This was the "unforgettable" visit to Barcelona by Alexander Fleming, the father of penicillin

Lectures, gala dinners, a concert, a football match.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
25 May 2023 Thursday 22:50
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This was the "unforgettable" visit to Barcelona by Alexander Fleming, the father of penicillin

Lectures, gala dinners, a concert, a football match... are some of the events that were part of a tight program on the occasion of the visit to Barcelona of one of the most famous scientists in history, Alexander Fleming, the father of penicillin. . The Nobel Prize winner landed in the Catalan capital from Geneva 75 years ago, on May 26, 1948. The illustrious character came with his wife and they were received by local authorities and other personalities from the world of medicine, such as Dr. Lluís Trias Bes, a key figure for him to come and at that time director of the city's Municipal Hospital for Infectious Diseases, which today is the Hospital del Mar. The scientific community of this center promoted the doctor's invitation through the City Council, which declared the city's guest of honor.

In addition to the series of lectures offered, such as the one at the Royal Academy of Medicine where he was named an honorary academic, he had time for recreational activities and was the subject of various tributes. The distinguished researcher centered the news agenda those days. La Vanguardia echoed in different articles of his stay. Even the journalist Horacio Saenz Guerrero obtained exclusive statements from him. "In no country that I have visited have I been received as cordially as here," he told this newspaper.

Like almost any visitor before leaving Barcelona, ​​Fleming toured the Rambla on foot, where he received “constant ovations from the public”, described the chronicles of the time. The samples of recognition were especially highlighted by the florists. In an article, Lluís Permanyer interviewed Carolina, a florist who gave the bacteriologist a bouquet of flowers: “The biggest one I had on hand,” he said. The post is still on the popular promenade run by his descendants. In a handwritten note addressed to Mayor José M. de Albert, Baron de Terrades, the doctor pointed out that “Barcelona is certainly a city of flowers and beautiful flowers bring joy to the heart”.

After La Rambla, he went to the cathedral where he learned first-hand in the cloister the traditional custom of l'ou com balla on Corpus Christi.

The University of Barcelona was another institution that paid tribute to the professor and after finishing the act he even signed "numerous autographs". Other events he attended: a football match at the Montjuïc stadium between Spain and Ireland, a bullfight in the Plaza Monumental or a concert at the Palau de la Música.

The Contemporary Municipal Archive of Barcelona preserves the file of Fleming's visit to the city, which contains the detailed program of his stay day by day, as well as the list of expenses and photographs of the acts. For example, thanks to this documentation, the costs associated with his arrival and his stay in the city are known. He amounted to 100,927, 85 pesetas. The file details tickets such as the purchase of a suitcase for Fleming for 170 pesetas, the rental of a thousand chairs for 1,900 pesetas for a tribute act with a folkloric show at Poble Espanyol or a box of chocolates for 250 pesetas at the prestigious Prats-Fatjó pastry shop when it was located on Passeig de Gràcia. There are also bills for his accommodation at the Ritz Hotel, the current Palace, on Gran Via.

As for gastronomy, he ate in restaurants such as Palacio Miramar and Can Solé de la Barceloneta. In this sense, the minutes of the gala dinner offered by the City Council are preserved. The menu consisted of a king prawn timbale with Nantúa sauce, medallions of Foie gras des Landes in Porto, roasted pulardas, asparagus salad and for dessert American pineapple with ice cream. During the meal, Fleming made a speech that is preserved in typescript in the archive. He recognized that at some point the "constant" affection of the people of Barcelona was "embarrassing". “What has never happened to us yet in any of the many cities we have visited is the spontaneous demonstration of affection on the part of all social classes that has taken place in Barcelona”, he affirmed.

“This spontaneous display of affection is surely the best memory we take from our visit to Barcelona. I can assure you that it remains firmly engraved in our hearts and will be unforgettable for us”, he added.

During his stay in Barcelona he also visited Montserrat and Sitges. After almost two weeks, on June 7, 1948, he left the city for Seville.