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  • Writer's pictureSonia Cuesta Maniar, PhD

A Brief History of the Bunkers del Carmel in Barcelona

What are the Bunkers del Carmel?

The Bunkers del Carmel, oir Carmel Bunkers in English, is a former strategic defence site that played an important role in the Spanish Civil War; abandoned until 2011, today they offer some of the best views of the city.

view from carmel bunkers

Bunkers del Carmel History

Aviation played a crucial role in the Spanish Civil War. The Nationalist rebel forces, led by General Francisco Franco, did not only fight the Republican army on battlefields, but also targeted civilians in government-held strongholds with airstrikes. Up here, on the Rovira Hill, remains an uncanny relic of the war: a series of bunkers and concrete platforms used as anti-aircraft batteries, derelict until 2011, that played a key part in the Republican effort to defend Barcelona from aerial strikes by Franco's forces. Today the weapons are gone, and the concrete platforms in the Carmel neighbourhood have a more harmonious function, offering some of the best views of the city.

Franco's forces were supported by Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, who helped organise air raids in Republican areas. Between February 1937 and April 1939, Barcelona suffered 194 bombing raids, leaving behind 2,500 dead and many thousands more wounded. The actions of Mussolini's Aviazione Legionaria and Hitler's Condor Legion (a unit of the Nazi Luftwaffe) in Spain are often considered the first instances of carpet bombing, a type of bombing attack that seeks to destroy every part of a specified area, and since 1977 has been considered a war crime. The attacks paralysed Barcelona’s economy and the daily life of its citizens, and helped to turn the tide of the war for Franco.

In response to the dire situation, Republican authorities built underground air-raid bunkers on the outskirts of the city to protect the lives of Barcelona’s innocent civilians. The Rovira Hill lends you an exceptional 360-degree view of both the city and the sea, making it the ideal location for an anti-air raid base. It allowed volunteers and members of the Republican air defence authority to observe, locate, and neutralise enemy planes before an attack.

Anti-air raid bases were equipped with anti-aircraft missiles whose firing range enabled Barcelona to rebuff, or at least withstand, the attacks carried out by German and Italian Air Forces. The site was also completed with acoustic locators and various reflectors that helped detect approaching enemy aircraft. Even when they were unable to stop an attack, the Carmel Bunkers’ location afforded authorities sufficient time to warn residents in Barcelona to leave their homes and seek refuge. The Republican campaign against the Francoist army was, sadly, unsuccessful. When Franco came to power in 1939, the defences were removed, and the bunkers were abandoned.

However, the Carmel Bunkers – whose location remained an official secret for the whole of the 20th century – have recently regained popularity. In the early 2000s, the site started to receive visitors in search of a secluded spot to sit, relax, and take in Barcelona's best views. Aware of its growing traction, the city council excavated the bunkers, partially restored them, and improved their accessibility. These efforts made the location increasingly appealing to tourists and Catalans alike. By 2011, the Museum of the History of Barcelona had installed a small exhibit inside one of the bunkers, detailing the role anti-air raid bunkers played during the Spanish Civil War and discussing their recent history.

Despite the desolation of the war, the views that once made this hill an ideal strategic outpost for the city's defence, are now appreciated by travellers whose approach is less hostile. Eight decades on, the old bunkers’ primary meaning is no longer a practical one, but a commemorative one, and, by means of a happy accident, they’ve gained a reputation for being a place of peaceful contemplation.

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