Turó de la Rovira with the best 360 degree views of the city
It is hard to imagine, standing at the top of Turó de la Rovira halfway between the modernist Hospital Sant Pau and the Park Guell, but this popular hang out with the best 360 degree views of the city was once an important locale in times of war. The silhouettes of the anti-aircraft batteries and the army barracks are silent reminders of a history that used the same vantage point to defend Barcelona from air attacks during the Civil War. Not always effective from a military point of view, they however played a deterrent role in some attacks forcing the planes to fly higher making it harder to hit precisely.
Turó de la Rovira under the Franco years
From the start of the Spanish civil war in 1936 until 26 January 1939, when Barcelona fell to Franco’s forces, Barcelona had high hopes to resist Franco, but betrayal, infighting, air raids and bombardments led to a painful defeat followed by years of dictatorship under Franco. Catalans still consider what happened to them in the 1930s as something completely different from what happened in the rest of Spain. This “fet diferencial”, the (f)act of differentiation, makes the Catalans different in some respects from the Spanish, while it is also something that unites most Catalans. Its is simply the desire to be who you are and to be recognised for what you are on a political and historical level. Probably that’s why Turo de la Rovira’s history sparked several years of archaeological excavations. Barcelona decided to refurbish it, to make this historical place more accessible to the general public.
What a difference 5 years make
In just five years time the area of Turó de la Rovira has gone from being a forgotten corner of the city to one of Barcelona’s best vantage points to see the city. No news there for the residents of the nearby neighbourhoods of Carmel, Can Baró and Salut. This was something they already knew for a long time, although if you would have visited Turo de la Rovira more than 15-20 years ago, you would have been surprised by the neglect. The area was long inhabited by poor immigrants from the South of Spain (see also Retroblog Barcelona’s post Get your Flamenco gear ready for the festive and colourful vibe of feria de abril de Catalunya).
Locally the area was called as “Los Cañones” (or Guns), the shanty town part of the informal city of huts and shacks that was home to 7% of Barcelona’s population until the end of the 1950s. Sadly its long-suffering inhabitants have known many years of deprivation and neglect. Years of protest in the 1970s led to progress in the form of public toilets, garbage cans and running water. Fighting for a qualitative housing extended the life of this district until 1990, but most houses were demolished just before the 1992 Olympics. Some of their remains, like tiles and staircases, are still visible to this day.
A few years ago groups from an international work camp tidied up the place. A mutual initiative from the Barcelona City History Museum (MUHBA), the Horta Guinardó and Carmel district in cooperation with the neighbourhood people, ignited a further rehabilitation of the Turó de la Rovira hill. The idea was to get rid of the vandalism without stripping Turo de la Rovira of its magic. Archaeological remains were documented, the last meters of the road leading to anti-aircraft batteries and the army barracks arranged and informative panels placed, telling about its history. MUHBA established a heritage site in the Tres Turons (Three Hills) Park, published two urban history guides (Defensa/BCN, 1936-1939 and Barraques/BCN,) about Rovira and organised guided tours too. The project even won the 2012 European Prize for Urban Public Space.
Popular with locals
Since the area was first re-opened in 2011, it has risen enormously in popularity, but strange enough only got picked up late by tourists as a place to visit in Barcelona. It works mainly through word of mouth, you won’t find Turó de la Rovira in many guide books. Lately there has been an other round of renovations. The 3 main rooms of the battery have been turned into a free museum with an exhibition which details how the bunkers were used and shows how life was for military and civilians in Barcelona during after directly after the war. If most people will come for this I doubt, the main attraction has always been (and will be) the spectacular 360º views over the city. Not to be missed.
Turo de la Rovira
Carrer Turó de la Rovira / Carrer de Maria Labèrnia / Carrer de Muhlberg / Carrer Budapest / Carrer Telègraf / Carrer de Sant Joan de les Abadesses
Public Transport Metro: El Carmel (L5), Alfonso X (L4), Guinardó | Hospital de Sant Pau (L4)
Be careful when you go there at night!
The anti-aircraft batteries of Turó de la Rovira, with Spanish texts: