THE BARCELONA CASINO WITH A CHILLING PAST
If you have ever found yourself doing the trek to Can Borrell in the Collserola mountains, you might have noticed a decrepit building along one of the bends on the Carretera de la Rabassada. Believe it or not, this used to be Barcelona’s biggest and most emblematic hotel and casino.
The Hotel de l’Arrabassada was inaugurated back in 1899 in Sant Cugat del Vallès, and was used exclusively by the Barcelona bourgeoisie as an idyllic getaway from the bustle of the city. At the time, Barcelona was smack in the middle of major expansion, so the hotel was the perfect setting to relax. For years, Barcelona’s wealthiest enjoyed the beautiful views and luxurious rooms, and its popularity grew and grew. So much so, that in 1908, a group of French investors came to see it themselves and decided to buy it. These investors had big ideas in mind for the unlimited, untouched land surrounding the hotel, and they made sure to unveil it all to big fanfare upon completion.
On July 15th, 1911, the new and improved Arrabassada was inaugurated. The inauguration was a huge event with 300 of Barcelona’s most important politicians, businessmen and journalists on hand. The star attraction was a grand, ornate casino. The casino wasn’t only huge, but, aside from its luxurious hotel, it also featured beautiful, exotic gardens, an amusement park featuring a two-kilometer rollercoaster and the best, most extravagant restaurant. In short, it was the getaway for anyone wealthy enough to afford it. The price tag on the construction was estimated at 2.5 million pesetas (around 15,000 euros today). This amount of money was unheard of at the time.
The restaurant at L’Arrabassada had the best Parisian chefs manning its kitchen. Its immaculate dance halls would fill with music from the casino orchestra. And, as for the casino itself, the Arrabassada became known as the place to come to play roulette.
While L’Arrabassada‘s early success was undeniable, it was destined to be short-lived. In 1923, Miguel Primo de Rivera banned gambling at the start of his dictatorship. Naturally, the first sector of the Arrabassada to crumble was the casino. It had a very slight rebirth when the World Expo of 1929 came to Barcelona, but with the arrival of Civil War in 1936, the hotel, restaurant and amusement park fell into ruins and were officially shut down and demolished following the end of the war in 1940.
All of this makes for an interesting story, but there is more here that you might find more riveting.
During the golden years of the casino, many people came to make small fortunes at its roulette tables. As you can imagine, not all of those who tried to win some money walked away with heftier pockets. There were many who would end up losing everything. This became so common that, according to the legend, the casino created a soundproof room nearby, equipped with a pistol, for those unlucky individuals who couldn’t stomach going home to face their families. These were the first of the ghosts that would inhabit the grounds.
The infamous Enriqueta Martí, the “Vampire of Barcelona,” is believed to have frequented the casino and hotel at night to provide her services—of the many things she was guilty of, one was the prostitution of children—to the wealthy who would pay her great sums of money.
We mentioned earlier that one of the culprits of the casino’s downfall was the Spanish Civil War. Before it was demolished, legend also says that the site was used as the headquarters for carrying out executions during the war.
These pieces of the legend are attributed to the hotel-casino grounds themselves, but it’s important to add that the Carretera de la Rabassada, the winding, mountain road on which the casino is located, is the most dangerous stretch of road in all of Catalonia.
For all of these reasons, people say that the site is haunted. Whether you believe these legends or not, it’s undeniable that upon walking past the ruins of this place, there is an eerie quality about them. A sign warning against trespassing on the grounds only helps contribute to its ominous aura.
It is possible to visit the ruins, however. In the past, MUHBA used to offer limited guided tours of the ruins, but now the only way is to explore the area on your own.
The question is: Are you up for it?
By EMILY BENSON
Photos by ISABEL TROYA
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