A Brief History Plaça d’Espanya in Barcelona
What is Plaça d’Espanya?
Plaça d’Espanya is a grand public square built as part of a general renovation of the surrounding area, in preparation for Barcelona’s 1929 International Exhibition.
Plaça d’Espanya History
In 1900, the ground on which you stand was a barren wasteland at the foot of an almost deserted Montjuïc Hill. Until the end of the 19th century this area had been used principally as a quarry and (rather more horribly) as a location for executions. The 1929 International Exhibition, a World’s Fair awarded to Barcelona to showcase the city’s technological advances, marked the perfect occasion to modernise the area in order to accommodate international visitors and improve the city’s appearance.
The plans for a new square were developed by Josep Puig i Cadafalch and Guillem Busquets, and finalised by Antoni Darder. Influenced by Baroque Italian architecture, this triumvirate of architects designed several monumental landmarks that were bound to impress any visitors for the upcoming exhibition. Notably, Ramón Reventós’s iconic Torres Venecianes (or Venetian Towers) welcomed visitors arriving at the square from the broad and landscaped Avinguda de la Reina Maria Cristina. The large towers, inspired by the bell tower of Saint Mark’s Basilica in Venice, had no particular function other than to indicate the entrance to the exhibition district and the start of the grand avenue leading up to the Palau Nacional. Initially, the towers were open to the public, who could climb the internal stairs to the viewing galleries at the summits.
In the middle of the square stands Josep María Jujol’s Font dels Tres Mars (or Fountain of the Three Seas). This large, triangular-shaped work features marble statues that symbolise the rivers that flow into the three seas surrounding the Iberian peninsula: the Mediterranean, the Atlantic and the Cantabrian. These personifications allude to Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s 17th-century Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi in Rome’s Piazza Navona. At the base of the fountain are sculptural groups by brothers Miquel and Llucià Oslé representing Barcelona’s naval power, its public health, and general abundance.
The construction of the Plaça d’Espanya, however, did not pass without strife. The urban planning of the Montjuïc area leading up to the International Exhibition coincided with the rise to power of conservative, Spanish nationalist dictator Miguel Primo de Rivera. Given the politics of the Exhibition, and the plans of Barcelona’s administrators for a district dedicated to it, the dictator decided to interfere in the preparations. Regardless of the political setbacks, the city council’s drive to develop the Montjuïc area for the World’s Fair successfully modernised the location in just a few decades. Today, the Plaça d’Espanya remains one of the most symbolic squares in the city. In 1929, it introduced visitors to the city’s International Exhibition, but in the years since it has become a modern Barcelonan landmark in its own right.
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