Catalonia and Spain have an on-off relationship much like that couple we all have in our friendship groups. You know the ones, they spend as much time ‘on an break’ as they do together. Barcelona’s history and its shifting link with Spain is shown in its culture and history making for a unique holiday destination. If you’re looking for flamenco dancers and bullrings visit another Spanish city, if you seek an emersion into the Catalan ways, rent a car in Barcelona with easyCar and see what makes the city so special.
A Golden Age
In the 12th to 15th centuries, a succession of marriages between nobles lead to the start of the shifting bond between what we now know as the Principality of Catalonia and the rest of Spain. The marriage of the Queen of Aragon to the Count of Barcelona in 1150, resulted in their son being the first person to control the territories of both Aragon and Catalonia. This was a period of great growth and many buildings were constructed in the Catalan Gothic style. Barcelona’s Barri Gòtic (the Gothic quarter) is a great place to see these distinctive buildings first-hand. The narrow streets are too small for most vehicles, so a stroll around the squares and churches is incredibly peaceful.
The marriage of Fernando of Aragon and Isabella of Castile in 1469 brought about the dawn of a united modern Spain. The joint state that resulted began what would be a golden age for Spain, where music and the arts flourished. With Madrid as the centre of power however, Catalan culture remained dampened until independence was restored in the late19th century.
General Franco and the Spanish Civil War
It was Franco’s regime and the Spanish Civil War that truly set off the Catalan revolution. By banning all traditionally Catalan things, from language to government, Franco curbed the independence of Catalonia. It was not until his death in 1975, that political and cultural autonomy was finally returned.
Barcelona is a city that is overflowing with museums, yet there is not one that where the events of the civil war are recorded. The momentous and terrible events of the 1930s go largely ignored, masked behind the colourful tourist attractions. The best way to learn more of that time is to take drive around some of the key places, such as Santa Maria del Pi, where 7,000 clergymen were murdered by rebels; Plaça Sant Felip Ner, the site of an Italian bombing; Hotel Rivoli, a former Marxist headquarters; and Bar Llibertària, whose walls are a gallery of Catalan anarchism.
More recently the Olympic Games of 1992 transformed Barcelona into the holiday destination it is today. The global exposure and the economic injection of the event helped the Catalan city to shake off the industrial image it had acquired under Franco and placed it on the international stage. The city development for the games lead to miles of new beaches and a marina being created in the place of what was formerly industrial buildings.
Camp Nou, the venue for the Olympic football final, is also the home ground FC Barcelona. This 100,000 person capacity stadium is one of the most visited destinations in city, with tours of the pitch, grounds and football museum offered daily. The clash between Catalan nationalism and Spanish nationalism can also be seen in Barcelona’s attitude to football. There is a deep seated rivalry between the teams of Barcelona and Madrid, with ‘El Clásico’ being the term given to any match that is played between the two adversaries.
The people of Barcelona in a bid to show their Catalan spirit banned the sport of bullfight in 2010, with the ban coming into force in 2012. The ban was in a bid eradicate the region of something seen as culturally and traditionally Spanish. Plaza de Toros Monumental, one of the city’s former bull rings, is now a museum to sport which is worth a visit to gain a sense of Catalan attitudes. The former fighting ring may soon also house a concert venue.
Traditional Catalan Activities
Despite the Spain’s impact on Barcelona, many uniquely Catalan past times still remain to this day. At Barcelona Cathedral witness sardana, a tranquil Catalan dance performed to horn music, or head to the streets on holiday days to see castellers (human towers) being built. In terms of food, be sure to sample the gazpacho, tapas and paella of the tourist spots, but also make sure to try the fare at traditional Catalan restaurants, such as 7 Portes and Can Cullerettes. Sample escudella (a soup-like stew), Catalan sausages or calçots (vegetables like leeks unique to the Catalan region).