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The Barcelona Provincial Council claims its historical role in the bicentennial

The Barcelona Provincial Council claims its historical role in the bicentennial

Barcelona, ​​May 15, 1822. In application of the provisional provincial division approved by the Spanish Courts on January 27 of the same year, The Barcelona Provincial Council is officially constituted. On a day like today, two hundred years ago, one of the administrations that has had the longest historical journey in contemporary times was born and is now celebrating its bicentennial. With everything, that first experience of the Barcelona council was ephemeralin a changing context of revolution and counterrevolution that meant that, just one year and a little later, on October 1, 1823, with the end of the liberal triennium -1820-1823- and the return of absolutism, Ferdinand VII dissolved it unceremoniously.

The Historical Archive of the Barcelona Provincial Council contains twelve linear kilometers of all kinds of documentation, such as provincial acts / Photo: Montse Giralt

Part of the General Archive of the Provincial Council is located in a basement under the walking areas of the Maternitat de Barcelona compound / Photo: Montse Giralt

Jordi Vilamala, director of the Historical Archive of the Barcelona Provincial Council, consults a book of records in the Maternitat repository / Photo: Montse Giralt

Thus, the last session of that first deputation took place on October 16, 1823 and we would have to wait until 1836dead and buried Fernando VII, for his restoration, which took place on January 26, already applying the provincial division of Jaime de Burgos of 1833 -which with respect to Catalonia did not offer notable changes with respect to the division of 1822-. In any case, for the current Barcelona Provincial Council -or the DiBa, in its acronym- the date of 1822 is the one chosen to start a commemoration that aims to make the role of this institution better known and to bring the public closer to some of its services, such as its important Archive, in the process of digitization

Change of role through the years

Since the restoration of the Barcelona Provincial Council in 1836 and with the exception of the period of the Second Republic -1931-1939-, when the provincial councils disappeared from Catalonia because their powers were assumed by the Generalitat, the provincial councils -which were restored by the Franco regime on 15 January 1939- have played a leading role in the contemporary history of Barcelona. In fact, for the historian Joaquim Coleis about “the most important administration of Catalonia in the 19th and 20th centuries, except for the years of self-government.” However, it should be noted that over the years there has been a change in the role of this administration, which went from acting as an intermediary between the municipalities and the central power to becoming “an intermediate local government, a new model of administration developed in the forty years of democracy.”

First Act of the Barcelona Provincial Council, dated May 15, 1822 / Barcelona Provincial Council Fund (CAT AGDB Book 110)

In fact, throughout these two centuries, the Barcelona Provincial Council has had several attributions, but some of the main ones have been those of “charity, public works and secondary education”, and at the same time it has been focus and mirror of the changes that have been taking place over the decades, with a more political role during the revolutionary six-year period -1868-1872- or a more administrative one in the subsequent period until 1914, in which the Mossos d’Esquadra were re-established as the Provincial Police. Likewise, he experienced the emergence of Catalanism, which converted the Catalan councils, via the Commonwealth of Catalonia -1914-1923- into the tool to modernize Catalonia, or the return to the administrative role during the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera -1923-1931- .

Francoism and democracy

After the republican parenthesis, in which there were no councils, the Franco regime restored them as institutions subordinated to the dictates of the civil governors, with purely administrative functions and with an important purge of civil servants, including the de-Catalanisation of the institution. With the arrival of democracy, the Barcelona Provincial Council became “embryo of the Generalitat”according to Coll, since Josep Tarradellas was at the same time president of the Provincial Council and of the restored Generalitat, so that a transfer of “money and workers” from one institution to another was possible. It is at this time that the Diputación leaves its headquarters in Plaça Sant Jaume -which recovers its function as Palau de la Generalitat- and moves to Can Serra.

The photographs of the General Archive of the Provincial Council are kept in a second repository also located in the Maternitat compound / Photo: Montse Giralt

The Historical Archive of the Barcelona Provincial Council contains an important photographic collection in all kinds of historical media / Photo: Montse Giralt

The deposits of the General Archive of the Barcelona Provincial Council maintain the necessary measures to guarantee the conservation of the documentation / Photo: Montse Giralt

In the last forty years, the Barcelona Provincial Council has focused on its role as intermediate local government with the main function of supporting the 311 municipalities in the demarcation and the twelve county councils, with policies focused on investment in equipment and infrastructure and avoiding duplicities with the Generalitat. Despite being an institution “with two centuries of existence but unknown and with some stereotypes”, DiBa has become an essential actor in local cooperation and embedded in the values ​​of peace and freedom of a united and democratic Europe.

The Archive as a secret value of the DiBa

Among the baggage that the Barcelona Provincial Council has accumulated in these two hundred years of history is its important General Archive of the Provincial Council, a historical compendium that supposes twelve linear kilometers of documentation in different formats -texts, books, photographs, plans… -which are currently distributed in five centres, the Montcada logistics platform, the Llars Mundet, Can Serra, the Rellotge de la Industrial School and the enclosure of the Maternitatwhere it occupies two deposits, one of them located under the walkways of the park of the same enclosure and where jewels are preserved, such as the founding act of the Diputación of May 15, 1822.

Precisely, this secret and unknown value of the Diputación will receive a boost in the framework of the bicentennial commemoration. According to Jordi Vilamaladirector of the General Archive of the Barcelona Provincial Council, is one of the most relevant in Catalonia, with documents from the same council from two hundred years ago, “but also the collections of thea Casa de la Caritat, dating from 1696 and even some older ones, from the 14th century“. Within the framework of the bicentennial, and with the purpose of discovering the legacy of the corporation to the public and making them part of the project, the Provincial Council is committed to continuing to expand the digitization of the General Archive of the corporation, as well as the creation of a portal website that makes this entire fund more accessible.

Another important section of the General Archive of the Barcelona Provincial Council is the historical maps and plans / Photo: Montse Giralt

First photograph preserved in the General Archive of the Barcelona Provincial Council, dated 1859. It is the Palau de la Generalitat, at that time, Palau de la Diputació / Photo: Montse Giralt

The General Archive of the Barcelona Provincial Council preserves a good collection of old maps / Photo: Montse Giralt

In this sense, Vilamala points out that the file is already open to public consultation and used, for example, to “doctoral theses on health, roads and civil works, or on the Mancomunitat de Catalunya“, in addition to responding to the “consultations of municipalities”, but in the context of the bicentennial, the aim is to offer citizens a platform that allows access to the documentation and public information generated by the Diputación. Of this digitization, the fund which belongs to the Local Architectural Heritage Service (SPAL) of the Diputación itself, created in 1914 and which supports town councils with respect to architectural heritage, monuments and historic centres, both with advice and with technical, scientific and economic support.

The drive to digitize the Archive also includes the publication of the Barcelona Provincial Council’s reports, as well as the opening of data of purged civil servants and of the deputies who have made up the Barcelona Provincial Council, from 1812 to the present. Access to the BOPB (1833-1997) indexed and searchable and to the description of the files of the Monument Cataloging and Conservation Service (SPAL) will also be offered; In addition to digitizing photographs, acts of the liberal triennium of 30 city councils in the province and records of the Mancomunitat de Catalunya and the library from the time of the Mancomunitat. In addition, the Diputación de Barcelona works for an optimum description and definitive organization of the funds guarded in the General Archive of the corporation.

joint central act

Finally, the four Catalan councils will promote a joint act of commemoration of the anniversary, claiming the role that the municipal and democratic councils exercise, as intermediate local governments, at the service of the municipalities, their territories and their citizens. On Friday, July 22, a conference organized jointly with the Democracy and Local Government Foundation will take place in the lobby of Can Serra, headquarters of the Barcelona Provincial Council, with the aim of publicizing, in a more academic way, the role of the councils from a more historical point of view and, also, what is the path that these institutions have to follow today.

In addition, during the last months of this 2022, the Barcelona Provincial Council will publish a book with the aim of highlighting the municipal nature of this institution, emphasizing the last four decades of the democratic stage. In addition to making a historical review, the public policies carried out, the evolution of the territory will be analyzed and a look to the future will be taken to expose what is the role that the councils should have. Additionally, the Barcelona Provincial Council and the Xarxa Audiovisual Local are working together to broadcast, in the last stretch of this 2022, a documentary about the two centuries of provincial councils.

The Barcelona Provincial Council commemorates the bicentennial by claiming its role as the focus and mirror of social changes in Catalonia / Photo: Montse Giralt

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