Recent memories of the 1888 Universal Exhibition could not conceal the poor living conditions and social strife that plagued the city’s working class in November 1889. That month Barcelona hosted the Segundo Certamen Social-ista (The Second Socialist Contest), a competition organized by various anar-chist groups and labour societies. At the Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts), one of the emblematic buildings erected for the exhibition, and before an audience of over 20,000, contestants read a long series of prize-winning speeches. Some delivered high praise for scientists (for example, Lamarck, Spencer, Darwin, Tyndall and the like) or for science in general. The undisguised aim was to revitalize anarchism while simultaneously demonstrating the working class’s competence on literary, sociological and scientiﬁc issues.
Forty years later, in 1929, Barcelona was not only a great modern industrial power, it had also become one of the most important centres of anarchist activ-ity – an exception in a world which, in general, had turned its back on the movement. These changes took place while Barcelona was transformed into something very different from the ideal of the functional and socially coherent new city envisioned by urban planners. Far from any sort of rational planning, its spectacular urban and demographic expansion was chaotically moulded by market forces that imposed a deep socio-spatial segregation. A veritable abyss had opened up between the proletarian neighbourhoods and upper-middle-class districts. The divide was reﬂected in lifestyles and dress codes, but even