Perched atop Montjuïc, which translates as Jew Mountain in medieval Catalan, is the majestic Montjuïc Castle. A fortification was first built here in 1640 when a Catalonian revolt broke out against King Philip IV of Spain; an inauspicious beginning, as the Spanish troops lost the Battle of Montjuïc. This hastily built fortress was turned into a proper castle in 1694, with grounds covering the mountain summit and huge stone ramparts looking out over the sea, and improvements continued to be made on the structure throughout the years.
The castle remained a strategic foothold in the Catalan territories and changed hands multiple times throughout the centuries. It was famously captured by Napoleon Bonaparte’s army in 1808 without a weapon being fired, as the soldiers were under orders not to fight the French.
A castle of conflict
The large and handsome castle we see today was completed in 1799, with contemporary style in mind and with more efficient defensive capabilities, including 120 cannons. However, the castle has since become a grim symbol of Catalan submission: Barcelona was bombed from the castle heights on a number of occasions, most notably in 1842, in order to quell revolutionary stirrings. It has also been used to house political prisoners. During the Spanish Civil War, both sides used the castle as a place to torture and execute high profile captives; 173 people were executed by firing squad between 1936 and 1938. Notoriously, the President of the Generalitat de Catalunya, Lluís Comanys, was shot dead here in October 1940 by dictator Francisco Franco.
In 1960 the castle ceased to function as a prison, and it was made a military museum in 1963 - inaugurated by the same Franco who had used it as a house of execution. In April 2007 the castle was officially given over to the City Council of Barcelona to be used for civic and cultural purposes. To mark the occasion, 40,000 Barcelonese ‘invaded’ the castle and held a festival with concerts, theatrics and dancing to celebrate its municipal ownership by the people whom it once loomed over so darkly. Today, as well as a popular spot for is exceptional panoramic views of the city and the sea, it is an important centre for exploring the fascinating and tumultuous history of Catalonia.