While it can be said that the origin of Barcelona’s municipal archives date back to when the municipal government was set up in the 8th century, two centres which form part of the archives are celebrating their centenary this year: the History Archive of the City of Barcelona and the Contemporary Municipal Archive. They were both set up in 1917 when the city’s archives were re-organised under the management of the historian Agustí Duran i Sanpere. It was then that the decision was taken to divide municipal documentary archives into two parts, historical and administrative. The reason for the centenary of the two centres lies in this change.
The current Contemporary Municipal Archive started life as the Administrative Municipal Archive and was originally housed in the City Hall. In 1929 it was moved to a building in C/ Ciutat, where it would remain until 1946, before being transferred to C/ Templers, 3-5, where the City Council’s Novissim building is now located. In 1961 the archive was moved again, this time to its current home at C/ Bisbe Caçador 4, in a building with Roman walls and attached to the Palau Requesens, which houses the Royal Academy of Literature.
The decision in 1917 to split up the archives meant that documents dating back to the first third of the 19th century would be housed in the History Archive, while documents from thereafter would be held in the Administrative Archive. The latter was headed by Alfons Damians Manté, who had been part of the municipal workforce since July 1890.
The documents preserved at the Contemporary Archive include those generated by the City Council and relating to major events in the history of the city, dating back to the end of the 19th century: the 1888 Universal Expo, the 1929 International Expo, the 1992 Olympic Games and the Fòrum in 2004. While all of these events have an important place in the history of the city, there are other types of documents in the archive which are essential in order to see how Barcelona has grown and how it has evolved on a social and urban level. Examples include acts from full council meetings, as well as urban plans which have been approved over the years.
There are also documents which can help citizens to exercise their rights, namely permits for private works, commercial or industrial activity. As an example, the director of the Contemporary Municipal Archive, Montserrat Beltran, recommends a visit to the archive before buying a flat as a way of finding out about the background of the property and avoiding any subsequent surprises. These types of consultations are actually the most common.
The home of the Contemporary Archive is in C/ Bisbe Caçador. The premises have been short of space for years due to the large volume of documents held there, hence the so-called Interim Archive, located in some old tram sheds which were converted specifically and are in C/ Ciutat de Granada, in the Poblenou neighbourhood. The site holds part of the permanent archive, as well as documents received and which are being scrutinised.
Tasks at the archive include the preservation of documents held there, which involves a series of actions such as special cleaning systems to prevent different infections or infestations which can affect paper. Likewise, the reproduction and restoration of damaged documents, binding books and files which have been taken apart for restoration or digitalisation purposes. Digitalisation is one of the tasks carried out these days, according to the material and economic potential of the documents, making them available to everyone via the online catalogue which can be accessed on the archive website. In 2016, a total of 48,930 documents were digitalised.
The complete collection of archives held represent a cultural heritage of the highest order, which needs to be made available. Because of this, themed exhibitions are organised offering all sorts of documents. The exhibitions are displayed in the foyer of the building in C/ Bisbe Caçador and there are also virtual versions which can be viewed on the archive website.
One of the activities organised for the centenary of the Contemporary Municipal Archive is the publication of a book explaining the archive’s history and its day to day activity. Far from being a history book, the publication contains drawings by the artist Sagar Forniés, whose pencilled images offer a highly visual account of the trajectory of this centenarian archive and the professional work carried out by its staff.
The future brings a new move. Barcelona City Council is preparing the central hall at the Can Batlló industrial site in order to bring the current network of archives around the city together in one building.
Last month, staff from the archive and the Museu d’Història de Barcelona (MUHBA) also collected the tributes and messages of condolence left by citizens on La Rambla following the terrorist attack on 17 August, the aim being to document them, organise, classify and preserve them, according to the protocol for the safeguarding of heritage being worked on by the Municipal Archive and the MUHBA.
Photo captions: Consultation room. | The building housing the Contemporary Municipal Archive, seen from C/ Sots-tinent Navarro.| Document archives. | Home of the Interim Archive, in C/ Ciutat de Granada. | Exhibition in the foyer of the archive building. | Auxiliary library. | Archive offices. | Room with horizontal archives for maps and large-format documents. | All illustrations are by Sagar Forniés and are published in the book Barcelona Arxiu Municipal Contemporani. AMC 1917-2017.