Opened in 1928, the Aviò is still soaring over the city.
Over the past century, film directors, such as Fritz Lang and Michelangelo Antonioni, and artists like Edward Hopper, emphasised the clinical isolation of the post-industrial city; the wasteland where loneliness stirs over nightcaps in bars. It is the place in which our modern lust for material wealth has reassembled us as machines dedicated to the toil of the workplace. Barcelona does not escape the monotony of the daily grind; ennui being most palpable along a 7pm trudge through the seemingly never-ending tunnel at Passeig de Gràcia. And yet, the cityscape of Barcelona possesses an ample range of beguiling attractions to tempt its inhabitants from the servile slog and remind us that, in Roald Dahl’s assertion, “A little nonsense now and then is cherished by the wisest men”. Its most enduring playground stands enticingly above the city, crowning the hill of Tibidabo in the Serra de Collserolla. For over a century, residents and visitors have come to delight in the magical terrain of Tibidabo amusement park.
At the end of the 19th century, the entrepreneurial pharmacist Salvador Andreu i Grau sought to bring the mountain of Tibidabo to the city’s residents. Doctor Andreu, who had made his fortune on cough pastilles and was a sometime property developer, planned to urbanise Tibidabo, which literally translates as ‘I’ll give it to thee’—words based on the devil’s temptations of Jesus in the desert. The first step in opening up the mountain was the implementation of a tram service which became affectionately known as the ‘Tibidabo Tramvía Blau’. Indeed, in its infancy, it was the novel transportation system that initially spurred folk up the mountain, as the park itself consisted of only a few small amusements: telescopes, binoculars and automats. The collection of the latter became so celebrated that upon visiting the park in 1957, Walt Disney sought, in vain, to purchase the collection. From 1921 onwards, the park installed more thrilling rides, such as Atalaya (1921), the emblematic Aviò (1928) and Muntanya Rusa (1961), which still exist today. By the interwar years, Tibidabo had garnered much fame; perhaps an innocent reflection of the indulgences associated with the ‘Roaring Twenties’.
The park’s unique vantage point is perhaps its biggest attraction.
But such innocence was short lived, and within 20 years, in January 1939, Franco’s militia appeared amidst the amusements dotted on the crown of the great hill. The city fell into the hands of the usurper, and Tibidabo amusement park to collectivism. It returned to the hands of the Andreu Family in the Forties, following which the playground acquired more modern rides and amusing distractions. The number of visitors soared, particularly during the Fifties, its golden age. In 1966, in the latter part of his rule, General Franco himself visited the park, treating children to a jaunt on the rides. A democratic Spain saw the modernisation of the park with a number of new attractions installed, and the creation of theatrical events such as acrobatic shows.
By the late Nineties, under the control of local businessman Javier de la Rosa, the future of the park was shaken by various financial tremors, which led, in 2000, to its takeover by the Ajuntament. In 2010, the park suffered its greatest tragedy when a 14-year-old girl was killed in an accident on the Pedulò. A shadow fell upon the mountain, its joyous escapism tarnished by tragedy. Understandably, its visitor numbers slumped. Gradually, the park recovered its allure; life reasserting itself. By 2014, the attraction boasted its highest attendance since 2002. The upward trend has continued and in August this year a record number of customers (165,464) were registered.
Margarida Calpena and her family (pictured in 1968) have fond memories of the park.
For over a hundred years, residents have been drawn up to Tibidabo to play out some of life’s milestones upon the mountain’s stage. Margarida Calpena (pictured above in 1968), a retired teacher from Barcelona, spoke to me about her first date, which took place there in 1970. “We probably took the Tibidabo aeroplane, which is what everybody did in those days. The witch’s castle was a must, too, although it was dark and girls like me did not feel comfortable there in case the boy you were with wanted to steal a kiss from you. But that was not the case with Jordi.” She went on to reflect on her earlier memories of the park: “My previous memories go further back, to the Sixties. It was a big thing, a sort of family event. You paid for every ride, not like now, where you pay an entrance fee for the whole lot. There was a man selling candy floss as you entered, but we always brought our own food. Money was tight in those days. Oh, and there was a big hall with those mirrors that altered your image, and those mechanical figures that moved with a coin. It was all pretty scruffy, till they decided to give the whole thing a revamp, and it has kept ticking since then.”
Tibidabo Amusement Park in its epoca dorada.
In 2006, Philippa Davies, a native of Wales, moved to Barcelona and decided to celebrate her first birthday in the city at the theme park. Since her arrival two months earlier, she had become aware of, and drawn to, the mountain’s leafy presence, its proximity and accessibility. She did not yet know where her journey in the new city would take her, but as she and her friends dashed to the park at dusk, just in time to make the rides before closing, she looked down upon Barcelona, taking in the enticing glory of the Ciutat Comtal, and knew that the path she had found herself on was to be an invigorating one.
The mountain of Tibidabo assumes a comforting resoluteness above Barcelona’s urban scramble. On its crown lies an amusement park which has demonstrated its resilience in the face of war, financial woes and tragedy. It has been the wonderland above the cityscape in which memories, such as those of Margarida and Philippa, have been fashioned. The gleeful squeals of pleasure seekers and soaring visitor numbers are testament to the fact that it continues to be so, testament to its capacity to cast its magical spell over our sometimes humdrum lives.