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The laundry of Horta and its laundresses

La bugadera! Who has clothes to wash?” This is how the ladies of the Horta laundry used to call out in the streets. Back then, people didn’t have washing machines at home, and doing laundry was a tedious task. So, what did you do if you had money? You had your clothes washed and neatly folded by professional hands. While this profession has long vanished from the streets, there’s still a street in Barcelona where the life and struggles of these ladies are still palpable. If you’re curious about this hidden gem and the story of the Horta laundry, read on!

The Horta Laundry in Barcelona
The Horta Laundry in Barcelona

A Water Problem (or Fortune)

While Barcelona’s residents struggled with a lack of running water and space for doing laundry, the then-village of Horta had an abundance of water. Horta in the 18th century was a small agricultural village with farms and a few small factories for pottery and leather. The worker’s wives contributed to the family finances by washing clothes for wealthy Barcelonians.

Horta was privileged in having various streams and clean water sources. Most houses were near rivers, with their own wells and large laundry areas in the garden for washing and drying clothes extensively in the sun.

But what if you didn’t have money? The working-class laundry was done in the city at public and private laundries. You could find these near the baths at Estació de França and around the Santa Caterina market (near Plaça Sant Agustí Vell and Carrer Tantarantana, 4). Most laundries had no space to hang clothes, so people had to take the wet laundry home to hang on their own terraces.

The Profession of ‘la bugadera

The most important profession in Horta between the 18th and early 20th century was that of the ‘bugadera,’ or laundress. With no public laundresses in Barcelona, there was a high demand, especially from affluent people, churches, and hospitals with lots of laundry but often unable to wash it themselves. The Horta ladies saw a market opportunity and, utilizing their knowledge and water sources, started building this thriving industry at a time when women were expected to stay home. By the early 18th century, there were already over 80 laundries, and by the 19th century, 370. Horta thus became known as the valley of laundries and their pioneering women.

But what was a workweek like for these laundresses? On Monday morning, they walked 7 kilometers in a group to Barcelona to collect dirty laundry from wealthy families. They came with a wagon carrying bags of clothes, though they also carried bundles. The loading happened at their gathering place on Carrer Tapinteria. At the end of the day, they returned to Horta, sorting clothes by color and spending long hours with their hands in icy water, bleach, and dye to clean them. It was a long and arduous task, especially considering the lack of modern conveniences like toilet paper, sanitary pads, or diapers.

Interesting fact: soap was made at home using oil remnants, while other materials were bought from a drugstore on Carrer d’Horta, where Pastisseria Mayol is now.

Afterward, clothes were rinsed, dried, folded, and counted. On Saturday, they brought clean laundry back to Barcelona, again on foot.

The Horta Laundry Today

While most of Horta’s laundries and wells haven’t survived time, there’s still a place in the neighborhood that takes you back to the days of the bugaderes. Known as the ‘bugaderia d’Horta,’ Carrer d’Aiguafeda, with its low, colorful worker’s houses, wells, and gardens, is a hidden gem that best showcases the area’s history.

In the now-peaceful Carrer d’Aiguafreda, where many of these laundresses used to live, there’s a walking path in their backyards where you can see the old washbasins, wells with buckets, and vegetable gardens where laundry was dried. In front of the quaint houses, you’ll find beautiful old tiles and plenty of flower pots, completing the picture.

Houses of the Bugaderes d’Horta
Houses of the Bugaderes d’Horta

I love getting lost here, and luckily for me, this is just around the corner from my parents’ house. Walking through the peaceful Carrer d’Aiguafreda, with the story of the bugaderes in mind, it’s hard to imagine how busy it must have been here. The street, which is named ‘cold water,’ is now visited only by its residents and a few curious people. There are two entrances to get here: one is an alley between two houses on Carrer de Granollers, and the other (easier to find and where you can possibly park your car) is at the Plaça de les Bugaderes d’Horta.

Old Washbasins
Old Washbasins

Although the place now may look rundown and old, to me, it’s magical. A space where the last remnants of this profession are still clearly visible. A profession that disappeared in the 1950s when homes got running water and laundry rooms, and the first electric washing machines entered the market.

A Magical Place
A Magical Place

If you’ve never been to Horta or are unfamiliar with Carrer d’Aiguafreda, I recommend you visit and witness this unique spectacle!

Practical Information

  • What: Discover the bugaderes d’Horta in Carrer d’Aiguafreda
  • Where: Carrer d’Aiguafreda (entrance via Carrer de Granollers or Plaça de les Bugaderes d’Horta)
  • Metro: Horta (L5)
  • Price: Free

Note: This is a residential area, and you’re entering the space of the residents, so please be careful and keep noise to a minimum during your visit. Otherwise, a fence might be erected, and we could lose the opportunity to enjoy this magical place.

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Hello! My name is Marta, and I am a born and raised Barcelonian. I love introducing people to Barcelona, especially the Barcelona known to locals. In Barcelona, I am always looking for fun places and tips that I can then share with you, with the goal of helping you experience Barcelona like a local.

Marta Rubio

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