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  • Writer's pictureSonia Cuesta Maniar, PhD

A Brief History of the Cementiri de Montjuïc in Barcelona

What is the Cementiri de Montjuïc?

The Cementiri de Montjuïc is a sprawling 57-hectare cemetery on the slopes of Montjuïc Hill, which holds the remains of many of Spain’s important figures.

Montjuïc Cemetery

Cementiri de Montjuïc History

Winding up the hillside, overlooking the sea, Montjuïc Cemetery is its own city within a city, and more than just a city of the dead. Its streets teem with funerary sculpture and art; its boundaries contain the only museum of hearses in Europe. Montjuïc has a long association with burial grounds – even its name, 'Mount of the Jews' in old Catalan, is believed to derive from an ancient Jewish cemetery in the area. The expanse surrounding Montjuïc Castle, which sits at the top of the hill, also hosted bloody battles in the 17th and 18th centuries. Throughout the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s and the ensuing Francoist dictatorship, the castle was used to torture elements of the left-wing opposition to the Regime. Its grounds served as mass graves for extrajudicial killings by Franco’s fascist troops. From cultural icons to the victims of the Civil War, the necropolis does more than just commemorate the dead. It testifies to the history of Barcelona, Catalonia and Spain.

The cemetery was inaugurated in March 1883, in response to Barcelona's urgent need for new burial grounds. Throughout the 19th century, the city had experienced rapid population growth as its industrial economy boomed. Demolition of city walls and mass rural-to-urban migration had rendered the already existing cemeteries obsolete. What’s more, the city's rapid industrialisation caused several waves of typhus, cholera and other deadly diseases, highlighting the pressing need for more places to lay the dead to rest.

The project was commissioned by the Mayor of Barcelona, Francesc de Paula Rius i Taulet. In collaboration with architect Leandre Albareda i Petit, they decided to place the cemetery on the southwestern slope of the hill of Montjuïc, then on the outskirts of the city. This location provided easy access to mourning family members while remaining invisible to the public, giving it enough space for growth.

They planned the cemetery with the symmetrical grid system that could already be seen in Barcelona’s expanding streets. Among the hundreds of painstakingly planned paths they devoted areas to Catholics, non-Catholic Christians, members of non-Christian religions, and a non-denominational section for atheists, those who committed suicide and those who died in mourning. The cemetery houses thousands of statues and pantheons of great artistic value, made by great artists, architects and sculptors, including (among others) Lluís Domènech i Montaner, Enric Sagnier i Villavecchia and Josep Puig i Cadafalch.

One of the cemetery’s most evocative points must be the Fossar de la Pedrera (or the ‘Stone Ditch’), located in the west of the cemetery, which was used as a mass grave for the 4,000 victims of General Franco's crackdown on opponents following his overthrow of the Republican government in the Spanish Civil War. Since 1985, it has housed the mortal remains of Lluís Companys, president of the Generalitat of Catalonia, executed by the Francoist regime on the 15th of October 1940. It’s also the resting-place of Salvador Puig i Antich, the last anarchist militant to be officially executed by the Franco government in 1974.

Countless other illustrious figures of Catalan history are buried here at Montjuïc Cemetery. They include artist Joan Miró, writer Ana María Matute, Barcelona architect and city planner Ildefonso Cerdá, and the famous anarchist Buenaventura Durruti.

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