Ultra Swank - Retro Adventures

Avenue of Light – The Lost Underground Shopping Mall of Barcelona

Written by Christopher • April 9th, 2015
Avenue of Light – The Lost Underground Shopping Mall of Barcelona

Avinguda de la Llum — The avenue around 1980

The historically and culturally rich city Barcelona in Spain dates back to Roman times and holds many secrets, but even this one was new for me. Having lived here for quite a few years I thought I knew about most of the well known places from the past, but this lost underground shopping mall just appeared out of the depths one night.

Knowing that Barcelona is somewhat like a Swiss-cheese when it comes to underground locations; from train stations, subway lines, parking garages and Roman ruins – it sometimes feels like living on top of multiple levels of subterranean infrastructure and historic places – a feeling I bet many Parisians also can relate to.

The Avenue of Light, or Avenida de la Luz in Spanish (Avinguda de la Llum in Catalan) was opened in 1940 as the first underground shopping mall in Barcelona, possibly one of the first in Europe. It was quite unique and got its name from the brightly lit 10 meter wide and 175 meter long passageway that was located right under one of the main shopping streets of the city and connected to the big Plaça de Catalunya (Catalonia Square) at one end.

The avenue was bordered by two rows of double columns on either side and featured many shops, bars, a barber, offices and a cinema. At both ends were the entrance halls for the train station beneath, which still exists and is operational today. However, in the 1960s the Avenue of Light started seeing a slow process of decline which was further materialized in the 1980s when it was the home of countless homeless people.

Avinguda de la Llum was finally closed in 1990. Two years later, when Barcelona was home of the Olympics, the remaining small part of it was sealed up. The street above it was changed and a big shopping complex called El Triangle was built which incorporated a chunk of the avenue beneath as store space. Today you can still experience this part by venturing down to the Sephora store were the rows of double columns and ceiling of the old passageway are still visible.

You can also see parts of the avenue in the Spanish movie Bilbao from 1978 directed Bigas Luna where the protagonist gets a unhealthy obsession with a prostitute called Bilbao.

Above: Scene from the movie Bilbao by Bigas Luna, 1978.

Above: Music video by Loquillo Y Los Trogloditas performing Avenida De La Luz in 1984. In the video you can see various establishments of the Avenue of Light, Bazar Orozar (2:32 minutes), the photo shop (2:39 minutes), La Casa Chiva (3:18 minutes) and the Cinema (4:14 minutes).

Above: Avinguda de la Llum — An artists rendering of the look of the avenue during its first years

Above: Avinguda de la Llum — Floor plan showing the layout of the shopping center along with all entrances and stairs down to the train station underneath

Above: Avinguda de la Llum — View from the lobby side of Las Ramblas around 1953. At both its ends were the halls of the train station

Above: Avinguda de la Llum — The entrance from Balmes street end around 1953. This area was used as the entrance hall of the terminal platforms for travelers accessed by stairs from Bergara and Balmes street

Above: Avinguda de la Llum — The bar used to be always quite busy since it allowed some time to get a drink while waiting for the departure of trains to Sabadell and Terrassa. Photo from 1953

Above: Avinguda de la Llum — On the left are the ticket windows and to the right cinema posters announces the Avenida de la Luz film “Piel Canela” starring Sara Montiel released in 1953

Above: Avinguda de la Llum — The look of the avenue around 1985, at the height of its decline

Above: Avinguda de la Llum — The old cinema ‘Cine Avenida de la Luz’ around 1943

Above: Avinguda de la Llum — The cinema was later turned into an adult theatre called SalaX

Above: Avinguda de la Llum — The store Audiolens opened in 1971

Above: Avinguda de la Llum — Still from the movie Bilbao from 1978

Above: Avinguda de la Llum — Still from the movie Bilbao from 1978

Above: Avinguda de la Llum — The avenue around 1980

Above: Avinguda de la Llum — Sephora incorporates part of the old avenue

Above: Avinguda de la Llum — The entrance to the sealed up cinema today as seen from the mezzanine of the FGC train station. Photo by equipatgedema.cat

Christopher

Christopher founded Ultra Swank in 2005. Has a crush on mid-century graphic design, defunct airlines, Disneyland and the Century 21 Exposition. Is a collector of easy listening music from the 60s and 70s and a Swedish expat living in Barcelona, Spain.

Find out more about Christopher

  • Patricia Greenwood

    Great article. The building of this unique shopping area coincides with the war (II) years and I’m wondering if that’s one of the reasons they may have gone underground, like the fall out shelters in the USA …

  • They had originally plans for a whole underground city, but plans were abandoned when they noticed the decline of this place. The whole avenue was actually constructed in 1929 along with the train station but was not put into use until 11 years after.

  • Impresionante documento, de todas las fotos me quedo con la del cine, no sé porqué pero tiene un encanto especial, de algún modo conserva esa magia de cuando éramos pequeños e íbamos a entrar a un cine.

    Por cierto, aunque sigo la web hace varios años creo que es la primera vez que comento, pero es que hacía algunos mese que, por trabajo no entraba, y está de lujo.

  • Gracias Elvis! Recuerdas algo que no he mencionado ya?

  • Sad when plans fail in the long run.

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