La Plaza de San Felipe Neri, located in the Gothic quarter of Barcelona, is a place with a bittersweet history. On one hand, you will often see children running around, tourists taking photos, or couples enjoying the scenery, creating a sense of joy and peace as the square exudes a special calm. On the other hand, if you take a closer look at the walls surrounding the square, you will notice bullet holes, a reminder of the tragedy that occurred in 1938 during the Spanish Civil War.
The history of the Plaza de San Felipe Neri is full of death, but also hope and kindness, much like the saint for whom it is named. The square was built on top of the medieval Montjuic cemetery of the bishop, which was destroyed during the Civil War. The conflict also left its mark on the square’s history. On January 30, 1938, one of the worst episodes of the war took place. The Italian Legionary Air Force, allied with Franco, attacked the Eixample, the Barceloneta, and especially the Gothic quarter. They used a tactic designed to maximize the number of deaths: they would bomb, stop the fire, and when people thought the attack was over and came out of hiding, they would start bombing again.
The Church of San Felipe Neri, which gives its name to the square, served as a refuge for people living in areas occupied by the National Army and students of the school next to the church. During the attack, one of the bombs passed through the floor of the church, taking the lives of 42 people, most of them children. Today, a plaque in the square commemorates the tragedy and pays tribute to the victims. However, the most striking reminder of the event is on the walls of the church. The holes that scar the walls are the remnants of the shrapnel from the devastating bomb.
Today, the children of the Escola Sant Felip Neri often play in the square during their recess. The school opened in 1959, and the students have always played in the square. Over the years, this hidden corner of the Gothic quarter has become famous among locals and tourists alike. In fact, it has become so popular that measures had to be taken to ensure that the students could enjoy their recess freely. Therefore, the square is closed to the public from Monday to Friday, between 10:30 and 11:30.
The Plaza de San Felipe Neri is also known for its appearances in films, music videos and songs. Some of the most popular include Woody Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”, in which the square is featured in a scene shot in the dark, and “Perfume” by Tom Tykwer, in which the sadistic protagonist strangles a plum seller and is frustrated that he can’t capture her scent. The square also starred in the music video for Evanescence’s “My Immortal”.