Background. A hill without a castle

While Montjuïc Castle is a relatively recent addition to the summit, we know that the rest of hill has been inhabited more or less continuously since prehistoric times, thanks to the surviving records and the various archaeological excavations. The sites identified, with a timeline stretching from the Epipaleolithic period to medieval times, trace the history of the hill before the Castle was built.

The oldest vestige of human occupation on Montjuïc is the jasper workshop in the Morrot area. Although the presence of prehistoric tools made of jasper from Montjuïc, at prehistoric sites in the Barcelonès and Baix Llobregat regions, has been reported since ancient times, the workshop on the hill was not located until the time of the major transformations made for the 1992 Olympic Games. In the course of an archaeological survey at the foot of the castle, the workshop was identified to the north of the hillside overlooking the port. The excavations revealed the raw materials used there: jasper and opal, cream-coloured flint in smaller quantities, quartz and quartzites, and established that the main function of this workshop was the extraction of jasper nodules. One of the other recent finds related to the prehistory of Montjuïc is a late Bronze Age settlement located at the junction of Carrer d’Anníbal and Carrer de Margarit, on the dividing line between Montjuïc and Poble Sec.

The geographical location of the hill, with excellent views of the plain of Barcelona and the coastal sierras, the sea below and the River Llobregat, made Montjuïc an ideal place for the Iberians to establish a settlement there and a large trading centre. The various archaeological excavations carried out over the years have led to a better understanding of Iberian Montjuïc and now we can talk about various settlements and scattered finds. The oldest remains date from the sixth and seventh centuries BC and lie between the castle and the cemetery at the junction of Camí del Molí Antic and Camí de la Font de la Mamella. The area that has been the most abundant in finds from this period is the sector where the so-called Pont de l’Esparver was located, where the Via Magòria used to pass (now the Avinguda dels Ferrocarrils Catalans). On a small promontory nearby, the remains of a set of structures that may well have been the Iberian village on Montjuïc were found, including a large wall that probably enclosed the village. In this context, a remarkable group of silos was located nearby, used to store produce for trade and exchange. It is worth bearing in mind that the settlement’s location near the sea and the mouth of what was then a major navigable river, the Llobregat, would have made use of a natural port where goods could be stockpiled for distribution to and from other Mediterranean ports.

It was not until 1929, during the work leading up to the 1929 Universal Exposition, that a number of finds from Roman times were made on the roadway that led from the stadium to the area of Vista Alegre. The remains of walls made of stone and mortar, silos cut out of the natural terrain and archaeological material dating from between the end of the second century BC and the sixth century AD suggest a small rural villa.

One of Montjuïc’s great riches is the rock it is made of, sandstone. Most of the most important constructions in Barcelona were built with this material, such as the Roman walls and temple, the first Christian church, and the Romanesque and Gothic cathedrals. However, until recently none of the quarries had been located because later diggings erased any traces of the original Roman ones. When the new access routes to the Olympic Stadium were opened up in 1989 one of these quarries was finally identified, currently the only one known in Barcelona. Alongside the headstone of Gay Celi found there, the discovery of other construction elements associated with a production site indicates that the spot was the original workshop. One characteristic favouring the exploitation of Montjuïc stone was the geographical position of the hill on the Barcelona coast, as its proximity to the sea facilitated trade and transport of stone blocks to the area where the Barcino colony was being built. In medieval times Montjuïc Hill continued to supply stone for large buildings, and this became a specialised product of Barcelona.

Regarding the history of the hill in medieval times, several kinds of records – administrative documents, purchases, sales, wills and donations – serve to identify some places on the hill. The Castell de Port (“The Port Castle”), recorded as far back as 1031, was located on a small promontory on the hill facing the sea, above the present-day southwest cemetery. In these early reports, there is mention of a lookout tower (1031) and the installation of a light in the beacon (1091). Furthermore, many small churches are documented as having stood on Montjuïc although few remains have survived. These were as follows: the Sant Julià church, from the tenth century, located near the Jewish cemetery and demolished in the seventeenth century owing to the construction of the castle; a church devoted to Sant Fruitós, recorded in the eleventh century, whose name was changed at some point; the Sant Ferriol hermitage, located halfway up the hill, documented since the thirteenth century and demolished in the seventeenth century; a chapel dedicated to Sant Bertran, one of the most important places of worship on Montjuïc despite its small size, located in the Morrot area and destroyed during the Napoleonic wars; and finally, the shrine named after Santa Madrona, documented in the fifteenth century and destroyed in 1714.

The Jewish necropolis deserves special attention. This came to light during excavations carried out in 1949. It is located on the northeast side of the hill and was in use from at least the eleventh to the fourteenth century. The construction of a clay-pigeon shooting range led to the excavation of some 171 tombs, grouped into three types defined as lateral cavity, anthropomorphic and coffin. Later excavations in 2001 located a further 557 tombs and identified a new mode of burial: tombs sculpted in the oval shape of a bath. One of the most outstanding finds was a tombstone found in situ, belonging to tomb nª 435 and bearing an inscription with the date of death, 1229 AD, one of the few examples recovered in Catalonia and the Iberian Peninsula.