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  • Writer's pictureSonia Cuesta Maniar, PhD

A Brief History of the Poble Espanyol in Barcelona

What is the Poble Espanyol?

The Poble Espanyol is a Spanish town in the heart of Barcelona that includes examples of regional architecture, an art gallery, restaurants, bars and shops.

Poble Espanyol buildings

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Poble Espanyol History

Have you enjoyed seeing Barcelona but wonder what other areas of Spain might be like? Travelling by foot from Córdoba to Asturias, Santiago de Compostela to Mallorca and many other parts of the Iberian Peninsula can easily be achieved by visiting just one place.

Sometimes described as a 'Spain-themed Disneyland', the Poble Espanyol (or ‘Spanish Town’) is an ethnographic open-air museum built in the 1920s for Barcelona’s second International Exhibition that synthesises Spain's architectural and cultural richness. The museum contains 117 full-scale replica buildings, all characteristic structures from various Spanish regions, and these are incorporated into a layout of streets and squares typical of Spanish urban architecture.

The idea for the museum was initially conceived in the early 1920s by architect Josep Puig i Cadafalch, one of the leading figures of Catalan Modernism, and was to be called ‘Iberona’. However, during the dictatorship of General Primo de Rivera, the project was renamed Poble Espanyol and turned into a powerful piece of propaganda, demonstrating the coherence of Spanish culture as a counter to separatist tendencies.

The project was taken up by architects Ramon Reventós and Francesc Folguera, the painter Xavier Nogués, and the engineer Miquel Utrillo. The 1929 International Exhibition allowed the host city to showcase its technological and artistic prowess, and they felt there was no better way of doing so than by recreating the country’s regional architectural styles in a single, open-air space.

In 1927, the team left Barcelona in their brand-new Hispano-Suiza car and travelled 20,000 kilometres, visiting some 1,600 towns across the whole of Spain to photograph and study the country’s rich regional architecture and art. Upon their return to Barcelona, the four designers recreated a selection of the buildings they had encountered, here on the slopes of Montjuïc Hill.

Poble Espanyol Church

The Poble Espanyol is a life-sized village or small town. The full-scale buildings, squares, gardens, fountains, and monastery showcase the typical architecture of 15 separate regions of Spain in an array of styles, including Romanesque, Gothic, Mudéjar (which contains traces or influences from Islamic art) and Baroque, capturing the diversity of Spain's architecture. The only two regions not represented here are La Rioja and the Canary Islands. This is because La Rioja did not yet exist as an autonomous region in the 1920s and they were sadly unable to visit the Canaries due to budgetary constraints.

The Poble Espanyol was initially intended as a temporary exhibition only, to tie in with the International Exhibition. However, the project met with such success that the government decided to keep it for future generations to enjoy. The village is now used as a location for festivals, summer concerts, flamenco shows, and theatrical performances, whilst more than 20 artisans work on site, showcasing the manufacture of regional Spanish products. It’s also home to the Fundació Fran Daurel, which holds a private collection of paintings, sculpture and drawings by some of Spain's most celebrated artists, including Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró and Pablo Picasso. This artistic complex successfully recreates the essence of the country’s culture, offering you the chance to experience many centuries of Spanish history and, contrary to General Primo de Rivera’s intentions, the country’s regional diversity.

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