BARCELONA - HISTORY
When relating to the
history of Barcelona it is better to think in terms of the whole of
the Catalonia Province. In 1479 the death of King Enrique IV
of Castille brought Queen Isabel I (1479-504) to the throne
and due to her previous marriage to King Ferdinand II
(1479-1516) of Aragón there was created the beginnings of what is
known today as Spain. Of the two thrones it is possible that the most
important of the crowns at the time was the Kingdom of Aragón which
included the region of Cátalunia.
The period in which the town was founded is buried in history but it
is known that in the Bronze Age there was a Laietani tribe in the
Cátalunia region. Hasdrubal Barca, the son-in-law of
the famous Hannibal, created a Carthaginian settlement here
and gave it the name of Barca or Barcino. The Romans
after its capture in 133 BC renamed the place as Colonia Favencia
Julia Augusta Paterna Bacino. In the 4th Century the Romans
improved its defences by building thick town walls which later proved
insufficient against the Visigoth forces of Ataulf in 415 AD
took the city and named it Barcinoma.
In the Roman occupation of the Iberian Peninsular the capital of one
of the three areas was the City of Tarragona lying on the coast and
to the south of Barcelona. However, in the 5th Century when the
Visigoths replaced the Romans they moved their capital to the present
Barcelona. History informs us that the inhabitant’s individual
identity and their own language became initially established about
the year 801 when the Emperor Charlemagne’s son King Louis
captured northern Catalonia. In 874 a new Frankish King Charles
the Bald granted independence to Count Wilfred the
Hairy, who created the County of Barcelona which bordered to the
west and south on a collection of autonomous group of Moorish States.
In 1118 the King Alfonso I of the new kingdom of Aragón took
Zaragossa to make it his own capital. Later his niece Petronilla
was married to Count Ramón Berenguer IV ruler of the Cátalan
Province thus making one large Kingdom of Aragón. Within decades the
power base of Aragón moved from Zaragoza to Barcelona. The fiercely
independent attitude of Cátalan subjects is emphasized by the
extraordinary and unique oath of allegiance given to their Kings.
The literally translation is:
We, who are as good as you, swear to you who are no better than
we, to accept you as our king and sovereign lord, providing you
observe all our liberties and laws; but, if not, not.
During the 12th Century to the end of the 14th Century the Catalans
based in Barcelona controlled and commercially exploited a empire
that included the Balearic Islands, Sicily, Malta, Sardinia, most of
Greece and a minor segment of France. Also, their maritime control
was so great that most of the Mediterranean trade was regulated by
them. In fact, King Jaume I in 1259 compiled and established
Europe’s first maritime code, Llibre del Consulat del Mar. In
the early 14th Century the fighting and marine qualities of the
people of Cátalunia was legendary throughout the Mediterranean with
the most opulent city in all of the peninsular with a very large
shipbuilding industry and its boats sailing to places such as the
Black Sea and down as far as Senegal on the west coast of Africa.
In 1391 there is recorded a massacre of the Jewish citizens of the
Although the Kingdoms of Castille and Aragón were brought together
under the rule of King Fernando and Queen Isabel they
were governed through two independent systems. In Castille the
system of Cortes (Parliament) and the nobles were strongly
influenced by the throne, whilst in Aragón, towns such as Barcelona
and Valencia governed themselves through their own Parliaments. The
Aragón right of self-determination had to be respected! A man of
the times was an Aragón cardinal by the name of Pedro de Luna.
He somehow arranged to be elected as Pope Benedict XIII but
his teachings were soon thought to be anti-pope. When he was
requested to abdicate in 1409 he refused and had to be forcibility
removed, retiring to Peñiscola and subsequent obscurity.
The beginning of the 15th Century brought a complete change to the
fortunes of the Cátalans which now covered an area that included the
regions of Barcelona, Zaragoza and Valencia. Causes for their
collapse were many and included bad financial speculation, plaque,
the Genoese competition, unsettled home rule, and importantly the
skilful manipulations of the developing Genoese traders. The heirs
to the now crown of Castile, Aragón and Cátalunia, were intent on
raising more taxes to furnish their vast imperial building needs and
conveniently ignoring the oncoming bankruptcy of their State. It is
recorded that Queen Isabel specifically issued a codicil in
her will prohibiting Catalan merchants from trading with the New
World, as their American conquests were known. It was in the
royal court in Barcelona in 1492 that the explorer Christopher
Columbus first retuned from his famous voyage announcing his
discovery of the New World.
The situation in Cátalunia in the early1600s was such that the
people were rebelling against the power of King Felipe IV and
the constant battles between Spain and France and also seeking once
more their independence. In 1652 rebellion broke out between the
crown and Cátalunia as it is referred to as the Guerra de Segadors
(Reapers’ War 1640-1652). At first King Louis XIII of France
sent troops to support Barcelona but later made a Treaty with Spain
that handed over Cátalunia back to Felipe IV with the sole
exception of the northeast corner which was ceded to France.
The rule of King Carlos II of Spain (1665-1700), heralded a
period of disliked taxation brought about by the King’s favourite
the Count-Duke of Olivares. The Cátalans took the law into
their own right and after a long series of uprisings eventually
murdered in 1640 the Castilian Viceroy, the Count of Santa
Coloma, and placed themselves under the protection of France.
King Louis XIII of France was named as the new Count of
Barcelona. Castille reacted by sending a force which was then
defeated by a French-Cátalan army on Montjuich in Barcelona. It
took twelve years for the Catalans to find that they were no better
off with the Bourbon Kings, and returned back to the fold.
The first Bourbon King Felipe V of Spain (1700-1724), decided
shortly after taking the throne in to exercise his power and change
the medieval style of government much to the dislike of all of his
subjects. Barcelona decided to mistakenly support the claims of
Archduke Charles against the Bourbon pretender King Felipe
V in the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1713). When the English
abandoned the cause by making peace with France in 1711, the
Catalans continued in their independent struggle until all was lost
in 1714 and they eventually surrendered their capitol of Barcelona.
Barcelona fell to the army of the king in the same year and the King
vowed revenge. Destroying a large section of the city and its
inhabitants he had a large ugly fortress built called the La
Ciudadela to remind the citizens who was their ruler. In 1778
the crown gave permission for Cátalunia to trade with the American
colonies which once more brought wealth back to Barcelona.
More or less accepting their fate, the upper classes of the Cátalans
quickly realized that past independence was closely allied with
financial security and set about rebuilding their industries and
eventually making Cátalunia once again the centre of industrial
power in Spain. It is interesting to note that when the French
invaded Spain in 1808 and also during the Spanish War of Independence
(1808-1813) that followed, the Catalans lent their full support to
the return of the House of Bourbon.
In 1874 a Catalan by the name of General Prim declared with
his followers that Spain was to be a Republic. He quickly lost the
support and the Second Carlist War commenced. This was short
lived and a compromise was reached between the battling parties
when General Martinez Campos placed the Bourbons back on the
throne as his puppets in 1876. A settlement between the two sides
was drawn up and when basically translated it allowed each side to
share the power alternatively. During the next three decades the
Spain blossomed economically and culturally. At this time Barcelona
had the good fortune to have as its city mayor Francesco de
Paula Ruis i Taulet whose forward thinking ideas created the
Barcelona Great Exposition in 1888 having removed all trace of the
hated fortress La Ciudadela constructed under Felipe V
Each region, the Catalans, the Basques and the Andalusia, all
developed their own industry and commerce and found some political
freedom - Liberals, Nationalists, Republicans, Socialists,
Communists, and the party of the Anarchist CNT.
This was particularly true for the Cátalans as from the 1860s.
Powerful poems by such as Jacinto Verdaguer and Joan
Maragall inspired the ordinary people with strong nationalistic
feelings and embraced most political barriers. The effect was
twofold, an impressive new and long period of artistic creativity
and at the same emotional industrial unrest. The later was so
strong that it became an opportune example to the rest of Europe.
Extremes manifested themselves in all areas including education,
religion and the workplace. Riots became commonplace and anti-church
demonstrations occurred in 1835, 1909 and in 1920s. These riots were
far from peaceful and blood was often shed to the point of death.
The revolt of 7 days in 1909 has been recorded as the Setmana
Trágica” with over 100 buildings badly damaged and over 100 dead.
Barcelona in the 1920s was known as the most radical and bloody
place in Europe and acquired the nickname Barcelona – anarchism’s
rose of fire. At the height of unrest the owners hired assassins
to murder troublesome Union leaders. Meanwhile, the population of the
city had expanded from a mere in 110,000 in the beginning of the
1800s to over a million by 1930 mainly due to the demand for labour
in its industrial expansion.
When King Alfonso XIII (1902-1931) was forced to abdicate in
1931, Cátalunia decided to declare itself as a Republic in the
nonexistent Federation of Iberia. This desire for independence
of Madrid encouraged other cities and helped to create the most
ungovernable state of Spain which in turn in 1936 led to the costly
Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). Barcelona and the Catalans
became the font of the Republican’s cause. When the Nationalist
leader General Goded arrived from Mallorca the Republicans
were already armed and in control of their city. He was arrested and
later shot. In the beginning period of the war the POUM (Workers
Marxist Unification Party), ruled the town with a severe hard hand.
In 1937 disagreement between extremist factions lead to a three day
killing spree in the streets which left over 1,500 dead. Later
Barcelona was to be ruled by the Republicans in the Genralitat
and the political party CNT with Lluis Companys at the head.
There are countless books available which recount the many sad
atrocities that were committed during this period. Someone had the
crazy idea to pour quantities of petrol over the famous stone
Sagrada Familia by Architect Gaudi, happily for
history this proved a dismal failure and this outstanding work was
saved. The author George Orwell recorded in 1936 that the
population of Barcelona had taken an extreme Republican stand with
everyone becoming a part of a classless society in which even the
doctors and lawyers wore overalls to hide their identity. At the
end of the war in 1939 with the fall of Barcelona to General
Franco’s Nationalist army, many thousands of its inhabitants
escaped at great speed to exile in France. The General immediately
banned the Cátalan language from schools, its books, and even its
traditional dance the Sardana. To replenish the drop in
population Franco found an answer to another problem. The
unemployed rural families from Andalucía were moved to Cátalunia to
fill this gap but the success of this idea is still in doubt as
many of the new immigrants adopted a typical Catalonian political
craving for independence.
Once again the powerful Barcelona families applied their skills and
it was not too long before their industries were once more up and
running creating many jobs and not only attracting back its previous
labour force but also a new wave of immigrants. Much as the strong
dictatorial power of General Franco (1939-1975), tried to
suppress the Cátalans the impressive strength of their craving for
self-independence was never extinguished. Quickly as possible after
the death of General Franco the inhabitants of Cátalunia
restored their language and their own culture and the rule through
the Generalitat. In 1992 the city was the host for the Summer
Olympics which was also used by the city mayor Pasqual Maragall
to reorganize the city districts and clear up many of the its ugly
districts. With the economic crisis in Spain in 2012 the population
once again demonstrated in the streets demanding independence from
Madrid's central rule.
Today, Barcelona is as always, a city
vibrant with its traditions, contrasts, passion and endeavour.
The Cátalan language is spoken by some six million people and should
not be taken as a dialect of the Spanish language. It has its own
grammar which is complicated, its own spelling, and when spoken it
is gives the impression of being a cocktail of Spanish, Portuguese,
French and French-Provençal. Officially the Province of Cátalunia is
bilingual but many signs, including most street directions, are only
displayed in the Cátalan language.