It’s not everyday (I hope) that you have the opportunity to visit a prison. Usually, you have more chance to discover the carceral universe watching movies, but visit one in real life is an unusual experience. In my case it was the time (I missed the one in Dublin).
Actually, it is one of the most original visits that you can do in Barcelona. If you want to avoid the super crowded touristic city center, you won’t be disapointed by the prison.
Since summer 2017, the entrance court, the Panopticon tower, the cells, and the 4th and 5th galleries are opened to the public. Built between 1881 and 1904, this prison is a symbol of Spain’s political repression. La Modelo hosted over 1,000 executions during the Franco Era.
While shooting the architecture of the building and catching the special atosmosphere, I felt like a prisonner during a couple of hours.
After going through a large number of doors and a long corridor, you arrive directly in the core of the prison, which is for sure my favourite part to photograph. Modernist heritage, this prison has been designed by architects Salvador Viñals and the Josep Domènech i Estapà (famous in Barcelona for the Cosmo Caixa, Observatorio Fabra, Palau de Justicia…). It has been built on a Panopticon model: the concept of the design is to allow all inmates of the institution to be observed by a single watchman. Click here if you want to see it from the sky.
You also can access to the exterior patios and enjoy the building from the outside. I passed in front of the prison many times, but being inside gives another dimension, and the building becomes very photogenic. A big mirror have been installed which was a superb playground for photography.
Occupying two full blocks close to Sants railway station, you really realized that you are in the city center of Barcelona. Some neighbours have a very uncommon view from their aticos!
There are 6 galleries, designed to hold a total of 800 prisoners. Between the civil war in Spain (1936-1939), there were more than 13,000 people in the centre.
The rooms are small, and they could host 8 people at the same time ! Really difficult to imagine how 8 men could fit in a tiny room like that!
Interesting fact, during Franco’s regime, it was named “the ideological island” (la isla ideológica), because prisoners felt that they could debate ideas and exchange opinions more freely on the inside than out.
The prison visiting room