Situated in the north-east of the Iberian peninsula, with the Pyrenean natural border separating it from France to the north, and bordered by the Mediterranean sea to the east, and the autonomous communities of Aragón and Valencia to the west and south, respectively, Catalonia (Catalunya to its inhabitants) is a nation of 6 million people, occupying a 32,000 km2 territory. Its Mediterranean climate boasts an average annual temperature of 15.6° C, 9.9° in the winter and 23.5° C in the summer.
Barcelona's history is closely linked to that of Catalonia. However, while Catalonia's history as a national body is considered to start in the 9th century AD, there is archaeological evidence of a much earlier Barcelona.
During the 4th , 3rd and 2nd centuries BC the hills situated in the so- called "Pla de Barcelona" (plain), an area enclosed between the Mediterranean sea, the rivers Besós and Llobregat, and the Sierra of Collserola were clustered with small villages.
The Laietanians occupied the area of Barcelona. During the reign of Emperor Augustus, the Roman colony of Julia Augusta Favencia Paterna Barcino was established, and the above-mentioned territory became a part of Hispania Citerior, whose capital was Tarraco (today's Tarragona). Numerous remains of the ancient Roman colony can still be admired today, such as certain parts of the fortified wall that surrounded the City, the temple of Augustus, the Necropolis, and a number of remains of structures that can be seen at the Museu d'Història de la Ciutat (underground floor).
In the 5th century AD, the Roman colony of Barcino, like the whole of Roman Hispania and Gaul, was invaded by the Visigoths, who came from the north of Europe, and gave the title of capital to Toledo, a fact that provoked a period of decline for Barcelona.
The city was invaded by the Muslims in the 8th century, without their stay in the city causing major consequences. Later, in 801, driven by Louis the Pious, the Franks conquered Barcelona, which became a part of their empire's southern March, the so-called "Hispanic March". Once this territory was divided into counties, Borrell the 2nd (950-992) separated it "de facto" from the Frank empire, and consequently, Barcelona became the capital of an independent state in 988.
The marriage of Ramón Berenguer the 4th and Petronila, queen of Aragón, brought about the union of Catalonia and the kingdom of Aragón, starting a period of expansion and the conquest of territories, in what is now the south of France.
Jaume I "The Conqueror" (1213-1276) changed the direction of the expansion towards the Mediterranean, absorbing the island of Mallorca, Ibiza and territories of the Kingdom of Valencia; Barcelona also expanded and a second fortified wall was constructed.
Martin "the Human" died in 1410 without heirs and in 1412 the decision was made, in Caspe, to elect Fernando as King, thus switching the dynasty to that of the Trastamara, of Castilian origin.
In the following period, the City established itself from a legal and administrative point of view, with the creation of its own government, the Generalitat. Fernando the 2nd (1479-1516) then took the throne and, by marrying Isabel of Castile, the Aragonese Crown (as the union of the kingdoms of Catalonia, Aragón, Valencia and Mallorca was called) became united to that of Castile, and Barcelona stopped being the seat of the monarchy. Furthermore, the discovery of America shifted the Crown's economical interests from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic shores, grinding the Aragonese Crown and Barcelona's economy to a halt and subsequent decadence.
During the reign of the house of Austria, the monarchs lived far from Barcelona.
In 1702, as Carlos the 2nd died without heirs, yet another succession problem arose. Catalonia favoured the Archduke Carlos of Austria, while the rest of Spain stood for Felipe of Anjou, the French pretender to the Spanish throne, with the subsequent conflict between the two territories. Felipe won in 1714, and all the Catalan and Barcelona institutions were suppressed, replaced with the political, administrative and legal rule of Castile. Barcelona was then reduced to a provincial status.
However, the 18th century was a period of demographic and economic growth. By the end of the century, Barcelona's population had tripled, and an industrial surge would bring about physical changes to the City. In the 19th century the walls that limited it were broken down, and Barcelona regained the status of capital of Principality. This title was consolidated with the 1888 Universal Exhibition, promoted by an enterprising bourgeoisie, well-established in the City. At the end of the century Barcelona underwent a period of political unrest, marked by hegemonic periods of anarchism and fratricidal struggles for power.
The renewal of the war with Morocco and the recruitment system that was used led to a general strike and consequent popular insurrection, known in the history books as the "Setmana tràgica" (tragic week), as the troops, with the bourgeoisie's support, organised a severe repression.
Primo de Ribera
In 1923, after the failure of the so-called "Mancomunidad Catalana" - a sort of attempt at autonomous government - Spain, and therefore Catalonia, experienced a period of dictatorship. Supported by the bourgeoisie, the dictator Primo de Ribera rose to power, a hard blow not only for the workers' organisations, but also for cultural and political Catalanism.
The "Plà Cerda" (Cerda's city planning) had been approved and started in the middle of the 19th century. However, it is with the International Exhibition of 1929 and the mass immigration to the City of Barcelona that its real implementation came about. The plan joined the villages around Barcelona to the city, the former slowly surrendering their independence.
The Principality regained its autonomy with the fall of Primo de Ribera in 1931 and the establishment of the first Catalan Republic, with Lluís Companys as president.
The Republic was also instituted in Spain; however, the economic recession, the political unrest and the powerlessness of the government soon favoured extreme ideologies and in 1936 brought about a rebellion of the troops, led by general Francisco Franco. The Civil War that followed, in which Catalonia stood by the legally established Republic, was an extremely bloody affair.
Barcelona and Madrid fell in 1939, thus ending the Civil War, the Republicans having lost. For Catalonia, it marked the beginning of an era of prohibition of all manifestations of Catalan identity.
The dictatorial policy of general Franco led Spain, and therefore Catalonia, to isolation, and kept them separated from the economic, social and cultural growth experienced by other developing and developed countries.
During the 60's and the 70's, however, partly due to the political stability imposed, a tentative opening and economical growth occurred, from which Catalonia especially benefited, in terms of economy power and social welfare.
With the death of general Franco in 1975, Juan Carlos the 1st of Borbon was proclaimed King of Spain. With the help of the most progressive factions of the previous regime and the democratic parties (most of them having survived clandestinely), he set up the embryo of what would culminate in 1977 with the first democratic elections. This same year, in October, Josep Tarradellas, the last president of the Generalitat before the Civil War, returned to Catalonia, and this contributed to a renewal of nationalist and autonomous ideas for a majority of Catalans, a process that culminated in 1979 with the new administrative status of Catalonia as an Autonomous Community.
The first elections to the Autonomous Government were held in 1980, with the victory of a coalition of two nationalist and liberal parties- Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya and Unió Democràtica de Catalunya. They have played a key role on a number of occasions in the Spanish government, whenever the ruling party did not enjoy an absolute majority in Parliament.
During this period, Barcelona never stopped developing, from every point of view, evidence of which is the holding of the 1992 Olympic Games, with Pasqual Maragall as mayor. This represented an extraordinary boost for the City in all aspects, especially urban development.
Thus, at the end of the 20th century, Barcelona became one of the most dynamic and attractive cities of Europe, in the eyes of both its people and the many visitors from all over the world who flow in, attracted by its architecture, its culture, its beaches, and, of course, its people. Have a very pleasant stay!