Historical walks through the 20th century Barcelona  

Les Corts & Eixample esquerre


The Model prison was one of the most infamous sites of Francoist repression in Barcelona. It was used by Fascist troops from the very day after they occupied the city, and the detention centre became a symbol amongst those who had defended the legitimacy of the Republic and individuals and movements opposed to the new regime.

Opened in June 1904, the Cellular Prison of Barcelona was designed as a model to be followed within the Spanish penitentiary system. Rationalist in style, the prison has a radial, cellular structure that enables all the galleries to be visually controlled from the watchtower in the centre. During the Civil War (1936-1939), military personnel implicated in the coup, fascists and right-wingers were held in this prison. After the Events of May 1937, CNT, FAI and POUM militants were also imprisoned here.

With the entry of Franco’s troops into Barcelona on 26 January 1939, a machinery of repression was rolled out. Those accused of being “hostile” to the new regime had to prove otherwise by providing guarantees and appearing before a court. In the months following the occupation, thousands were incarcerated in the Model prison, which suffered from overcrowding: though designed to hold 800 inmates, it was to reach more than 15,000 prisoners at a time. In the 1940s, the prison population began to decline and, during the 1950s and early 1960s, most of the prisoners were “common criminals” as a result of the enactment of the harsh Vagrancy Act (“Ley de vagos y maleantes”), which mostly affected the marginalised masses in the periphery of cities that grew haphazardly. They shared the space with political prisoners (clandestine trade unionists, Catalan nationalists and politicians) that spent short periods of time – from a fortnight to four months – awaiting trial and, in the event of long sentences, were transferred to other prisons, generally outside Catalonia. From 1955 to 1963, the Model temporarily hosted the inmates from the women's prison of Les Corts.

In the 1970s, the number of political prisoners rose once again in the Model prison as, in the latter years of Franco’s rule, pro-democracy movements became highly mobilised to pursue their struggle far and wide (factories, universities, residents’ associations, etc.) while the regime, far from accepting the turmoil, implemented harshly repressive measures. The most noteworthy events in this period included the arrest of 113 members of the Assemblea de Catalunya (Assembly of Catalonia) in October 1973 in the neighbouring Church of Santa Maria Mitjancera and the execution of Salvador Puig Antich – member of the revolutionary group Movimiento Ibérico de Liberación (Iberian Liberation Movement) in the parcel room of the prison on 2 March 1974. In this period the Comissions de Solidaritat (Solidarity Committees) were founded, a network of solidarity supporting political prisoners to alleviate the poor living conditions in prison and to uphold links with the outside world.

During the transition to democracy, it was common to see the pacifist priest Lluís Maria Xirinacs claiming for the amnesty of political prisoners in the streets surrounding the Model prison, until the amnesty law was finally passed on 14 October 1977.

Once democracy was recovered, in December 1983, the management of the Model was transferred to the Government of Catalonia. At the beginning of the 21st century, despite the attempts to adapt the jail to modern times, the prison population doubled its capacity with 2,000 prisoners. Finally, on June 8, 2017, 113 years after its inauguration, the Model closed its doors as a penitentiary center. The precinct of the old prison is planned to host facilities for the neighborhood including a memorial site about repression and social movements.

Address: 155, Carrer d'Entença || Coordinates: (LAT, LONG): 41.383379732, 2.145296135

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