Wednesday, 21 May 2014


High above the city, fortifications tell of a wicked tale: a castle built out of love for a country — a love of Catalonia — yet taken by rounds of kings, tyrants and dictators: built by Catalan rebels, taken by Philip IV, garrisoned by forces of an unsupported king, successively stormed, re-occupied, demolished, retaken, defeated and rebuilt to become a home for first political, then judicial, repression. For every insurrection by the people of the city, the castle would be used to bombard them. Cannons were installed: cannons that fired down on the public below. The terror was indiscriminate. Hundreds died. 40,000 fled. At last the castle passed from military hands, but into the hands of torturers. A time of mass detentions, starvation, show trials and immediate executions began; prisoners numbered into the thousands; tribunals for treason, espionage, defeatism, sabotage and anti-fascism were the hallmarks of what became a memorial to Franco. “The city”, they say, “was subjugated by the mountain”.

And yet, on this day, the sun shines. Bright flowers spring forth between cracks in the ramparts, purple and green bursting through the dust; a worker ant wanders across the path over the bastion, clutching the leaf litter with which she will build a new home but frequently being blown back by, what is for her, a ferocious wind; a tourist poses in a summery dress beneath a cherry blossom, unaware of the dark cloud that hangs inside the castle chambers; in what was the Santa Eulàlia moat, long since turfed over, archers practise their craft — I witness a perfect bullseye; and on the roof, a couple embrace with the entire city beneath their feet.

Four Vickers 152.4/50 model 1923 battery cannons sit silent, looking out over the coast they were installed to defend and terrify. Signs of damage are evident on these enormous symbols of violence, but their damage was not caused by violence — slowly, they are being attacked by graffiti: a peace sign on one, “PROUD” written on another; and declarations of love scatter the inside of them all — Laura for Peter, Sergio for Loli, Ron for Mörgane, Dani for Enri, Javi for Ana. These weapons of war rust, their olive drab disappearing to the red-brown metallic residue, but the names of lovers, friends and explorers etched into the metalwork remain.