The celebration of the Eucharistic Congress in Barcelona in 1952 led to the destruction of numerous shanty towns and prompted the building of an entire estate of cheap homes to accommodate masses of people migrating from other parts of the country, who had come to Barcelona in search of a better future. With the passage of time, the poor quality of the flats and shortcomings of the surrounding area gave rise to a strong local residents’ movement with calls for major improvements to the El Verdun neighbourhood.
1952 saw Barcelona play host to the 35th Eucharistic Congress, the first international event to be held in Francoist Spain. The congress was seen by the authorities as the end of Spain’s international isolation and as an opportunity to offer a new vision of the country, while strengthening the ties between francoism and the Catholic Church.
Faced with the arrival of over 700,000 people in the city, the government wanted to hide the shanty towns that had sprung up close to La Diagonal, where the main events were meant to be organised. The shanty towns of Santa Gemma, Carrer Numància, Avinguda Madrid and the vicinity of Palau de Pedralbes were quickly demolished and their residents moved in record time. Barcelona's civil governor, Felipe Acedo Colunga, launched an urban-planning project inspired by the structure of the Burgos prison, which was known as the “Viviendas del Gobernador” [Governor's Homes] located in an undeveloped area of the El Verdun neighbourhood.
The housing estate was built in just two months, although it was not officially opened until 10 July 1953. At the time, families from other shanty areas, such as Somorrostro, Poble Sec and Montjuïc, had already been moved to the neighbourhood. The 906 dwellings had to accommodate as many as 5,500 people and were very small, measuring 20m2, built from very poor-quality materials. Problems soon arose, such as leaks, problems with the electrical wiring and plumbing, which was why they came to be known as the “casitas de papel” [little paper houses].
The new neighbourhood had a military character that went beyond its architectural structure. There was a surveillance service that controlled the residents’ lives and forced them, among other forms of humiliation, to get up at the crack of dawn on holidays to clean the streets, and banned anyone who was not a registered occupant of a flat from staying in it (not even family members). The conditions in the surrounding area were also inadequate: the lighting and sewerage systems were deficient, there were no green spaces, health centres or nursery schools and the only bus line that served the area was private.
In 1966 resident families were forced to buy the flats they had been renting up to then, with the threat that they would lose their accommodation if they did not comply. Privatisation allowed the municipal authorities to wash their hands of any responsibility for the state of the buildings. The County Plan in 1976 described the Cases del Governador as an area to be remodelled, triggering a whole host of demands from the Nou Barris Local Residents’ Association. Local residents called for new homes in exchange for abandoning their flats. The El Verdun Local Residents’ Association forced the City Council to sign an agreement with the Spanish Ministry for Public Works to redevelop the neighbourhood. Finally, in 1994 the first 40 keys of a housing project that would not be completed until 2007 were handed over.
Address: Carrers Almansa, Via Favència, Viladrosa i Mas Duran || Coordinates: (LAT, LONG): 41.443696000, 2.176830000