This building in central Barcelona was once the Hotel Continental, where George Orwell and his wife stayed when he wasn’t at the front, fighting with an anti-Stalinist Marxist militia during the Spanish Civil War. Here is where this scene in Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia played out, just as the pro-Soviet communists began their crackdown on all other leftist factions:

When I got to the hotel my wife was sitting in the lounge. She got up and came towards me in what struck me as a very unconcerned manner; then she put an arm round my neck and, with a sweet smile for the benefit of the other people in the lounge, hissed in my ear:

Get out!


‘Get out of here at once!’


‘Don’t keep standing here! You must get outside quickly!’

‘What? Why? What do you mean?’

…‘Haven’t you heard?’

‘No. Heard what? I’ve heard nothing.’

‘The P.O.U.M.’S been suppressed. They’ve seized all the buildings. Practically everyone’s in prison. And they say they’re shooting people already.’

There are very few remaining signs that, for more than a year in 1936-37, this city was actually run by anarchists and labor unions. (It didn’t last: the Stalinists routed them, and then by 1939 the dictator Franco defeated the Stalinists. The Wikipedia entry on “Revolutionary Catalonia” is a good summary.)

I’m grateful to Alan Warren, who offers tours of Orwell’s Barcelona, for pointing those signs and places out to me. It was a great two-hour break from the Latin American Studies Association conference taking place elsewhere in the city.

This hand-painted sign in Catalán, declaring this square to be the “Plaza of the Unknown Militiaman,” is one of the only remnants of the brief period of anarcho-syndicalist dominion of Barcelona. It was covered by a wooden board until 2004.