History of Barcelona

Mother Earth Travel > Spain > Barcelona > History

The Olympic Games in 1992 brought about a renaissance of this millennial city, which has always been and still is the focal point of modernization in Spain. Barcelona has many cities locked within its breast. It can purport to have been a Roman city, an ancient, Gothic and aristocratic city, a significant Mediterranean port, and capital of Catalonia, one of the most dynamic regions of Europe. Her rich historical past is the base on which the foundations of this new city were laid, this outward-looking and cosmopolitan city, which remains habitable thanks to its natural boundaries of sea and mountains.

It is said that the name Barcelona derives from the arrival at her shores from Africa of the hero Hercules almost 2,000 years B.C. According to legend, this expedition was made up of nine boats ' 'Barca' (boat) ' 'nona' (nine) with colonists aboard. Nevertheless, it was the Romans who left an indelible print on the then-named Barcino in the first century B.C. Barcino never had the importance and power attained by Tarraco (modern Tarragona), the Roman par excellence, whose decline finally began at the same time as Barcinona's rise in the Visigoth period.

After a century of Muslim domination ' a time of intensive commercial activity, and peaceful religious coexistence among Jews, Christians and Muslims ' came the arrival of Christian governors, and with this event the Muslim community was confined outside the city and the Jews to one part of it, the Call, nowadays several streets run across it - Palla, Banys Nous, Bisbe and the Plaza Sant Jaume (Plaça Sant Jaume), and it goes as far as Calle Ferran. The Jewish community had been the champion of culture and commerce in Barcelona between the 11th and 13th centuries. However, their confinement to the ghetto of the 'Call' district presaged events in 1492 when they were banished from the Iberian Peninsula. At this time, the city received the name 'La Ciudad Condal', being the capital of various 'condados' (shires) of Cataluña Vieja (old Catalonia). Barcelona championed the expansionist policies of the Crown of Aragon towards the lands of Valencia and Baleares and became the naval base for a strong trading centre. The joint power of Catalonia-Aragon extended to Sicily, Sardinia, Malta, Naples, Albania, Corsica, Athens and part of Greece, and is characterized by pioneering the establishment of social norms, maritime regulations and other customs that other parts of Europe were later to copy. Catalonia was proclaimed self-governing in the 15th century, with the establishment of headquarters in the Palace of the Generalitat (Palau de la Generalitat), across from the Ayuntamiento (Town Hall), in Sant Jaume Square. The city's growth during Medieval times coincided with the blossoming of its Gothic architecture, reflected in such magnificent works as the Cathedral, the churches of Sant Just and Sant Jaume and the basilicas of Santa María del Pi and Santa María del Mar, works representing the zenith of Catalonian Gothic architecture.

Thanks to the marriage of Isabella and Ferdinand ' the well-known Catholic Monarchs ' and after uniting with the kingdom of Castille in the 15th century, Barcelona, Catalonia and the kingdom of Aragon found themselves immersed in profound economic and political decline which continued until the 18th century. This situation was brought about by the conquest and colonization of America, to the detriment of commerce in the Mediterranean, and by the rise of Turkey as a great Mediterranean maritime power. The region's death knell came about from the loss of its statutory privileges as a result of backing the Archduke Charles of Austria in the Spanish War of the Succession, who lost against the Bourbons led by a triumphant Phillip V.

It would not be until the 19th century, with the industrial revolution and the cultural renaissance, that the city returned to its former glory. Industrialization ran parallel to the renaissance of the Catalan language (the 'Renaixença'). The Modernist movement emerged in the arts, a movement for which the city is today best known and admired internationally. The industrial bourgeois pioneered all these movements. Influenced by nationalistic movements in other parts of Europe, they opposed the trend towards Castilianisation embodied in the Decrees of the 'Nueva Planta' originating from Madrid. Modernism, derived from Art Nouveau and exposed to various historical and folkloric influences, decorated many of the buildings of the Barcelona 'Eixample' ' the parts of Barcelona designed and built with the plans of Ildefons Cerdà in reticulated style. It was a district for the cultured bourgeois class of the era. The greatest embodiment of Modernism, Antoni Gaudí, designed some of the most well-known Modernist works. Outstanding amongst them are the Sagrada Familia, Casa Milà also known as La Pedrera, Casa Batlló and Park Güell (Parc Güell), buildings and places that are visited by tourists from all over the world.

The post-war years and the Franco dictatorship spelled a long period of political and cultural repression for Barcelona and all of Spain. Now, after 25 years of democracy, during which Barcelona's citizens have shared their vote between socialists and nationalists, the city has completely recovered. Under the mandate of Pasqual Maragall, the city opened up to the sea with the building of the infrastructure for the 1992 Olympic Games: the Olympic Village (Vila Olímpica), of notably modern design; the Anillo Olímpico (Anella Olímpica, or Olympic Ring) by Montjüic and Puerto Olímpico (Port Olímpic, or the Olympic Port). This was also the city's best era for its football club, Barça.