The Raval neighbourhood of Barcelona’s Old City in recent times has seen a surge of attention for a number of reasons. The last 15 years have seen an amazing overhaul in terms of popular culture, music and nightlife. No other part of the city, for example, is lucky enough to have a 4 tonne CAT watching over its main street (I am referring of course to La Rambla del Raval – and the fantastic ‘el Gato’ sculpture by renowned Colombian sculptor Fernando Botero). An apt place for a cool cat – Rambla del Raval is the beating artery of the barrio, with a plethora of swish bars and restaurants amidst an ethnic feel – we are talking about one of the most integrated neighborhoods in all of Europe with over 50 different ethnic groups of first or second generation citizens calling it home.
However, it wasn’t always so pleasing to the eyes and ears. Initially post-Industrial Revolution boom, El Raval essentially functioned as an overspill – with numerous living blocks hurriedly mashed together west of the larger Las Ramblas that bisects the city and with an influx of workers from all corners of the country, the population surged from 1880 to 1920. However, with this influx came social problems – high crime rates, drug-deaths, and illegal prostitution. In the midst of all this – a VAMPIRE stalked the markets. Now, many students or indeed native speakers of English can likely point with affection to many an hour spent gushing over an ‘idealised’ version of the vampire in shows such as ‘Twilight,’ where Robert Pattinson cemented himself as a sex symbol. Similarly before this, although with her playing the hunter of vampires, Sarah Michelle Gellar set many young male pulses racing with a wonderful turn in ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’ All well and good for science-fiction, but for real vampire stories, where does one go? That is a long topic, stretching across the world, but outside of Transylvania, an urban vampire wrought a reign of terror in Barcelona in 1912.
I am talking about Enriqueta Martí, who lived in 29 Calle Ponent (today Calle Joaquin Costa). Working to make ends meet as a prostitute, Martí had a hobby that left an indelible mark on the city – abducting children, killing them, drinking their blood, but that wasn’t all. With the copious amounts of accumulated bones from her kills, she crushed them into powder, inserting them into a pre-made gel, and sold this concoction as an ‘anti-aging cream’ from which she made modest financial gains and could quit her day job! And yet it was the method of abduction of the children that most shows her horrific ingenuity – she would dress as a ‘kindly but frail’ old lady, walk up and down the markets of el Raval, luring children away from their games with promises of sweets and chocolates. She was eventually caught in late November of that year due to one of the abducted children appearing in the window of the apartment, and from across the street a neighbour recognized her as a missing child. The police were called, and Martí was apprehended on her way back home later that evening. Overall, the police found the bones of what is estimated to be ten of the children killed, but thankfully her luck ran out that cold November evening. Martí went to prison but died of uterus cancer while awaiting trial, a suitably grim end to the tale. Not for the faint of heart, but grist to the mill for anyone looking for anecdotes about Barcelona’s darker underbelly.