Carabanchel Today


Carabanchel was once a symbol of Franco’s repression. But somewhere along the way, the prison was transformed into a symbol of survival, of sustainability, of endurance. The working class neighborhood surrounding Carabanchel was subject to Franco’s regime, suffering punishments and mandates from the General. During the war, and the years after, the people in the area watched as lines formed of people waiting to visit their family inside. And as the years passed, those lines became queues of 21st century immigrants waiting to legalize their status. As the times changed, the neighborhood and the prison itself changed.


When the prison closed in 1944, it served as housing for other activities. Carabanchel was put to use by marginal groups, graffiti artists, and other residents of the surrounding town. The graffiti at the site was an integral part of its structure, sustaining a dialogue, an emotional link, with the former prison. There was even a rendition of Picasso’s Guernica on one of the walls reading “for a world without bars.” Through its use as a palette for graffiti artists, Carabanchel became an exhibition for the townspeople’s connection to the prison as well as a testament to their perserverance throughout the years of the dictatorship.

When the building was abandoned, its place in history and the collective memory still lived on in the ruins that remained, physical spaces which allowed a visitor to follow the same path as the prisoner did throughout the course of a day. One could walk the same hallways, enter the same mess hall, stand in the same cell. The connection was still alive between Carabanchel and the memory of postwar repression and survival. But when the prison was destroyed in 2008, that “memory site” was in grave danger of being forgotten.


But the people fought. They demanded that the site of Carabanchel be used for social purposes for the betterment of the community, such as a hospital or municipal buildings.  The government is now working with local activists to build a structure to serve the community.  Soon, the site of the prison, the symbolic object of Spain’s recent memory, will become a symbol of hope instead of dictatorship, of sustainability instead of authority. The new building on the site of Carabanchel will be the source through which memory of the war and years afterward flow.


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