Les Corts Women’s Prison (1936 – 1955)
Built during the eighteenth century by the Durán family, Les Corts was originally a large family home with significant grounds. It is situated in the same place as the Corte Ingles building, on Avenida Diagonal.
In 1886 the building changed hands. Can Durán was then used as a home for women, run by Dominican nuns. The ‘Asilo del Buen Consejo’ [Asylum of Good Advice] could house 300 girls. It sought to provide Catholic instruction for orphans, wayward girls, and older women.
In 1936, during the Spanish Civil War, the building passed into Republican hands at the request of the Catalan Committee for Prisons. It was used by the FAI [Iberian Anarchist Federation] as a women’s prison for prisoners of the CNT [National Confederation of Labour] and the POUM [Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification]. Throughout the Civil War Les Corts was home to hundreds of right-wing, anti-Republican prisoners.
When Francoist troops entered Barcelona in January 1939, the prison moved into right-wing hands and was run by nuns of Las Hijas de la Caridad de San Vicente de Paúl [The Sisters of the Charity of Saint Vicente of Paul].
During the early years of the dictatorship the building, which had formerly been home to some 300 girls, contained 5,000 inmates, including the women Tomasa Cuevas, Soledad Real, Adelaida Abarca, Teresa Hernández, and Victoria Pujolar. Soledad Real describes
‘Las [sic] Corts había sido anteriormente un colegio para unas trescientas niñas, como mucho, y llegaron a estar cinco mil mujeres […] se dormía en los patios, se dormía en las escaleras, se dormía en los waters’ (García, Consuelo, 1982: 100).
[Les Corts had been a school for some 300 girls, at most, and there ended up being 5,000 women […] they slept on the patios, they slept on the stairs, they slept in the toilets.]
In July 1939, a decree for the Redemption of Sentences and Conditional Release was enforced in an attempt to deal with such brutal overcrowding of the prison system during the early years of the dictatorship. This resulted in women being forced to work whilst behind bars in order to reduce their sentences, predominantly in agricultural and textile production. The enforced labour not only provided a much-needed work-force for a country ravaged by war, it also served to inscribe the Catholic notion of redemption within the lives and behaviours of the inmates.
For the imprisoned women, labour also offered them with a vital support mechanism that allowed them to provide their friends and families with objects and items to sell for economic support during the hungry years of the first decade of the dictatorship. Additionally, personal crafts, such as crochet, sewing, and knitting, gave the inmates the opportunity for escapism and a way to occupy their time.
[T]u refugio era el trabajo. Y ya casi sentías la necesidad. (García, Consuelo, 1982: 130).
[Your refuge was work. And you almost felt the need.]
In 1955 the prison was demolished to make way for warehouses and inmates were moved to Trinitat Women’s Prison. The location of the former jail is now marked by a small plaque; the area can be explored here in the video a walk around Les Corts by the Barcelona memory project.
Preso de les Corts. Archive. http://www.presodelescorts.org/es
– Digital archive about the prison building and inmates by Associació per la Cultura i la Memòria de Catalunya (ACME) [The Association for Culture and Memory in Catalunya]. Available in Castilian and Catalan.
– Photo gallery. http://www.presodelescorts.org/es/pagines/las-imágenes
La Presó Invisible. Project. http://w110.bcn.cat/portal/site/LesCorts/menuitem.3f01c3b58fdb11b9e212e2126e424ea0/?vgnextoid=dee291ac9beb9310VgnVCM10000072fea8c0RCRD&vgnextfmt=formatDetall&lang=ca_ES
– Project about Les Corts prison. In Castilian and Catalan.
Fuentes de la memoria. Blog. http://blogs.uab.cat/memoria/tag/preso-de-les-corts/
– Blog about historical memory in Barcelona. Available in Catalan and Castilian.
Memoria Barcelona. Project. http://memoriabcn.cat/barri_en.php
– Project celebrating memory in Barcelona. Available in Catalan, Castilian, French, and English.
Monument a la Presó de Dones de Les Corts. Project. http://blocs.lescorts.cc/presodedones/
– Recent project developed to celebrate the memory of Les Corts. In Catalan and Castilian.
García, Consuelo. (1982). Las cárceles de Soledad Real. Madrid: Alfaguara.