The Collection 2017-09-25T15:08:58+02:00

THE COLLECTION

The funeral carriages collection was inaugurated in 1970 by Cristóbal Torra, the then manager of the Municipal Funeral Service. It was displayed in the basement of the Sancho d’Àvila funeral home until June 2012 when it was transferred to new premises at the Montjuïc Cemetery.

This collection contains pieces of great historic value. When the decision was taken to house all funeral activity within a single building, the question arose as to what should be done with the carriages which had served the city of Barcelona for 90 years before falling into disuse due to technical advancements and the emergence of the motorcar. The important decision to preserve them and bring them together in a single space led to the creation of the first and only public exhibition of funeral carriages in Europe.

The collection consists of 13 funeral carriages, 6 coaches to carry families to the church and cemetery and 3 motor vehicles, with a variety of other complementary pieces used for decorative or operational purposes. The collection itself shows us how our ancestors developed new funeral customs to transport their deceased to the cemeteries.

The use of innovative technologies within the space enables visitors to be transported back in time to gain a vision of Barcelona as it was. In addition, the dedicated resources which accompany the collection illustrate the way of life and funeral customs of the city’s society throughout the decades in which the carriages were in use.

It should be noted that the collection is made up of carriages that were owned by a company and therefore the items that have been preserved were not acquired as museum pieces, but as working objects. It is therefore difficult to date them, document their history and pinpoint exactly how they were acquired.

In order to understand the emergence of funeral carriages, we need to put them into the context of the time, namely the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century, when Barcelona was a walled city governed by the privileged aristocracy and under the influence of the dogmas and traditions of the Catholic Church. Clear signs of change, however, were already apparent.

There was a rapid increase in commercial and artisan activity in the city, driven by agricultural growth in Catalonia and direct trade with the Americas, leading to a steep rise in the population. This created a problem with burials as traditionally, the dead were buried in parish graveyards, close to homes, shops and workshops. The rise in the population therefore put increasing pressure on church graveyards which became overcrowded and unsanitary, emitting toxic gases and threatening the health of the city’s residents.

As a solution to the health problems caused by the graveyards, the then Bishop of Barcelona, Josep Climent i Avinent (1706-1781), a forward-thinking man focused on reform, founded a new cemetery in 1775 where the Poblenou Cemetery currently stands. This move was supported by the local authorities and it was the first cemetery to be located outside of the city walls. The creation of this cemetery marked a significant change in established funeral rituals and was initially unpopular with the people of Barcelona who were reluctant to move away from the traditional Christian customs that had governed public life in the city for many centuries. For this reason, the new cemetery was only used as an ossuary for exhumations of human remains from other cemeteries, and for the burial of the poor who died at the Sant Pau i la Santa Creu Hospital. Later, in 1813, it was destroyed by Napoleon’s forces during the Peninsular War.

Barcelona emerged from the conflict as a city in full transformation. Colonial trade was at a peak and traditional manufacturing was giving way to signs of budding industrialisation. The emergence of new economic activities and the disappearance of more traditional trades gave rise to new social forms and customs. The growth in the population and the lack of space within the city walls was particularly problematic during these years, and with the consequent health problems associated with churchyard burials, it became increasingly pressing to create a new cemetery outside of the city.

Bishop Sitjar, demonstrating the political power still held by the church, decided to build a cemetery within the same ecclesiastical grounds where Bishop Climent had built the first general cemetery. The architect commissioned to build the new funeral site was Antoni Ginesi who worked to maintain the traditional Catholic nature of the city, while also taking into account the inclusion of new social groups and the recent developments within Barcelona.

Graveyards within the grounds of parish churches had ensured the physical proximity of deceased family members and enabled the faithful to visit their dead. The new funeral site, on the other hand, was over a kilometre from the city, a 30-minute walk across an utterly deserted area where care had to be taken to guard against attacks by wolves. Given the dissatisfaction of the local people and the numerous complaints and rumours about muggings, new ways of travelling to and from the cemetery were needed, bringing about a change in funeral customs and rituals. One of the first changes brought about by burials outside of the city was the creation of a new trade: bearers who carried the dead on foot using stretchers, transporting mortal remains to the cemetery.

This new custom was to change again in 1835, during a period of political transformation that was progressive and revolutionary in nature, and which saw the cemetery become a municipal concern. The new mayor of the time, Josep Marià de Cabanes i d’Escofet, passed a law prohibiting transportation of the dead by foot, meaning carriages were necessary to carry the deceased from the city to the cemetery. This move was highly unpopular with the people, who filled the streets in protest on the day of the first burial by carriage. The first funeral carriage to arrive at the Poblenou Cemetery came from the Sant Cugat del Rec Parish in 1836.

The transportation of the dead by carriage that began that year in Barcelona marked an early example of the emerging development of urban transportation. As the century drew on, the funeral carriage industry grew and adapted to the ever-changing needs and customs of the city. The vehicles began to be equipped with new technical advances and incorporated the latest fashion styles and trends. The carriages, however, continued to be highly artistic and maintained their symbolic weight, as shown by the magnificent collection of Barcelona’s funeral carriages. The luxurious nature of the carriage, together with that of the coffin, soon became a significant indicator of a family’s political and economic power and quickly captured the public’s attention. In the case of famous and popular figures, the funeral carriage became a focal point for displays of public condolence.

The collection of funeral carriages features 13 original carriages, 5 of which are particularly exceptional for their artistic value and cultural reflection of the age:

Gothic: duly named for its ornamentation and gothic influence, the decorative style reflects the fashion prominent at the end of the 19thcentury. Distinctively purple in colour, a tone associated with the liturgy during Lent.

GrandDoumont: an elaborate and splendid carriage, imperial in style, it originates from the model created by the French Duke Louis d’Aumont. It was created in Paris by the Cellini house in the 18th century. In the early 19th century, during the reign of Napoleon, it was drawn by six horses. It was used in Madrid for burials of popular figures such as the bullfighter José Gómez Joselito, killed by the bullBailaor in May 1920.

Imperial: built for illustrious burials, such as that of an emperor, this carriage represented the height of luxury and vanity. Its final burial was that of Mayor Enrique Tierno Galván in 1986, for which it was transported to Madrid.

Estufa: This name was used in the 18th century to describe the most luxurious of aristocratic carriages in which the internal area was enclosed in large and costly glass frames. Made in Barcelona, it was the most popular carriage for the burial of important people such as Santiago Rusiñol, Enric Prat de la Riba and the Count of Godó during the 1920s and 1930s.

Customary Carriage (Aranya): popularly called Aranya, during the early decades of the 19th century it was the most used carriage among the working classes. It could be made more or less luxurious depending on the number of horses driving it (up to six), and on the mourning textiles, adornments and accessories used.

There is also a group of white carriages that have a particular significance. White is the colour of purity, fidelity and innocence and these vehicles were used to transport children and unmarried women as it was believed that this group of people embodied the values attributed to the colour white. Differences within this type of carriage can be seen, reflecting the different social groups it was used by.

As is still the case, the families would hire cars to follow the funeral procession. This collection has 6 accompanying vehicles from a range of eras that were used up until the mid 20th century. Unlike the carriages, these vehicles do not carry any funeral-related markings as they were not exclusive to the funeral sector and were also used for other purposes. Only the car popularly known as the Viuda Negra (Black Widow) was used exclusively for burials and is entirely black in colour.

Even though the name of the collection refers to funeral carriages, there are also 3 motor vehicles that were used at different times. The Hispano Suïssa and Studebaker were used in the city between the 1920s and 1940s. They stand out for their sombre décor and black colour, in contrast to the ostentatious decoration of the carriages. There is also a Buick Riviera, a luxury American car that was difficult to import during the period. It was withdrawn from use during the fuel crisis and became part of the collection in 1976.

The aim of the funeral carriages collection is to show the changes that have led to the development of the modern day city of Barcelona and explain the use of carriages for burials in the city until the emergence of the car, which marked their gradual disappearance.

Using the latest virtual technologies and by way of a comprehensive presentation, from the most illustrious of personalities who received their final farewell from the city’s residents to anonymous people remembered by friends and family members, visitors can be transported to the neoclassical Barcelona of the mid 19th century and gain an insight into the city’s evolution between the time of the creation of the Antoni Ginesi Cemetery in Poblenou in 1819 and the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition.

The collection also promotes knowledge and appreciation of funeral rituals and the technical and symbolic value of the carriages, as well as treating death in a natural, intimate and educational manner.

Finally, our objective is also to create a link to the magnificent cultural routes offered by the Montjuïc Cemetery, which allow us to understand the artistic and cultural importance of the monuments from the period when the carriages formed an essential part of funeral rituals.