council enforced a strict set of rules, which included no discussion of politics, religion or sports – especially football.

Air raids made the city’s civilian population unwilling protagonists in the war. Over the span of two years, the raids left 2,500 dead and many thousands more wounded. An atmospheric guided tour of the shelter’s winding tunnels gives some indication of the anguish and fear that must have been experienced here by the people of Barcelona during the war. Although there are a few other surviving air-raid shelters open to the public, most have been demolished to build underground car parks. Still, Refugi 307 and other surviving air-raid shelters remain an integral part of Barcelona's history, a memorial to civilian endurance and the battle to survive in the face of adversity.

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