Barcelona and Madrid: Roaring Under Spain’s Trial Run Dictatorship of the 1920s

Unlike most of the nations of Western Europe in the 1920s, Spain was not shepherded through the decade by a liberal democratic polity but rather by the dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera, 1923-1930. Although Spain grappled with the effects of the 1918-1919 pandemic, labor unrest after the Russian Revolution, and an embarrassing and tragic colonial defeat in 1921, the Primo de Rivera dictatorship actually brought some political and economic stability that allowed Spain to “roar”—at least to some measure—with the rest of Western Europe during the 1920s. Primo’s dictatorship will serve as the political context for this talk, which will demonstrate that both Barcelona and Madrid were teeming with exceptional artistic and architectural creativity in the twenties. Madrid’s Residencia de Estudiantes was where the famous poet Federico García Lorca, future moviemaker Luis Buñuel, and surrealist-extraordinaire Salvador Dalí all met and studied together during the twenties, and during that same decade, Barcelona, with its architectural treasures by Lluis Domènech i Montaner, Josep Puig i Cadafalch, and Antoni Gaudí, saw the first of the Sagrada Familia Cathedral’s spires reach up to the skies. Unlike Pablo Picasso, who was dramatically imprinted by his time in Barcelona at the turn of the 20th century, Dalí and Joan Miró, would come back to Barcelona after their experiences in Paris and other artistic hubs, and dazzle Spanish and international art lovers. Despite the conservatism and insular nationalism of the dictator and his regime, the Barcelona and Madrid of the 1920s were cultural, artistic, and architectural hot spots, very much cosmopolitan, and eager to boldly experiment and innovate.

Enrique A. Sanabria (B.A. Spanish and History, Santa Clara University, 1991; MA, European History, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1993; Ph.D., Modern European History, University of California, San Diego, 2001) is Associate Professor of Iberian history at the University of New Mexico. He is author of Republicanism and Anticlerical Nationalism in Spain (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), and has been teaching courses on Spanish history, Western Civilization, historiography, and sport history at UNM since 2002. His current project is a social and ecological history of the Manzanares River in Madrid during the 19th and 20th centuries.

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