Historical walks through the 20th century Barcelona  

Eixample dret


This square, one of the nerve centres in the city, was the scene of several historic episodes over the course of the 20th century. In July 1936, when the military uprising against the Republic government began, serious confrontations took place here between rebel soldiers and forces loyal to the Republic. Later, during the Franco dictatorship, the square witnessed demonstrations against the regime, such as those in 1951 and 1957 to protest against tram ticket price rises. Moreover, the University of Barcelona building was also the venue for actions against the Franco regime organised by the combative student movement that emerged in the mid-1950s.&l

On 19 July 1936, a cavalry squadron from the Carrer de Tarragona barracks occupied Plaça de la Universitat, encountering no resistance. There, the unit was to meet up with an infantry regiment from the Bruc barracks in Pedralbes, whose objective was to reach Plaça de Catalunya. Armed confrontations soon broke out between the rebel soldiers and republican forces. In order to quash the revolt, it was necessary to regain both Plaça de Catalunya and Plaça de la Universitat. To this end, government forces decided to isolate the two positions, preventing the rebels from receiving reinforcements. In the early-afternoon, a Civil Guard Unit loyal to the Republic entered the square from Carrer d’Aribau and, after talks lasting an hour, persuaded the rebel forces to surrender. The military uprising was quashed in Barcelona and other cities all over Spain, effectively starting the Spanish Civil War.

Years later, during the Franco dictatorship, this point in the city was the scene of public protests against the regime, many of them led by students from the University of Barcelona, whose main centre is in the square. The installation of the Franco dictatorship was followed by a period of repression in the academic world, with a purge of teachers, the abolition of university autonomy and a genocidal attack on Catalan language and culture. On 9 February 1946, in response to this repression, the university section of the National Front of Catalonia – an armed anti-Franco organisation – placed an explosive device in the chapel of the university building, coinciding with a ceremony to commemorate the Francoist students who died in the Civil War. The campaign continued two days later, when dynamite cartridges were placed in the premises of the Spanish University Union (SEU) in the same building. In reprisal for this, several students considered to be Catalan nationalists were interrogated and beaten, though no evidence of guilt was found.

In 1951, university students led the huge demonstrations against the rising price of tram tickets, which increased by 40% in Barcelona whilst remaining unchanged in Madrid. At this time of shortages and low wages, the call was made for people to boycott the tram service. On February 25, confrontations occurred between students and police in Plaça de la Universitat and at other university facilities, such as the Medical Faculty and the Industrial School. After a boycott lasting several consecutive days, the authorities lowered the tram ticket price, and people saw, for the first time, how the regime could be forced to give in to public pressure.

In January 1957, another tram boycott, for the same reason as in 1951, led to serious disturbances in the square, which ended with students occupying the university building, where they burned portraits of Franco and José Antonio and called out against the regime. Mounted police entered the building to drive them out. This time, student participation in protests was even more intense, opening a new period in the student movement, which grew in strength after 1955 to become one of the most combative organised sectors in the struggle against Franco.

In the 1960s, rising student numbers led to spreading anti-Franco movements in the university, and links were forged with the more pro-Catalan sectors of the Church and other sectors of society: intellectuals, the residents’ movement, etc. This new anti-Francoist wave culminated with the founding, at the Capuchins Monastery in Sarrià, of the Democratic Union of University of Barcelona Students (SDEUB) in 1966. 

Address: Plaça de la Universitat || Coordinates: (LAT, LONG): 41.383860040, 2.162858939

  • Periods:
  • Second Republic
  • Civil War
  • Francoism
  • Transition