‘Women of Ciutat Vella’ walk

The first woman to obtain a university degree, a variety artist, an art nouveau painter, one of the finest sopranos of the second half of the 20th century, the architect of the Catalan state education system, and many more women at one time lived in the Ciutat vella, Barcelona’s old quarter.

Some of them you probably know, like Montserrat Caballé, or maybe their name rings a bell (Isabel Güell?).

Taking the Women of Ciutat Vella Walk, organised by Barcelona Turisme, will introduce you to many women and the streets and squares they frequented, a nice way to get to know their hidden histories connected with this district and its architectonic beauties.

Women & Archives

On the occasion of International Archives Week (7 – 11 June) the regional Catalan archives have made a compilation of their photos, videos, articles, etc. dedicated to women, called Women and Archives. Some of them are online for the first time.

One of the themes is ‘women and sports’ with photographs that you can see here. The above photo of girls practising gymnastics on the beach was taken in the 1920s (collection Ramon Godó i Franch).

Washing at the ‘safareig’

Before the introduction of running water to houses, Catalan villages and towns used to have a public washing place called safareig where the local women came to do their laundry.

Generally they were sited on a spring or set over or beside a river or stream; some of them were even provided with roofs for shelter. Many of these safaretjos still exist.

Usually groups of women got together and socialized and talked while they were washing the family’s clothes and bedding. No wonder the expression fer safareig arose which means ‘to gossip’.

Above you see some washing places in the Alt and Baix Empordà:
Verges. Unidentified photographer, 1910/1925
Torroella de Montgrí. By Valentí Fargnoli Iannetta, 1911/1936
Castell de Púbol (now the Gala Dalí Castle House-Museum), La Pera. By Pablo García Cortés, 1968
Darnius. By Narcís Sans Prats, 1971

These photos are part of the Europeana Collections and are under license of Creative Commons.

Flowers and Maria Cobarsí

Last year the flower exhibition ‘Girona Temps de flors’ (‘Girona Flower Season’) was cancelled, but this time the show is on from 8 to 16 May! You can read all about it on the website (click here), where you can find out details about its history, old and new photos and the latest news.

This show began in 1954 with a small, informal display organized by a group of friends. Over the years it has developed into an event that has been recognized all over the world, for example by the prestigious magazine National Geographic.

One of the driving forces behind it was Maria Cobarsí (d. 2013). She grew up on a farm, surrounded by nature. In an interview she once confessed that she intensely lived every season, especially spring. Each year she marveled when the flowers appeared and she smelled their aroma.

Years later this experience leads her to take the initiative for an exhibition that would turn into one of the jewels on Girona’s crown.

Edition 2021

Haute couture, made in Catalonia

Asunción Bastida™ was a well-known and celebrated haute couture brand during the greater part of the last century. The motor of this successful house was Asunción Bastida herself, born in Barcelona in 1902, an all-round professional in times not always propitious for female executives.

One of her great finds was the use of cotton and linen fabrics she popularized for street and evening dresses as well as for summer outfits. What is more, she was one of the first Catalan fashion houses to include a boutique with accessories, sports and prêt-a-porter lines, called Asunción Bastida Sport.

In this way Asunción capitalized on the then prevailing style trends. Towards the end of the 40s the social activities of the wealthier classes were increasing and all those different events required different clothes and accessories. So the women of the Spanish high society had to be prepared and wear another design on each occasion. Within this rigid etiquette you should have street clothes, smart clothes, cocktail clothes for daytime parties as well as evening clothes. Asunción’s merit was that she offered haute couture for every possible social event and even added a sports mode.

The beginning
Asunción was a self-made couturier whose career started as a dressmaker in her father’s fabric shop. During the mid twenties she opened a house specialized in knit garments first on the Carrer de Girona, later relocating to the Passeig de Gràcia 96 of Barcelona that soon became an important centre of haute couture fashion. On its first floor, the former atelier of the modernist painter Ramon Casas, she had her sumptuous parlour whose original decoration of 1898 she respected: a monumental stone fireplace and golden Solomonic columns, the perfect Modernist background for her designs.

One of her first fashion shows was held during the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition. The goal of this big exhibition was to highlight the city’s further technological progress and increase awareness abroad of modern Catalan industry. It also meant the beginning of Asunción’s international career. However, the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) temporarily put a stop to all her plans: she was obliged to close her Barcelona shop as well as the branch in Madrid that she had inaugurated in 1934 at Hermosilla street in the Salamanca district. As soon as the war was over, she reopened both establishments.

Shortly afterwards, in 1940, she founded the Haute Couture Cooperative …

‘Are you really a journalist?’
‘You bet!’
‘And … tell me something’,
he ventured to ask me, ‘how do you manage to know things before they appear in the newspapers …?’

Journalist Irene Polo in ‘La fascinació del periodisme’, L’Opinió, 4 June 1933

Irene Polo (Barcelona, 1909 – Buenos Aires, 1942)

This quote appears in Catalanes del XX, Pilar Godayol (ed.), Vic, Eumo Editorial, 2006

Historian Rosa Maria Alabrús

Rosa Maria Alabrús, born on this day in 1960, is a historian who focuses her studies on the social history of Early Modern Spain.

She has published various essays and books, for example the one in which she analyzes the significance of Catalan women who took part in the War of the Spanish Succession on the Habsburg side, from 1706 to 1714. She characterizes this article as ‘an attempt of social history on the role of women in early eighteenth century Catalan society’.

Subjects related to women and religion are also a focus of her studies, such as ‘The suffering of domestic violence and the convent as a space for freedom: the case of Suor Angela Serafina’.

Her latest book ‘Razones y emociones femeninas’ (‘Female Reasons and Emotions’) concerns nun Hipólita de Rocabertí and Catalan religious women in the 16th and 17th century.

Photo: UAO CEU


‘The Heroine of Peralada‘, a painting by Antoni Caba (1864), represents the legend of Na Mercadera of Peralada during the Aragonese Crusade (1285). Is it really a legend or is the story true?

What happened

It is 1285 and the region of the Empordà with its cornfields and the Pyrenees as a background, is everything but idyllic. The life of a farmer’s family is hard, and because of its strategic position near France the area often is the scenery of tension and battles.

The mercenary and chronicler Ramon Muntaner, born at Peralada in the Alt Empordà, recorded his life and adventures as a commander of the Catalan Company. In one of the best known episodes he tells the story of a townswoman whom he personally knows: people call her Na Mercadera (the Merchant). He describes her as a strong, tall and resolute woman who does not let herself be bullied, not even by noblemen. She is determined to lead a normal life, what is more: she aims to make the most of the situation. This results in what Muntaner in his Chronicle calles a ‘marvellous fact’.

Ramon Muntaner (anonymous painter)

War and siege
In those days Catalonia was involved in a crusade against the Crown of Aragon instigated by the new Pope Martí IV after the House of Anjou had been thrown out of Sicily by its inhabitants with the help of Pere III of Aragon, the ‘Great’, against the Pope’s wishes. One of the many incidents during this conflict took place in Peralada, where king Pere had taken up his general quarters while the French enemy forces had besieged the town.

Of course this blockade makes daily life of the inhabitants nearly impossible. For example, they cannot safely work their plots that are situated in the outskirts of the town. But Na Mercadera is determined to give it a try. She dresses up like a man, and armed with a spear, a sword and a shield, she leaves the village to harvest the cabbages she needs.


Early witches were people who practiced witchcraft, using magic spells and calling upon spirits for help or to bring about change. Most witches were thought to be pagans doing the Devil’s work. Many, however, were simply natural healers or so-called “wise women” whose choice of profession was misunderstood.

Witch-hunts in Catalonia
In Europe during the mid-1400s many accused witches confessed, often under torture, to a variety of wicked behaviors. Within a century, witch-hunts were common and most of the accused were executed by burning at the stake or hanging. Single women, widows and other women on the margins of society were especially targeted.


In Medieval Catalonia the witch-hunt mainly consisted of measures taken by the Inquisition against women who were suspected of witchcraft. From the 17th century onwards, when people began to consider witchcraft a serious danger that threatened society, a collective hysteria got a grip on society.

The first records of trials against witches in Catalonia date from the 14th century. In that period the sentences turned out to be quite light: reprimands, fasting and pilgrimages to Montserrat. The trials continued throughout the following centuries. In the 15th century the first important trial took place in Amer which convinced the population that witches did really exist; their persecution was at its height two centuries later, when tortures and executions frequently ocurred. In this period an estimated 400 women were executed, the last was probably in the latter half of the 18th century.

Stories and traditions
The general fear of witches gave rise to a whole series of stories related specifically to All Saints Day (November 1). On this day witches were said to break the crosses from any graves they pass, destroying all proof of the existence of the buried dead.

Another tradition has it that one could destroy a witch by going to her house on November 1, and marking a star on the gate. One would then go to a mass dedicated to Saint Martin. When the witch got home, the star would have burned, and the witch would be slowly consumed, her own witchcraft turning against her.

Throughout Catalonia you can find events on this day referring to witches, witchcraft and their persecution. Here are two examples.

Ball de Bruixes (Witches’ Dance)

On 2 November 1617 Viladrau (Osona), the Catalan town where the highest number of witches was tried, was the scene of a huge meeting of witches who had arrived at Sant Segimon (Saint Sigismund) from the farthest corners of the region. According to the inhabitants at that time, this aquelarre originated violent storms and blizzards that punished the area with big floods.

Every year on the night of 31 October, just at the beginning of All Saints Day, the Witches’ Dance is celebrated, a dramatization based on one of the most tragic episods in Viladrau’s history. The performance that includes music, dance, a light show and fire, is staged in the streets and represents the gathering of the 14 women who come together for the last time before being sentenced to death and executed.cap_base_home_witchIf you are not able to be in Valadrau at this specific moment, go and visit the Espai Montseny where you can delve into the story of these witches. The upper floor features several simultaneous and spectacular projected images and re-enacts the witches’ sabbath and where you can experience the violent storm unchained by them, just like people said.

XX Fira de les Bruixes (Witch Fair)
During the 16th and 17th century the village of Sant Feliu Sasserra (Bages) witnessed a series of curious events that people related with witchcraft. Many women were accused unfairly and died on the gallows. A total of 23 women were tried and at least 6 of them were executed.

The town wants to commemorate these facts and denounce the injusticies. So the fair of All Saints Day has been converted into a Fira de les Bruixes (Witch Fair), dedicated to the women accused of withcraft. Among other activities, various pageants march through the streets, the trial is staged and you can be a witch apprentice and learn to become a witch yourself. The next video gives an impression of this day.

For the program go to this website dedicated to this Fair.

Sources, among other websites and books: History and Wikipedia in Catalan and English.


I am grateful to fate for three gifts: to have been born a woman, from the working class and an oppressed nation.

And the turbid azur of being three times a rebel.

Maria-Mercè Marçal (1952-1998), poet, novelist, editor and translator. The translation of this motto is by D. Sam Abrams.

The original text in Catalan has been painted on the wall of the Bar Patagònia, Carrer Abeurador, 14 in Banyoles.


Photo exhibition ‘Working Women in Lloret (1900-1990)’


The exhibitionThe Work of Women in Lloret (1900-1990)‘ (original title: “El treball de les dones a Lloret (1900-1990)” shows the development of working women in Lloret de Mar during the 20th century. These women have always been invisible and this collection aims to give them the credit they earn.

The documents and many photos do not only talk about teachers, politicians or hoteliers, but also lace-makers, net-menders and cleaning ladies and other professionals. You see women in all kind of situations, like working in the field, doing the washing in the river or at their job in the textile factory.

It was an era of change from traditional to modern society. According to the theoretical model the male mostly working as a fisherman or farmer, was the breadwinner and the woman was confined to her household chores and bearing and educating children. Many times reality turned out to be different. In more than one case because the income generated by the male was not enough to keep the family going and the earnings of the woman were more than welcome.

A very important push into modernity was upcoming tourism in the 1950s in which the women played a crucial role, thus not only changing the day-to-day life of their families but also that of Lloret itself. This interesting piece of history featuring these pioneer women, is very well explained in the documentary Pensió Completa about this phenomenon that made the small fishing town of Lloret de Mar into a popular seaside resort visited each year by thousands of tourists.

The above photo is a fragment of the poster of the exhibition showing a woman mending stockings (Josep Vilà i Prats, 1910) Source: Municipality of Lloret.

For more photos visit the online catalogue.

Practical information:
Open till 31/12
Venue: Arxiu Municipal (Municipal Archives)
Address: Josep Lluhí, 24 – Lloret de Mar
Free entrance.

Exit Sant Jordi. Enter Santa Jordina.

Sant Jordi (Saint George) has always been one of Catalonia’s heroes, particularly thanks to the legend of Saint George and the Dragon. According to this story he tamed and slayed the dragon that demanded the princess, who remained unnamed, as his next human sacrifice.

Now it looks like Sant Jordi is passed his sell-by date, as Santa Jordina is winning ground and acts in her own right. But not as the passive princess who waits to be rescued, but as the girl who rescues others or empowers the people.

Her voice is heard in a couple of books that have appeared lately, like La revolta de Santa Jordina (Amsterdam Llibres), Santa Jordina (La Galera), Georgina i la dragona (Editorial Beascoa), La Jordina i el drac Parrac (Baula) and La princesa, els llibres i el drac (La Galera).

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Since the Middle Ages Saint George’s name day, and of course Saint Georgina’s as well, is celebrated on 23 April and in those days men used to offer a red rose to their lover as a token of their affection. Nearly a century ago another practice was added and women gave their lover a book.

Nowadays this custom is recognized internationally and the UNESCO has turned it into an annual event: World Book Day. Fortunately today books are given as a present to women and men alike.

Female Roman soldiers

P1020802In the town of Banyoles every Friday before Palm Sunday the Procession of Mare de Déu dels Dolors takes place. As evening falls three images are carried through the streets accompanied by a representatives of religious institutions, a choir and some bands.

The procession is headed by a Maniple of so-called Manaies or Armats (armed soldiers), a recreation of the parades of Roman soldiers boasting positions such as the Auriga, Equites and Optiones and summing up 131 people (and 8 horses) which makes it the biggest formation of Catalonia.

The earliest documents that mention this procession and the Manaies date from 1832, but it is not exactly clear when the tradition was born. So they have performed their act for at least 150 years, with exception of the Spanish Civil War. During that period all the garments and standards were destroyed, so the organization had to start from scratch.

From the first testimonies on only men were marching in the procession. Till this year. In March the Annual General Meeting unanimously decided to offer women the opportunity to formally participate in the formation, as they had occasionally done, and the resolution found its way into the bylaws of the organization.

There was a huge interest and finally eight young women marched with the Maniple this Friday as well as in the parades prior to the procession. Some of them played in the Banda, while others fulfilled the role of Optiones. They were greatly enjoying themselves, as did the public admiring this new addition to the Manaies.

For next year it is foreseen that more female soldiers will take part in the solemnities of Mare de Déu dels Dolors. So when you are in the neighbourhood, come and watch this historical parade.

Cultural awards for four women

This morning the six winners of the ‘Premis Nacionals de Cultura 2019’ (National Cultural Awards) have been announced, among them four women.

It concerns publisher and literary translator French-Catalan Maria Bohigas (Victor Hugo, Albert Camus, Michel Houellebecq, Marguerite Duras), chef Carme Ruscalleda, composer and pianist Clara Peya (jazz, pop, chamber music), and art historian and ambassador of Catalan vanguard art in Catalunya Nord (Southern France) Josefina Matamoros (promotor of cultural projects in Perpignan and Cotlliure and director of the Musée d’art moderne in Céret).

Clara Peya

In this 44th edition the Consell Nacional de la Cultura i les Arts (National Council of Culture and Art) that issues the awards, has based its decisions on ‘excellence and innovation, as well as a comprehensive vision of Catalan territory and an extensive representation of generations’.

At the same time it means a recognition of popular as well as vanguard culture, focussing especially on the fundamental role of women in Catalan culture.

The presentation of the awards will take place on 4 July in the Teatre L’Artesà of El Prat de Llobregat.

Chef Carme Ruscalleda presents her favourite chips recipe

Meet Chef Carme Ruscalleda who runs her famous restaurant Sant Pau in Sant Pol de Mar (Carrer Nou, 10) and another in Tokyo, where she creates fabulous dishes drawing inspiration from traditional Catalan recipes… and from her own imagination.xtra_238

The tasting menu published on her website looks appealing, but you do not have to go there to enjoy her delicious dishes. Have a go at this recipe and try to be a Ruscalleda in your own kitchen.

By all means, go and have a look at Ruscalleda’s website with its great photos. Lemon Potato Chips recipe

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