Sunday, July 1, 2007

Un poco morboso, ¿no? (A little morbid, isn’t it?)

Originally posted by Carloz on June, 2007 at http://myspainblog.wordpress.com/


Like all ancient cities, Barcelona has a colorful, exciting, and gory past. For example, have you ever wondered where the victims of the inquisition, the “autos de fe” and even the more run-of-the-mill death penalties took their last breaths during the times executions were public events in Spain? Well, the next time you’re shopping in La Boqueria public market or enjoying an evening out in El Born or taking a stroll through Ciutadella Park, stop to think that a little more than a hundred years ago you might have run into a hanging, a garroting or a firing squad in the same location.
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The death penalty was legal in Spain until the 1970s. However, until the end of the 19th century it was actually an outdoor event in most of the country, including Barcelona. The official reasoning for public execution was that it not only carried out the proscribed punishment, but did so in a way that was an example for everyone to see what end wrongdoing led to. In reality, however, the great popularity of the spectacles might have made them look more like public entertainment and a distraction than anything else. Apparently as late as the last public execution in 1897 revelry surrounded the event. While police held back the throngs, hawkers walked through the crowd selling nuts.
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Catalan writer Joan de Déu Domènech, who has just published a book on the subject, called The Spectacle of the Death Penalty (In Spanish, El Espectáculo de la Pena de Muerte; In Catalan, L’espectacle de la Pena Mort), pointed recently out that perhaps it was not mere coincidence that public executions came to an end at the same time that other events such as soccer, bullfighting and boxing were becoming popular.
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The book, which reportedly recounts the rather long, sad history of public executions in Barcelona, is published by La Campana. El Periodico de Catalunya ran a great article on it in their June 27, 2007 issue, along with a map of Barcelona highlighting places where public executions were held and with little illustrations of the preferred methods of killing in each location — burning, hanging, garrotting, firing squad, etc.
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Here you can see that Plaza de la Boqueria held burnings at the stake, in addition to hanging and firing squad spectacles. The Born was a little tamer, with only the occasional hanging. But just a few steps away one could find not only hangings and firing squads, but also public garroting.
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As you can see from one of the illustrations on this map, the Catalans were not content with the plain old Spanish “garrote vil(vile garrote) but added a sharp boring point to it. That way it not only choked the victim, but pierced the neck to break the cervical vertebrae and destroy the medulla.
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Look closer at the map and you can find other locations that will send a chill down your spine, according to Domènech:
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Plaza del Pi: underneath this little plaza adorned by the lovely little Church of Pi was the ossuary were the bodies of those who were hung at Creu Coberta were buried.
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The corner of Taulat and Llacuna streets: Where today modern apartment buildings are rising, a charnel-house (carnero in Spanish; canyet in Catalan) held the rotting bodies of heretics who were not “deserving” of burial.
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Cross-check with a modern street map of Barcelona to find Llibreteria Street and Bòria Street
where, according to Domènech, the processions of the condemned began; some who, because they had already had hands, ears or a nose amputated, did not even make it alive to the scaffolds of the Boqueria or Pla de Palau.
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Or what about the Milà i Fontanals Institute located at number 15 Egipcíaque Street? http://www.imf.csic.es/plano.htm Perhaps it is symbolic that where this institution of research and learning dedicated to the humanities now stands was where Barcelona saw its last public execution, by garrote, on June 15, 1897.

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