Vintage Spain: Remarkable Photographs from the Early 20th Century

Published February 1, 2015
Updated February 8, 2018

Salvador Dalí left Catalonia for Madrid in 1922. These vintage Spain photos give us a peek as to what he might have seen in the capital city.

Salvador Dalí was born in Catalonia in 1904, and he moved to Madrid in 1922 at the age of 18. What did his country look like during those years? The photos below show a glimpse of Spain in the first decades of the 20th century.

Salvador Dali's Family As A Kid

The Dalí family, when Salvador was six. The little surrealist is the boy with the buzz cut in the middle. (1910) Source: Salvador Dalí

It was a time of uncertainty, yet also an era of profound creative energy across Spain. In Madrid, for instance, Dalí fell in with a community of artistic luminaries and developed friendships with the poet Federico García Lorca and filmmaker Luis Buñuel. In Barcelona, the other great surrealist, Joan Miró, held his first exhibition in 1918. In 1923, a young American journalist named Ernest Hemingway ran with the bulls for the first time in Pamplona. Three years later, he published The Sun Also Rises.

Vintage Spain Photos

A stereoscopic image of Madrid at the dawn of the 20th century. (1906) Source: Viejo Madrid

But growing political and cultural rifts in the fabric of Spanish society were pushing the nation toward crisis. In 1936, Spain began a gruesome civil war. Like so many others, the poet Federico García Lorca was executed by firing squad and buried in an unmarked ditch. At the end of the conflict, General Francisco Franco took control of the country. His authoritarian regime would rule Spain for the next four decades. The scars from that era’s repression and isolation remain raw to this day.

After the Franco dictatorship began, the French writer and philosopher Albert Camus wrote in a letter to a friend,

“It was in Spain that [my generation] learned that one can be right and yet be beaten, that force can vanquish spirit, that there are times when courage is not its own recompense. It is this, doubtless, which explains why so many, the world over, feel the Spanish drama as a personal tragedy.”

The photos below show Spain as it was before that tragedy unfolded.

1920s Spain

A guitar player and young girl in Granada as photographed by Jules Gervais Courtellemont. (1929) Source: National Geographic

Carnaval de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria

Young women dressed up in preparation for the Carnaval de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, which has been celebrated for 500 years and continues today. (1910) Source: Wikimedia

Barcelona In 1905

The newly built funicular climbing to the summit of Tibidabo, a mountain with views over Barcelona. (c. 1905) Biblioteca Nacional de España

Jules Gervais Courtellemont Photo

Jules Gervais Courtellemont’s portrait of a Barcelona flower seller in La Rambla. (1929)
Source: Found

Madrid In The 1900s

Tram cars crisscrossing Puerta del Sol in the heart of Madrid. (c. 1906) Source: Viejo Madrid

Calle Montera

Madrileñas protecting themselves from the sun with umbrellas as they cross Calle de La Montera. (1907) Source: Viejo Madrid

El Rastro

El Rastro, Madrid’s oldest outdoor market which still continues every Sunday. (1929) Source: Viejo Madrid

Turkeys In Madrid

A woman herding turkeys across Madrid’s Plaza de Santa Cruz. (1925) Source: Viejo Madrid

Calle Toledo 1920

A man with a coffee roaster on the sidewalk of Calle Toledo, Madrid. (1920) Source: Viejo Madrid

Madrid Protest In The 190s

Police leading away an apparently injured man following protests in Madrid on May 1, with the Metropolis Building in the background. (1918)
Source: Viejo Madrid

Metropolis Building in Madrid

The Metropolis Building in Madrid, just after construction concluded. (1910)
Source: Viejo Madrid

Vintage Spain Salamanca Trajes

Popular clothing in Salamanca in the 1920s: the candelaria, the charra and charro, and the serrana as photographed by Venancio Gombau. (1928)
Source: Biblioteca Digital

Vintage Spain Salamanca

Venancio Gombau’s portrait of a woman posing in a charra. (early 20th century)
Source: Biblioteca Digital

Santander Beach

Beachgoers in Santander in the north of Spain. (c. 1905) Source: Biblioteca Nacional de España

Vintage Spain Santiago de Compostela

The Plaza de Cervantes in the Galician city of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. (c. 1905)
Source: Biblioteca Nacional de España

Vintage Spain Toledo

Jules Gervais Courtellemont’s autochrome portrait of a woman from the province of Toledo. (1924)
Source: Found

John has been writing for All That Is Interesting since 2014 and now lives in Madrid, Spain, where he writes and consults on international development projects in East Africa.
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