I would call La Modelo sort of the Alcatraz of Barcelona, and free public visits were recently offered as it is now out-of-date, closed, empty, eerie, haunted, and scheduled for a major gutting and/or demolition. So off we went.
Both Alcatraz and La Modelo (la Model in Catalan) are islands of a sort…the first surrounded by water, the latter surrounded by city. And both are historical icons for their respective cultures.
Alcatraz, however, only lasted 29 years or so and proved to be too expensive to operate for the relatively few number of convicts. La Modelo, on the other hand, was an enlightened (for the time) attempt to treat prisioners in a way that might lead to rehabilitation (imagine that!) and it stayed in business for 113 years. Despite the intentions, the Barcelona facility was certainly not always used in the most enlightened of ways as political prisoners were frequent guests.
And then there was the one in-house execution by garrote vil with which I now have a sort of personal connection. More on that with the images that follow below the break.
But, for all that, it really was supposed to be a “model prison”, thus the name. Take a look at the design in the picture-of-a-picture above and note the six radiating wings which held prisoners, each wing dedicated to certain types of cons based on their characteristics and behavior. Especially note the tall tower in the middle. This was Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon concept (late 18th centiry) brought to life. It was all about control, observation, and subjugation of all prisoners from that one central, elevated, point–the all-seeing eye.
La Modelo ceased operations just this past June and the air was still heavy with history and tragedy.
Here are a few photographs from our visit, along with commentary–including the story of my personal connection to that execution I mentioned. For the curious photog, all of these were handheld shots captured by the small Sony RX100iv, often at ISO 1600 when indoors… Click here if you would like to read on and see the prison images.