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 city.

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.

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