Travel Experiences

The Carmel Bunkers – Barcelona with a stunning view

The Carmel Bunkers – Barcelona with a stunning view
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The Carmel Bunkers: Barcelona with a view

Did you know there were bunkers in Barcelona ? There are actually a few of them, particularly well located on the top of the Turó de la Rovira hill in the district of El Carmel! Erected during the Spanish Civil War, the old concrete structures offer the best view of the city and a lovely place to hang around. They also tell a fascinating part of Spanish history.

Flâner-aux-bunkers-Del-Carmel-BARCELONE-©-Elisabeth-Blanchet
© Elisabeth Blanchet

Spanish bombs and anti-aircraft battery

The climb to the Bunkers Del Carmel is quite something… especially after a consistent Catalan meal and a little bit too much of Rioja. But it’s very much worth the effort! With an altitude of almost 300 m, the Turo de la Rivera hill was an ideal spot to build bunkers. Between 1937 and 1939 they were used by the Republican anti-air Defence as an anti-craft battery against attacks from the fascists. The latter had understood that an intensive use of aviation and bombings would help them win over the Republicans. And to help overthrow the Republican power Franco also benefitted from the allied support of the Italian and German air forces. Barcelona was in fact an easy target with its distinctive seafront. As a result, the city saw the first large-scale and systematic aerial bombardment in March 1938. The Bombing of Barcelona killed up to 1,300 civilians and wounded at least 2,000. Neutralising enemy bombardments was not an easy task: the Republican anti-air Defence used observation, listening centres, lightning projectors, reflectors and early forms of radars as well as anti-aircraft guns and fighter planes. But as we all know, the Republican Defence means and strategy were not enough. The Civil War was won by Franco and his military click on the 1st of April 1939. And even if it was on a « Fools Day », it was not a joke.

The Franco years

The bunkers del Carmen were very soon disarmed and then abandoned by Franco forces. They probably didn’t have anything to fear from the air during the early years of WWII… Under Franco Regime, poverty rose, especially in big cities. Barcelona didn’t escape the rule and locals started to use the bunkers Del Carmen as shelters. The area then developed into a shanty town called Los Cañones – a name directly inspired by its recent military past – which survived into the 90’s. Water tanks and communication towers were installed so the settlers could live more decently in their « home made » dwellings. Towards the end of the 50s, Los Cañones provided shelter for seven percent of Barcelona’s population and during the 60s, there were over 3,000 people living in the area, mainly originating from Andalusia. In fact Los Cañones resembled a traditional Andalusian village: Its inhabitants had built a fountain in its « centre » and a school for adults was even founded so residents could get access to education.

© Elisabeth Blanchet

A heritage site

In the 80s, the population started to live better and Los Cañones’ dwellers gradually left their homes. The Turó de la Rovira hill and the Bunkers del Carmel disappeared into oblivion except for locals particularly fond of the view and of the quietness of the place.

Then Barcelona rapidly grew into a touristic destination. More and more importance was given to the history and heritage of the city. In 2011 the Carmelite Agency and the Museu D’Historia De Barcelona MUHBA developed a joint project to transform the Turó de la Rovira hill into a heritage site. They excavated the bunkers, partially restored them and improved their accessibility.

The MUHBA also created a small museum inside one of the bunkers, detailing their role during the Spanish Civil War and as a housing option for the local population during the Franco years. With a unique perspective, it is part of the so-called balcony of Barcelona, which also includes the Tres Turons – Three Hills -, from Vallcarca bridge to Hill of the Rovira. The spot is also a strategic point to discover and understand the urban development of the city.

© Sam Hamper

Barcelona’s best secret

Today, the bunkers are one of Barcelona’s best-kept secrets. But not for long as they are attracting more and more interest and tourists. And there are a few reasons for this: On top diving into a fascinating slice of Spanish history, you’ll get the best panoramic views of the city enabling you to see all the major landmarks and monuments at once. You’ll also have the opportunity to hang around with locals enjoying late afternoon conversations, picnics or drinks with sometimes a bit of music in the background. Like them you’ll find the old large concrete slabs and pathways of the bunkers Del Carmen a very enjoyable place to take a breath from the big city below.

Getting There

  • Metro: get out at Guinardó Hospital de Sant Pau metro stop and walk up through the Parc del Guinardó until you reach the top or walk up the hill from either El Carmel metro or El Coll La Teixonera metro.
  • Bus: take bus number 24 from Passeig de Gracia and walk from Carrer de Mühlberg or take number V17, which will drop you at the entrance to the Parc del Guinardó.

What about you ? Have you ever visited the Carmel bunkers ? How was it ? Let’s chat  !

Don’t miss our next post written (only for us) by Dr. Noah Charney, a Pulitzer price finalist. 

Elisabeth Blanchet -
Journalist & Photograph |

Ex-maths teacher I started my career as a photographer and a journalist in 2003 in London where I lived at the time. Since then I have been working for several magazines such as Time Out London and developed long-term documentary projects about post-war prefabs and their residents, communities of Irish Travellers and young Romanians who grew up in Ceausescu’s orphanages. I travel a lot and love telling stories with images, words, films… Stories of places, experiences and encounters. 

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