Around 600 BC there was a primitive Iberian settlement on the hill of Muntanyeta (where the Castle of Sant Ferran is currently located). At that time a good part of the Alt Emporda plain was flooded with wetlands and large expanses of rushes. The inhabitants of the region lived on small hills or on the highest zones free of the stagnant waters. From this time, before the Roman presence, we can highlight a ceramic find made at the end of the 19th century, which is called the Aigüeta valley. It corresponds to the 5th century BC and is located in the Archaeological Museum of Barcelona.
The Romans (who disembarked in the Greek city of Empòrion in 218 BC) created a small population center towards 195-194 BC, in the lower part of the current municipal area (Tapis street area and the ‘Aigüeta’), which was named Joncària, since in that field there were many juncus (commonly known as rushes). This small town was gaining importance, as it was one of the stops on the important Roman road, first on the so-called Via Domitia and, later, the Via Augusta (remains of a Roman mansion have been found in the area of Aigüeta). This stop on the Roman road was a day on foot away from the Pertús and another day from Girona. One remain of this Roman settlement of Joncària is a funeral stele located in the Empordà Museum in Figueres. The Romans probably forced the indigetes that had lived on the hill of Muntanyeta down to the flat area near the Roman road and its mansion, thus, little by little the first two towns were created in the zone (one Iberian and the other one Roman) and later they became a single settlement, every time more Romanized.
As of the year 258, due to administrative chaos in the territories of the Roman Empire, the invasion of the Germanic peoples of the Franks took place. They destroyed and sacked everything they found over 12 years. During this period the Germanic barbarians finished with the small town of Joncària, leaving it reduced to a pile of rubble and ashes, that have given the name of Cendrassos (from cat. cendres, meaning ashes) to the rest of this Roman establishment. As of this time the name Joncària disappears.
Once the danger passed, the hispanoroman population rebuilt the town in that area of the Augusta road. Thus, the houses were rebuilt with walls and trimmings of mud, that surely were the reason why the town received the name of Tapioles. In excavations made at the end of the 19th century a cemetery of this population was uncovered, in the current area of the Cendrassos neighborhood. Several types of tombs were located there, some with marble sarcophagi, others with stone tombs, and the rest made with tiles or simply earth. Roman coins dated from the second half of the 4th century were also found in this necropolis. The town of Tapioles survived (according to the opinion of local historians), at least, until the arrival of the Visigoths in the 5th century or until the arrival of the Saracens, at the beginning of the 8th century.
The invasion and conquest of the Iberian Peninsula, which began in 711, reached Alt Empordà in 712. Saracen troops must have arrived violently in these areas and this caused that much of the population of the region sought refuge in the forests of the Alberes and Salinas (Pyrenean zone of the Empordà) or fled to the neighbouring grounds of the Rosellón. Towards 785 (which is the year in which Girona was given to Charlemagne) all of the Alt Empordà was already a free territory liberated from Muslim influence.
In the year 802, we find, for the first time, the name of “villa Ficerias” in an inscription and in 962 the name of “Figariae” appears in another document. The most common opinion is that the word of Latin origin “Ficarias” was translated to Figueres (therefore indicates the name of the trees that produce figs). In 1020, the parish church of Sant Pere de Figueres (“Sancti Petri de Figarias”) has already been documented. Until the second half of the 13th century, Figueres was a small village of about 20 households (between 80 and 100 inhabitants) that had grown around the parochial church and was located on a small hill of only 39 meters (in the area of the current Church Square). Until 1111, this village belonged to the county of Besalú (it was one of the easternmost parts of this territory) and as of this year, it passed, like the rest of the county, under the power of the count of Barcelona.
On June 21, 1267, king James I the Conqueror took an important decision for Figueres: to turn it into a royal city and give it a municipal charter that provided a whole host of advantages and privileges to the villagers (such as being protected from bad uses, be more free than the residents of the neighborhood and have a weekly market day and an annual 8 days fair). King James I wanted to turn this hamlet, which was on the road from Girona to Perpignan and bordered with the County of Empúries, to the main base of royal power in the area and, thus, to stop the bellicose and rebel Count of Empúries and, also, any attempt of French invasion of the Empordà. The walls that closed the town drew a small rectangle formed by the current streets of Besalú, Puja del Castillo, Canigó and La Jonquera; leaving a large part of the current Town Hall square out. This walled area had an area of 15,000 m². The Gorgot tower, now converted into the Galatea Tower of the Dalí Theater-Museum, remains standing on the old wall. In order to increase the small population of Figueres, the infant Peter (future King Peter the Great), on 12 March 1269, facilitated the creation of a Jewish quarter in the new royal city, freeing five years of tribute to all the Jews who were going to live in Figueres. The Jewish quarter existed for more than 200 years, it was located in the current Magre Street and had a synagogue, butchery and own ovens.
Count Hug V of Empúries tried to crush the new royal city and on October 16, 1274, besieged Figueres, that was weakly fortified and had few defenders. After three days of siege, the Count of Empúries and his troops were able to enter the small town, plundered all the houses, killed many of its inhabitants and took the gates of the walls that lead to Castelló d’Empúries (capital of its county) as a trophy of war. But the Infant Peter arrived at Figueres with 180 horsemen (and their respective vassals) and persecuted the troops of Count Hug V until a bloody battle took place where the infant Peter defeated the rebellious Count of Empúries. Then the heir of the Crown of Aragon returned to Figueres where he began the reconstruction of the destroyed houses and the damaged walls.
During the crusade against King Peter the Great led by the French in 1285 Figueres was occupied for three months by the troops of King Philip III the Bold.
In 1361 King Peter III the Ceremonious decided to expand the walled enclosure, to the south and to the east, forming what is known as the old town. This enclosure, with an area of 50,000 m², was delimited by the current streets of Puja del Castillo, Canigó, Muralla, Ample, Monturiol and La Rambla (which was a small valley through which the Galligans stream was running). The centre of the town was located on the current Town Hall Square, where the two main roads crossed in a straight angle: the royal road from Girona to Perpignan (current streets of Girona and La Jonquera) and the paths that led to Besalú (and the Garrotxa and Ripollès area) and in Vilabertran and Peralada (current streets of Besalú and Peralada).
In spite of the great epidemic of the black plague that exploded in 1348 and affected the town significantly Figueres, throughout the 14th century, increased its population reaching 105 families (almost 500 inhabitants). In 1313, a hospital was founded for sick, mendicants and poor people (the first sanitary installation in the town), it was the donation of Figueres couple Bernat Jaume and his wife Garsendis (who chose to work in the hospital until her death). This hospital changed location in 1616 when it was moved from Carrer de la Jonquera (its original place) to the area outside the current Nou Street, later, after the Civil War, the hospital of Figueres moved to the northern part of Parc Bosc (on the outskirts of the city).
Peter the Ceremonious had a special interest for Figueres, at times he lived in the town, especially after his wedding with Sibilla de Fortià. King Peter, in addition to enlarging the fortified space of the town, built a wider Gothic church on the site of the old Romanesque temple. King Peter the Ceremonious (and later all other monarchs) lived, in Figueres, in a small palace, known as Posada del Señor Rei, which was on the Girona street, touching the wall and next to the entrance portal (at the moment you can see the shield of the Royal Inn on the facade of the house number 16 on Carrer de Girona).
On September 28, 1419, King Alfonso the Magnanimous established as the main festival and fair the festival of the Holy Cross taking place on May 3. Today it is still the main festival of Figueres and the main day of the city fairs.
Figueres continued, mostly, enclosed in its medieval walls, of the old town, until the beginning of the 18th century (although, very timidly, extramural houses began to appear in the four main routes of entry from the middle of the 16th century). The walled enclosure had 16 towers and four portals from where the main roads left. Although since the end of the Catalan Civil War, in 1472, until the War of the Reapers, in 1640, the entire Empordà enjoyed a period without war, the town of Figueres had a lot of activity as a centre of concentration of troops to fight against the French who, periodically, attacked or invaded the territories of North Catalonia. The beginning of the Reapers’ War, the separation of Catalonia from the Hispanic monarchy and the acceptance of King Louis XIII of France as the Count of Barcelona and the sovereign of the Catalans led Figueres to become a place-of-arms from where a French permanent garrison controlled the territory of Castilian offensives that occupied the citadel of Roses. In 1652, the Spanish army occupied the entire Empordà (except Roses that had fallen into French hands in 1645) and the war between the Principality and King Philip IV of Castile ended.
However that did not end the war with France, therefore the French, who dominated the Roussillon, invaded the Empordà periodically and there is news of the occupation of Figueres in 1653, 1654 and 1656 (the year 1653 was particularly terrible because, in addition, the village suffered the Black Plague). This war with France ended in 1659 with the Treaty of the Pyrenees that led to the loss of the counties of Roussillon and half of that of Cerdanya from the Catalan territory and their incorporation into the kingdom of France. In order to solve certain controversial points of the treaty, since the French demanded that the border should begin in Cap de Creus (Llançà, Selva de Mar, Cadaqués and the mountain of Sant Pere de Rodes became French territories), the so-called conferences of Figueres were carried out in the royal town, in 1660.
On November 3, 1701, King Philip V of Spain and his first wife, Princess Maria Luisa de Saboya got married in the parochial church of Sant Pere de Figueres. During the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1715) Figueres was occupied several times both by the troops of Archduke Charles and by the troops of Philip V of Anjou.
After the Treaty of the Pyrenees and the loss of Northern Catalonia, the Pyrenees mountain range became the border with France and the first important town entering Spain from Pertús was the town of Figueres. The important fortress of Salses, which barred the way to France in Roussillon, was now part of the kingdom of France and, moreover, the neighboring country had the Bellaguarda castle that dominated the Pertús pass. King Ferdinand VI of Spain decided to build a great and powerful fort in the Alt Empordà to intimidate and prevent any attempted French invasion. The town where this military infrastructure was to be built was Figueres and the place chosen was the hill of Muntanyeta (north of the town, at an altitude of about 140 m). The construction of the Castle of Sant Ferran began on December 13, 1753 (with the laying of the first stone) and continued until 1766 (although the work was not finished and it being built until 1790).
The director of the project was the engineer, general Juan Martín Cermeño. The fortress was one of the largest in Europe and had the shape of an irregular pentagon with 6 bastions, 7 revellins, 3 hornworks, 2 counterguards and a large moat that surrounded the entire fortification. It had a surface of 320,000 m² (32 hectares) and the outer perimeter had 3,120 meters. It had the capacity to comfortably fit 6,000 men and 500 horses. The initial budget of the work was 20 million rals, when the work was finished (in 1766) it had already cost 30 million and in 1790 the cost went up to 40 million.
The population of Figueres grew significantly in the 18th century. In 1725 it reached 1,872 inhabitants and it was the largest town in the region, since the second town was Castelló d’Empúries, which had only 1,261 inhabitants. But the really important demographic leap (which turned Figueres into the unquestionable capital of the region) was the construction of the Castle of Sant Ferran that brought to the town numerous families of engineers, stonemasons, plasterers, laborers, etc.; and once the work was finished, many of them stayed to live in Figueres. In 1785, the royal city had 5,398 inhabitants (this represents an increase of 288% compared to the year 1725).
In the 18th century this rapidly growing population needed more living space, the town expanded beyond the walled enclosure and the outer neighborhoods were created, especially in the south, on the other side of the river bank (currently covered by the Paseo de la Rambla). For castle defense reasons the growth to the north was completely prohibited (the first defense zone had a radius of 400 meters from the fort, where no building could be constructed, there was also a second zone, with a radius from 400 to 770 meters from the castle, where only one-story buildings could be built). The urban development of Figueres during the second half of the 18th century, throughout the 19th century and part of the 20th century was marked by the instructions and decisions of the military engineers, who sought, first of all, to protect the fortress and, secondly, to give homogeneous and harmonious growth to the town.
When the French Revolution took place, a large number of absolutist French emigrants fled to Figueres (nobles, military and clergymen). In July 1791 there were more than one thousand of them living in the village. When the War of the Pyrenees erupted (1793-1795), Figueres became the decisive point of the Spanish defense. Initially the campaign was favorable to Spain, but on November 20, 1794 Hispanic troops were defeated at the Battle of El Roure. This led to a mass exodus of the population of Figueres and of the inhabitants of the Alt Empordà who fled from the French to the south of the Fluvià river, to Girona or further to the south. On November 28, 1794, the castle of Sant Ferran surrendered to the French troops without even a single gunshot (within the fortification there were 10,000 soldiers, 171 guns and sufficient water and supplies to hold a siege). The castle of Sant Ferran was in French hands until July 22, 1795 when with the Peace of Basel the war was over and France gave back the conquered territories.
The 19th century
On February 10, 1808 the French occupied the town of Figueres peacefully (since they were allies of Spain in their fight against the English and Portuguese). At the beginning of April, as the French forces stationed in the royal city were very numerous, their commands requested permission from the Spanish military authorities of the castle of Sant Ferran to allow the lodging of 200 French soldiers, in the fortification. The Spanish authorities allowed it and once the French were inside the fortress they took its control. The French called the imposing military fortification of Figueres “useless beauty”, since despite being so big and well built, from a military point of view, the two times they wanted to conquer it they achieved it without firing a single shot . On June 3, before the news that the French marshal Joachim Murat became the regent of Spain, the people of Figueres rebelled against the French, and locked them in the fortress. On June 13, before the attempt by Figueres to take the Castle of Sant Ferran, the Napoleonic troops began to bomb the city (it was estimated that 2,700 bombs fell).
The popular siege continued until a French column of 2,000 soldiers with ammunition and food supplies was able to break the popular blockade and reach the fort. Then, once they took refuge, they went on to occupy Figueres but found it empty. Many young people of Figueres and the region joined the guerrilla parties to continue fighting against the invader. The rest of the figuerens came back to the town when the danger of reprisals fell. The French authorities in an attempt to win the support of the figuerens carried out the paving of the Town Hall Square (it was the first paved urban space). On the night of January 21, 1810, General Mariano Álvarez de Castro died in the castle of San Fernando, he had been the head of the defenders of Girona. He was buried, initially, in the municipal cemetery.
On the dawn of April 10, 1811, around 1,000 Spanish soldiers commanded by Colonel Monsignor Francesc Rovira managed to enter the castle of Figueres unnoticed (thanks to the fact that they had a key to one of the outer doors) and occupied it making prisoners of the whole garrison. This heroic event is called the “Rovirada” or, also, “The Glorious Surprise of the Castle”. On April 16, the Napoleonic troops besieged the fortress. Finally, on August 16, 1811, the defenders of the castle of Sant Ferran surrendered, since they had no ammunition or food left. Through a decree by Marshal Augerau (French Governor General of Catalonia), in 1812, the town of Figueres was included in the Ter department (becoming a subprefecture) and, along with the rest of Catalonia, it was incorporated into the French Empire. With the end of the Peninsular War the Napoleonic troops evacuated the castle of Sant Ferran on May 25, 1814. When King Ferdinand VII of Spain returned from his French exile he stayed in Figueres (due to heavy floods that made it impossible to cross the Manol river).
In 1817 the works of the new Municipal Cemetery began (it replaced the burial next to the parochial church). That same year a strong tramontane (north wind) fell a part of the bell tower of the church of San Pedro. In 1829 Paula Montal Fornés (now Santa Paula Montal) created, in Figueres, the first school for girls in Catalonia, the religious school of the escolapios, at the same time creating the congregation of the Piarists. The previous year the mayor and military governor of Figueres Joaquín Caamaño proposed to carry out the coverage of the Ribera (the Galligans stream) on the section of the current Rambla. The military engineer Lasauca was the project director, the work was finished on July 29, 1832. Thus the most important square of Figueres was created and the part of the old town was linked to the new neighborhoods that had been growing, above all, in the southern part of the city. The Ribera deck continued in the following years over La Rambla, Lasauca Street and also down Caamaño Street (these works were completed in 1844).
In September 1835 Figueres began to be fortified against the danger of an attack by the Carlist troops (First Carlist War). The new walls no longer coincided with the ones of the old town, since Figueres had grown much in length. In addition, the old walls of medieval origin began to be demolished once the castle of Sant Ferran was constructed (last third of the 18th century). During the First Carlist War there was a time when all the region was dominated by the carlins except the town of Figueres and its castle.
After the war ended the royal city continued to grow and modernize. On September 28, 1839, the “Colegio de Humanidades” was inaugurated, led by Father Julián González de Soto (with an agreement with the city council), it was the first center of middle education in Figueres and the region. This center became the first institute of secondary education in the whole province of Girona in 1845 (this is the current Ramon Muntaner Institute, which is the dean of the secondary education institutes of Spain). The 40s and 50s of the 19th century saw the political activity of Abdó Terrades i Pulí, a politician and republican thinker, who was elected Mayor of Figueres several times but could not take up this position, since he never swore obedience to the queen of Spain (because of his anti-monarchical, democratic and republican-federal ideas). He was also the leading exponent of the popular anti-government uprising known as Jamancia (he was able to raise the people of Figueres, Alt Empordà and, even, the garrison of the castle of Sant Ferran).
Another remarkable citizen of Figueres (although born in Alcalá la Real, province of Jaén) was Josep Maria Ventura i Cases, better known as Pep Ventura, who carried out, in Figueres, the consolidation of the modern sardana or long sardana. His time of greater activity goes from 1848 to 1875. He modified the instruments of the song, suppressing some and adding others like the tenora. He was a musician, director and also a composer of more than 300 pieces. Thanks to Pep Ventura, Figueres became the “mother city of the sardana”. In 1850, the Municipal Theater was inaugurated (now the Dalí Theater-Museum building), which was the work of the architect Josep Roca i Bros. In 1857 Figueres exceeded 10,000 inhabitants for the first time (exactly 10.370). In 1861, street lights with gas lanterns were installed.
In 1862 the current Platanus trees were planted on the Rambla (therefore, they are more than 150 years old). Also in these central years of the 19th century we can highlight another significant personage Narcís Monturiol i Estarriol who was an engineer, intellectual, federal republican politician, but, above all, he went down in history as the inventor of the submarine (his famous Ictíneo). In 1862 the Coral Society Erato was created with Anselm Clavé.
During the Democratic Sexennium, Figueres and its entire region were in favor of the ideas of federal republicanism and a man from Figueres was minister (finance) to the Spanish government during the First Spanish Republic: Joan Tutau i Vergés. In 1874 the figuerencs were immersed in full in the Third Carlist War, as the troops of the carlist general Francesc Savalls, who dominated most of the region, wanted to conquer the town and the castle.
Figueres reinforced the walls that encircled the town and had 14 defensive towers (Torre Gorgot or “Torre Galatea” is the only one that is still preserved, although very reformed). On the dawn of May 28, 1874 the Carlist troops attacked Figueres but, despite the lack of collaboration of the garrison of the castle of Sant Ferran, the villagers managed to withstand the attack and the Carlists withdrew. Thanks to this heroic defense against the Carlists, King Alfonso XII of Spain awarded Figueres the city title, on October 28, 1875. After the war was over, the city inhabitants demolished the city walls that had been enclosing it again. On October 28, 1877 the railway arrived at Figueres, the city was one of the points where the line from Barcelona to France was passing. In 1878 the phylloxera plague reached the region causing poverty, Alt Empordà lost 7,000 inhabitants (many emigrated to France or other areas of Catalonia). Despite all this, the population of Figueres did not decrease, since the agricultural sector was of little importance, it was the industry and the crafts that played a much more important role to the city. In 1887, the Gra square was opened (with its cover). In 1894 the Braus city square was built in a Mudejar style. In 1896 the electricity installation works began.
The 20th century: the first 30 years
When the century began, the population of Figueres was 10,714 inhabitants and during this century it had an important growth, especially after 1960. In 1902 the architect Josep Azemar built the modernist building of the Municipal Slaughterhouse in Figueres (which now houses the Alt Empordà County Archive). On May 11, 1904, the great surrealist painter Salvador Dalí Domènech was born in Figueres. That same year the modernist building of the Casino Menestral was built (the recreational society had been created in 1856). In 1905, a prison of Figueres was built at the end of Carrer Sant Pau. That same year a rich citizen Carles Cusí built the first cinema of Figueres (it was the first of the entire province). In 1908, the streets of the city run the first cars owned by some well-known people of Figueres. In 1910 the building of the La Salle School of Figueres was inaugurated. In 1914 the El Jardí Theater was built (now the Municipal Theater of Figueres), designed by the architect Llorenç Ros Costa in the Noucentisme style. In 1916 the telephone started working in Figueres. On May 2, 1918, the reform of the Rambla de Figueres was inaugurated, by the architect Ricard Giralt, who enlarged and improved it. Giralt also incorporated the monument on Narcís Monturiol, with sculptures by Enric Casanoves.
On 13 April 1919 the Unió Esportiva Figueres football team was created. In May 1920 the Municipal Forest Park was inaugurated, where 20 different species of trees were planted and it became the true lung of Figueres. That same year, the town hall created the municipal water company. On 12 July 1922 the Public Library of the Commonwealth of Catalonia was inaugurated. In 1922 the first line of motor buses was opened that went from Figueres to Pertús. In 1925, the royal road that crossed Figueres was paved. From 1900 to 1930 the population of Figueres increased by 32% to 14,106 inhabitants. The costumbrist photographer Narcís Roget widely documented this time of important transformation of Figueres in demographic growth, industrialization, creation of a civic culture, Catalanism, trade unionism and associations.
Republican Figueres (1931-1936)
On April 12, 1931, the Republican Socialist Federation of Empordà (FRSE), that was part of the coalition of Republican Left of Catalonia (cat. Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, ERC), won in the municipal elections. The participation was 64.5% and ERC obtained 66.75% of the votes. The new mayor was Marià Pujolà Vidal. On April 14, the Republic was proclaimed in Figueres. On August 8, 1931, the Statute of Autonomy (of Núria) was being voted, the participation was 70% and the result was as follows: votes in favor 2,328 (99.7%), votes against 6 (0.26%) and blank votes 1 (0.04%) On 19 November 1933 there were elections to the Cortes (it was the first time that people of Figueres were voting) and the result was of the triumph of ERC by 60.8% of the votes. On April 14, 1933, the Sant Pau Public School was inaugurated, which was the first city-owned school. The events of October 1934 did not have much echo in Figueres that did not support the proclamation of the Catalan State made by the President of the Generalitat Lluís Companys.
The Civil War in Figueres (1936-1939)
The Spanish coup of July 18, 1936 was not known until day 19. It he city there were 76 people murdered by anti-fascist militias from various labor unions (many of these militiamen were not from the city but had come from Girona and, above all, from Barcelona). On October 12, 1936, Figueres saw the arrival of the first group of volunteers of the International Brigades, who came to fight for the Republic (there were 500 men who came by train from Paris). On November 3, 1936 the city council (in the hands of the most radical sectors) agreed to the demolition of the parochial church of Sant Pere. The works began immediately: a total of 1,200 m² were destroyed: the bell tower, the presbytery and the crossing; only the gothic nave was left (since the money for the demolition run out). In June 1937 the construction of the current building of the Town Hall was completed.
On January 20, 1938, the first bombing of Figueres took place. It was the Nazi Germany planes that dropped about 30 bombs over the city but, fortunately, there was no victims. After 3 days the second and third bombings happened: the second was at midday, German aircrafts threw their bombs on the Park Bosc (cat. forest park) and the Passeig Nou. The third airstrike was in the afternoon, this time it was by planes of fascist Italy, after throwing their load of indiscriminate destruction they returned to their base at Son Sant Joan in Mallorca. These two attacks on January 23 caused 16 deaths. Figueres from January 20, 1939 to February 7, 1939 was bombed 18 times. These attacks resulted in a total of 281 deaths: 76 in 1938 and 205 in 1939 (in this last year only in 1 month and 7 days). These air raids destroyed 560 houses. On November 11, 1938, the farewell of the volunteers of the International Brigades took place in the city.
On January 23, 1939, the president of the government, Juan Negrín López, ordered the transfer of the Spanish government to Figueres. On the night of February 1, 1939 the city became the seat of the Republican Courts and the capital of the Republic. The session of parliament, which was nocturnal, was held at the Castle of Sant Ferran and was attended by 62 deputies from the total of 473 existing ones. On February 3, 1939, 150,000 people who were going to France passed through Figueres. That day the city and the castle were bombed 5 times and there were 82 fatal victims. The following days, the human flood that crossed Figueres towards France did not stop (for example, on February 4, around 100,000 people passed through the city). On February 5, Figueres was informed about the departure to France of: President Manuel Azaña Díaz, President of the Generalitat Lluís Companys and Jover, President José Antonio Aguirre and Lecube, and other members of the central and autonomic government.
In the evening, the streets of the city were totally deserted, since much of the population had left the city to flee almost constant bombings and the rest were hiding in the basements of houses or air raid shelters (in Figueres there were about 15 shelters, in 2013 the one of the Plaza del Gran was rediscovered which had capacity for 200 people). On February 8, at 8 p.m., there was a large explosion at the Castle of Sant Ferran, thousands of tons of stone were blown up into the air (some more than a kilometer away), a large part of the curtain wall disappeared as well as the monumental main door of neoclassical style. Those responsible for this terrible explosion were the artificers of the Republican army that destroyed much of the fortress’s powder so that it did not fall into the hands of Franco’s troops. That same day, at night, national troops entered the city. The war was over for the people of Figueres.
Figueres during the Franco’s dictatorship (1939-1975)
On February 9, 1939, the city looked horrifying: there were dead bodies on the streets, houses in ruins (23.4% of the buildings were destroyed), fires that were still burning, streets blocked by the rubble, the sewer and the water supply did not work, etc., but there was also the presence of an enemy army that had occupied the city and a dictatorial regime that wanted to judge and punish the ones that surrendered. On 19 February 1939, the Municipal Theater was involuntarily burned by soldiers of a tabor (battalion of indigenous soldiers and Spanish officials) of the Spanish Protectorate in Morocco, who were part of the units of the national army. The building was totally destroyed except for the outer walls.
The years from 1939 to 1955 were of great poverty. In 1949 the reconstruction work of the parish church of Sant Pere was completed, the new part was built in neo gothic style in order to tie it with the conserved part that was Gothic. Between 1943 and 1953 the construction of the new hospital was carried out.
At the end of the 50s, but above all, as of 1960, there was a growing arrival of foreign tourism in the region (French, German, Dutch, Swiss, etc.). Thanks to the increasing presence of these holiday-makers, a very satisfactory economic stage began for Figueres, which stood out as the economic and commercial center of the Alt Empordà. Also during the 60s and early 70s, the phenomenon of emigration from other areas of Spain (Andalusia, Extremadura, Murcia, etc.) towards Catalonia, and towards this city of Alt Empordà in particular, took place. The Costa Brava north was doing well and Figueres grew and strengthened.
In April 1971 the current headquarters of the Museu de l’Empordà (which had been created in 1947) was inaugurated on the lower part of the Rambla Figueres. With the increase of the population the city saw the appearance of new parishes, besides the oldest one of Sant Pere. In 1954, the Immaculada and the Sant Pau (the present temple was consecrated in 1962) were created and, later, the ones of the Bon Pastor (1966), the Sagrada Família (created in 1968, with the present church from 1989), and that of Santa Maria del Poble Nou (1975). On September 19, 1971, the city suffered a storm with 535 l/m² of rainfall in 24 hours, that caused great floods in Figueres and throughout the region. On May 11, 1972, the Monument to Pep Ventura was inaugurated, in the present President Tarradellas Square (the sculpture was the work of Llorenç Cairó). In October 1973, the second public school of Figueres was inaugurated: the Salvador Dalí.
On September 28, 1974, the Dalí Theater-Museum was inaugurated, on the remains of the old Municipal Theater. From the following year, 1975, Figueres had a Professional Training School, this center was named after the famous inventor citizen of Figueres: Narcís Monturiol. Also, in 1975, the town of Vilatenim and the village of Palol de Vila-Sacra (which until then had formed a municipality) joined the municipality of Figueres. During the Francoist years the city grew from just over 16,000 inhabitants to 28,000 a year from the death of the dictator (although the strongest growth was from 1960 to 1975).
Democratic Figueres (since 1976)
In 1975, the city had reached, as already mentioned, 28,102 inhabitants and still continues to increase its population (especially during the first decade of the 21st century). On December 15, 1976, a referendum was voted on the Political Reform in Spain and 75% of the electoral roll of Figueres voted yes. In the referendum of December 6, 1978 on the Constitution, 61.8% of the electoral roll of Figueres voted yes. The vote to approve the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia of 1979 counted 52.86% of the electoral roll that voted yes. The first municipal elections, in 1979, were won by the Socialist Party of Catalonia and the first democratic mayor was Josep Ma. Ametlla i Peris. In 1977 the pedestrian zone on the streets of the historic center was completed (this project began in 1969), around the City Hall Square. Soon the number of public schools in Figueres increased and passed, from having only 2 centers in 1976, to have 6 in 1984.
In 1978, the Institut Ramon Muntaner (which was the only one which was in Figueres and throughout the region) was complemented by a second institute that received the name of Alexandre Deulofeu. In 1982 the Toy Museum of Catalonia was inaugurated. In 1983 the former Lieutenant Colonel of the Guardia Civil Antonio Tejero Molina, who was one of the highest representatives of the frustrated attempt of coup d’etat of February 23, 1981 (more popularly known as the 23-F), was imprisoned in the castle of Sant Ferran (which then served as a military prison). In August 1986 the Municipal Stadium of Vilatenim was inaugurated, which was the new arena of the Unió Esportiva Figueres which in the 1985-86 season managed to move to the 2nd A Division of football. In the decade of the 80s, the death of the great painter Salvador Dalí should be mentioned, he died on January 23, 1989 and is buried in his museum.
In terms of politics, from 1979 to the elections in 2011 Figueres has been led by two political forces: Partit dels Socialistes de Catalunya (PSC) and Convergència i Unió (CiU).
Thus we can find four stages in the municipal policy: first, from 1979 to 1987 the majority votes go to the PSC ; Secondly , from 1987 until 1995 most are in the hands of CiU; Third, from 1995 to 2007, once again the Socialists enjoy the majority (stage of Joan Armangué i Ribas); Finally, from 2007 to 2015 the results turn to give the majority to the CiU (from 2007 to 2012, the mayor was Santi Vila Vicente and as of 2012 Marta Felip Torres).
During the year 2009 Figueres was the Capital of Catalan Culture.
Pep Ventura, l’home que va reformar la sardana i la va convertir en la dansa tradicional de Catalunya, va néixer a la ciutat andalusa l’any 1817.
“Figueres i Alcalà la Real: l’agermanament”, Ajuntament de Figueres
Ciutats agermanades, Ajuntament de Figueres
ROMERO,A. i RUIZ, J. Figueres. Girona, Quaderns de la Revista de Girona, núm. 34, 1992, p. 8.
«Localitzen restes de la “mansió romana Iuncaria” a l’Aigüeta». Setmanari de l’Alt Empordà, 29 maig 2007, p.44