Barcelona: thousands of years of struggle for identity, independence and prosperity. History and modernity
The city of Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, has been in the midst of historical events and twists and turns since its founding. The Greeks, the Romans, the Visigoths, the Muslims, the French, the city has left no one indifferent, and the “passions of Barcelona” are still raging.
Barcelona is the capital and largest city of Catalonia and the second most populous municipality in Spain after Madrid. The city is home to 1.6 million people, and together with its many neighbouring municipalities, the population of the urban area totals around 4.7 million. This makes Barcelona the sixth most populous urban metropolis in the European Union after Paris, London, Madrid, the Ruhr and Milan. It is home to three-quarters of the population of Catalonia and one-eighth of all Spain. Barcelona is also the largest metropolis on the western Mediterranean, located on the northeast coast of the Iberian Peninsula between the mouths of the rivers Llobregat and Besòs and the Serra de Collserola, whose highest peak, the Tibidabo, rises to 512 meters.
Barcelona has a rich cultural heritage and is an important cultural center and tourist destination for travellers from all over the world. It is best known for its architectural masterpieces by Antoni Gaudi and Lewis Dominek i Montaner, which are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The headquarters of the Union for the Mediterranean, consisting of 43 countries, is located in Barcelona. In 1992, Barcelona hosted the Summer Olympic Games, as well as various international conferences and exhibitions, many international sports tournaments are regularly held here.
Barcelona is one of the world’s leading tourist, economic, commercial and cultural centers, its influence in trade, education, entertainment, mass media, fashion, science and art is great. Therefore, it is not surprising that the capital of Catalonia is considered one of the most popular and attractive cities in the world. Also Barcelona is included in the list of the leading “smart cities” of Europe.
Barcelona is a major transport hub, and its port is one of the main seaports of Europe and at the same time the busiest passenger port on the European continent. Barcelona El Prat International Airport handles more than 40 million passengers a year. A well-developed network of freeways and high-speed rail lines connects Barcelona with cities in Spain and France.
Barcelona is bordered by the municipalities of Santa Coloma de Gramenet and Sant Adrià de Besòs in the north, El Prat de Llobregat and L’Hospitalet de Llobregat in the south, Sant Feliu de Llobregat, Sant Just Desvern, Esplugues de Llobregat, Sant Cugat del Vallès and Montcada i Reixac to the west and the Mediterranean Sea to the east. The municipality also includes two small, sparsely populated exclaves in the northwest.
Barcelona is located on small hills, on which the main residential areas are concentrated: Carmel, Putget, Monterols, Rovira and Peira. On the 173-meter mountain Montjuïc, located in the southeast of the harbor, there is a 17-18th century fortress of the same name. On the highest mound in the city, the Mante Taber (12 meters), stands Barcelona’s main cathedral, the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Santa Eulalia.
Since 1987, the city was divided into 10 administrative districts based on the historical division. Some of the districts represent former neighboring cities that Barcelona annexed to itself in the 18th and 19th centuries. Each district has its own executive council headed by a city councilor. The composition of each district council depends on the number of votes a particular political party received in the elections in that district, so a councilor from one party may head the district, while the majority of councilors may belong to another party.
About half of the inhabitants of Barcelona consider themselves Catholics, 5.6% are Muslims. Barcelona also has the largest Jewish community in Spain. Of the foreign residents, Italians are the most numerous, followed by Pakistanis, Chinese, French and Moroccans.
Spanish is the most widely spoken language in Barcelona, Catalan is the second most widely spoken language in the city, and is understood by 95% of the population, while 72.3% can speak it, 79% can read Catalan, and 53% can write Catalan.
More than 66% of the population of Catalonia lives in Barcelona. The capital of Catalonia, one of the richest regions in Europe, ranks 4th among cities in the European Union in terms of GDP per capita.
Barcelona’s industry produces 21% of the total gross domestic product of the region, and the energy, chemical and metallurgical industries account for 47% of all industrial production.
Barcelona has long been an important European automotive manufacturing center. Today, the headquarters and a large plant of SEAT (Spain’s largest car manufacturer) are located in one of the suburbs of Barcelona. Nissan’s car factory is also located in Barcelona’s industrial zone, and a major manufacturer of motorcycles, scooters and mopeds, Derby, is located not far from the city.
As in other modern cities, the industrial sector in Barcelona is gradually losing ground to the service sector, but is still very important. The leading industries of the region are the textile, chemical, pharmaceutical, automotive, electronic, printing, logistics, publishing, telecommunications, and information technology industries.
Barcelona is a world-renowned tourist destination, with numerous recreational areas, some of the best beaches in the world, mild and warm climate, historical monuments, including eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Barcelona’s well-developed tourist infrastructure has more than 520 hotels, 7% of which are five-star.
Despite the moderate level of pickpocketing, Barcelona is considered one of the safest cities in terms of personal and environmental safety, mainly because of a well-developed police strategy, resulting in a 32% reduction of crime in Barcelona in three years. According to Business Insider, Barcelona is the 15th safest city in the world.
Thanks to its creative creativity and development of artistic skills, Barcelona has won numerous awards in the field of industrial design. The city has several congress halls, in particular Fira de Barcelona, the second largest exhibition center in Europe, which annually hosts a large number of national and international events. The total area of Fira de Barcelona exhibition space is 405,000 square meters, not counting the Gran Via Center in the Plaza de Europa.
Another important business center, the World Trade Center of Barcelona, is located in the harbor of Port Vell.
The origin of the earliest settlement on the site of present-day Barcelona raises many questions. The ruins of an early settlement were excavated by archaeologists in the area of El Raval, including various tombs and dwellings dating back to before 5000 B.C. Later, in the 3rd and 2nd centuries B.C., the area was inhabited by the Lajetans, a people of Iberian origin. Their settlements were in Barceno on the Taber hill (on the site of the present Old City) and in Laie (presumably located on Montjuïc). Both settlements minted their own coins, samples of which have survived to this day.
Some historians have claimed that the small Greek colony of Callipolis was also founded in the vicinity of Barcelona around the same period, but no conclusive archaeological evidence to this claim has yet been found.
There are two different legends about the founding of Barcelona. The first legend ascribes the foundation of the city to a real historical figure – the Carthaginian general Hamilcar Barca, father of Hannibal, who allegedly named the city after his family name in the 3rd century B.C. This legend is supported only by the testimony of the commander that, having founded his camp at the foot of Mount Montjuïc, he decided, on the advice of his companions, to name the new settlement “Barcino”.
A second mythological version links the founding of the city to a story that happened to Hercules a few hundred years before the emergence of Rome. During his fourth exploit, Hercules joined Jason and the Argonauts in search of the Golden Fleece and traveled with them across the Mediterranean Sea in nine ships. They lost one of the ships in a storm off the Catalan coast, and Hercules went in search of it. It turned out that the ship had wrecked, but the travelers survived and were so enchanted by the beauty of the place to which they were transported by the sea that they founded a city there called Barca Nona (“The Ninth Ship”).
Under the Romans, Barcelona became a Roman colony called Barcino. The colony’s strategic position contributed to its economic development, and Barcino was exempt from imperial taxation.
During the reign of Augustus Caesar, Barcino was a castrum (military camp-like settlement) with a regular central forum and perpendicular main streets Cardus Maximus (Carrer de la Llibreteria) and Decumanus Maximus (Carrer del Bisbe), intersecting at the top of Mons Táber hill, the location of the Iberian settlement of Barceno. The perimeter of the walls surrounding a territory of 12 hectares was 1.5 km. By the 2nd century, the town was an oppidum (fortified town surrounded by a moat and an earthen rampart) with a population of 3,500-5,000 people. The main economic activity of Barcino was the cultivation of the surrounding land and winemaking – the local wine was widely exported. Archaeological monuments from this period (sculptures, mosaics and amphorae) indicate a relatively affluent population, although the city lacked major public buildings such as a theater, amphitheater and circus, which were present in more important Roman centers such as Tarraco (modern Tarragona).
The most impressive building of the Barcino forum was the temple dedicated to Caesar Augustus, presumably built in the early 1st century. The temple was quite imposing for such a small town – its dimensions were 35 x 17.5 m and, erected on a podium, it was surrounded by Corinthian columns.
The first raids of the Germanic tribes began around the 250s, so in the later years of the 3rd century the city’s fortification was improved by Emperor Claudius II. The new double wall was at least two meters high, reaching eight meters in some parts, and was equipped with 78 towers up to eighteen meters high. The new fortifications were the strongest in the Roman province of Tarrakonensis, and this elevated Barcino’s status relative to Tarraco.
A large part of the remains of the Roman Barcino can be seen in the underground exhibitions at the Museum of the History of Barcelona (MUHBA), which also houses other Roman heritage sites.
The first large Christian church in Barcino, the Basilica de la Santa Creu, was built at the end of the 4th century on the site where the medieval Barcelona Cathedral now stands. Its baptistery was found in the underground and is now on display in the Museum of the History of Barcelona.
In the early 5th century the Western Roman Empire was under increasing attack by various Germanic peoples, notably the Goths and Vandals. King Ataulphus, a relative of Alaric, led the Visigoths into southern Gaul, and after his defeat by Roman forces at Narbonne in 415, he crossed the Pyrenees into Tarraconensis. Ataulf set up his court at Barcino, but was killed by one of his soldiers in the same year.
In the following years Barcino became an important, though provincial, center of the Visigothic kingdom, especially because of its strong fortress walls. After the death of Alaric II at the battle of Vuia against the Franks in 507, his successor Gesalech moved the capital from Tolosa to Barcino. In 573, however, Barcino again became an ordinary provincial town, and the Visigothic capital was moved to Toledo.
It is worth noting that the Visigoths were a minority of the city’s population, while occupying leadership positions. The first rulers, before the adoption of Catholic Christianity as the state religion in 589, were Arian. Under the Catholics, the Church of Saint Justus and Pastor (Església dels Sants Just i Pastor) became the main religious function, while the Basílica de la Santa Cruz was transformed into an Arian church.
The language spoken at that time by the people of Barcino was what was known as “vulgar latin,” the same language the Visigothic rulers began to speak over time. Later the “h” sound was added to the word Barcino to give a hard “k” in the pronunciation of the modified word Barchinona.
After the conquest and devastation of Tarraco by the Moors in 717, Barchinona surrendered peacefully to the conquerors, and was therefore spared major destruction. The Moorish rule, under which the city came to be called Barshiluna, or Medina Barshaluna, lasted some 85 years. The cathedral was turned into a mosque, but the city nevertheless had a civil government and freedom of worship.
In 801, after a long siege, Barcelona was conquered by Louis I the Pious, son of Charlemagne. Barcelona formed a county, and the rulers became known as the Counts of Barcelona.
The Counts of Barcelona became increasingly independent and expanded their territory to include virtually all of Catalonia. However, in 985, Barcelona was sacked by the army of al-Mansur, the Hajib of the Caliphate of Cordoba. During this devastating and brutal ravaging, most of the inhabitants of Barcelona were killed and enslaved, almost all the buildings and all the Christian churches were destroyed.
Nevertheless, by the Middle Ages Barcelona was the largest settlement in Catalonia, about four times larger than Girona. At the same time, the city was a vital source of royal income. The royal court moved from city to city for a long time and resided in each of them long enough to ensure the continued loyalty of the local nobility. This gave rise to the formation of a representative body (the prototype of Parliament) such as Las Cortes Catalanas, composed of representatives of three estates: the clergy, the nobility-feudal lords and citizens of royal cities such as Barcelona and Girona. The main function of the Cortes Catalanas was legislative, and also consisted in approving laws proposed by the king, or put forward on his own initiative. It existed from the 12th until the beginning of the 18th century.
Barcelona’s economy during this period was most focused on commerce. In 1258 King Jaime I of Aragon allowed the merchant guilds of Barcelona to draw up ordinances regulating maritime trade in the city port, and in 1266 he allowed the city to appoint representatives, known as consuls, to all the major Mediterranean ports of the time.
In 1516, Barcelona, together with Aragon, became part of the Kingdom of Spain, remaining the most important port city and a major economic and administrative center.
After the War of the Spanish Succession in 1714, the victorious King Philip V stripped Catalonia of its autonomy because the Catalan nobility had supported the Habsburgs, Philip’s enemies, during the confrontation. As a result, Barcelona’s political influence in Spain diminished considerably.
Since the late 18th century, however, Barcelona’s status as a major Mediterranean port and the proximity of lignite deposits in Bergeda gave rise to an industrial revolution in the region. Catalonia in general and Barcelona in particular became an important industrial center, increasing its wealth.
In 1812, Barcelona was annexed by Napoleon to France and incorporated into the First French Empire as part of the department of Montserrat, where it remained for several years until Napoleon’s defeat. In 1897, Barcelona “absorbed” the six surrounding municipalities, and a new neighborhood, L’Eixample, appeared in the city.
The prosperity of Barcelona at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries brought back the city’s status as a cultural center, as evidenced, among other things, by the unique architecture of Antoni Gaudi, which became a decoration of the city.
In 1924, the metro was opened in Barcelona. During the Civil War, Barcelona was bombed on numerous occasions by the Italian air force at the request of General Franco, against whom Catalonia was opposed. In 1939, the city was taken by the Francoists. Because of the long resistance of the Barcelonans by the Franco government, harsh repression followed: the autonomous institutions of Catalonia were abolished and the use of the Catalan language was forbidden. Despite the destruction, Barcelona remained a major industrial city in Spain, so people from poorer parts of the country, especially from Andalusia, Murcia and Galicia, flocked to the city.
Mass migration led to the rapid urbanization of Barcelona and rapid population growth not only in the city, but also in its suburbs. Migration, unfortunately, also contributed to the gradual decline of Catalan culture in Barcelona: while the unofficial use of Catalan was allowed in the later years of the dictatorship, the immigrants who came to Barcelona spoke only Spanish.
Franco’s death in 1975 led to the democratization of all of Spain. The demand for change was especially strong in Barcelona, which had been punished by 40 years of Francoism for supporting a republican government. Massive but peaceful demonstrations on September 11, 1977 brought more than a million people to the streets of Barcelona, who called for the restoration of Catalan autonomy. And in less than a month, autonomy was returned to the region.
Further development of Barcelona contributed to Spain’s accession to the EU in 1986 and the Catalonian capital hosted the Summer Olympic Games in 1992.
In preparation for the Games, industrial buildings on the beachfront were eliminated and more than 3 kilometers of beach were created. The new construction increased the city’s road capacity by 17% and the number of new green areas and beaches by 78%. Between 1990 and 2004, the city doubled the number of hotel rooms. Barcelona was ranked as the 12th most popular tourist destination in the world and the 5th most attractive European city in 2012.
A brief summary of Barcelona for tourists: the most interesting and necessary
For those who are going to spend their vacation in Barcelona and its surroundings, or are just thinking about such an option, we tell the most important and the most interesting about this magnificent city.
Barcelona is Spain’s second largest city after the capital, Madrid. With a population of 1.6 million (nearly 5 million with the suburbs), Barcelona is the tenth largest city in the European Union.
The city is located 120 km from the French border and 200 km from Andorra. It is washed by the waters of the Balearic Sea, which belongs to the waters of the Mediterranean Sea.
Barcelona is the capital of the autonomous region of Catalonia (Catalunya).
Historically, Catalonia and its inhabitants have had strong nationalist ideas called Catalanism. So far, the Catalans have succeeded in achieving autonomy, the official status of the Catalan language and the recognition of the Catalans as a nation separate from the Spanish. Attempts are being made to completely secede from Spain and create an independent state. Polls in Catalonia show that 80% are in favor of independence. However, the Spanish authorities are categorically against the separation of Catalonia, have stated that they do not recognize any results of the referendum and will not allow the region to leave the Kingdom of Spain.
Here are some more interesting facts about Barcelona.
A brief history of Barcelona
Barcelona’s history goes back more than 2,000 years and its origins are shrouded in various myths and legends. One of them, for example, attributes the founding of the city to Hercules.
More plausible is the version that around the 3rd century B.C. the Carthaginian commander Hamilcar Barca set up a military camp, named Barcino (Barzino), on the site of present-day Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter. This was the beginning of the foundation of the city. Until the 2nd century A.D. the city was of little importance as the larger Tarracon (Tarragona) was located nearby, but it was eventually superseded.
In the Middle Ages, the city passed into the possession of a variety of countries, it was conquered by the Romans, Visigoths, Moors (Arabs). Barcelona absorbed the culture and architecture of many different nations. When the city grew up, it received the name Barcinova (as it was called by the Visigoths), and later it was transformed into the milder name Barcelona. For several centuries, Barcelona actually belonged to the Kingdom of Aragon, which occupied the coastal areas of the western Mediterranean Sea in the 10-15 centuries. In 1516 Aragon and Castile united to form the Kingdom of Spain, thus ending the Reconquista, the long process of reconquest by European Christians (Spaniards and Portuguese) of the lands of the Iberian Peninsula occupied by Arabs.
After the Reconquista ended, the Kingdom of Spain began the conquest of the Americas and soon became the most powerful state in Europe. Barcelona was the largest port in the kingdom and played a huge strategic role. Today, Barcelona is still the most important and largest port on the Mediterranean coast.
In 1888 and 1929, Barcelona hosted the World Expo and in 1992, the city hosted the Summer Olympic Games. Thanks to these events in Barcelona a lot of famous sights appeared, the city became a popular tourist destination.
What is interesting about Barcelona?
Barcelona is a unique European city that successfully combines cultural and historical tourism as well as resort tourism. There are practically no analogues of this kind in Europe. Along the city stretches a 5-kilometer stretch of sandy beach, free for visits. It’s a great place to visit some of Barcelona’s most famous beaches, such as Barceloneta, San Sebastian and others. There are many internationally popular beach resorts on the Costa Brava and Costa Dorada in the suburbs: Blanes, Sitges, Lloret de Mar, etc.
Thanks to the rich history of the city and the region, Barcelona is a paradise for lovers of architecture and art. With dozens of museums, art galleries and incredible sights, Barcelona is as beautiful and culturally significant as Paris, Rome and other European tourist destinations.
In the city lived and worked architect Antonio Gaudi, who created many interesting buildings. In the town of Figueres, 140 km from Barcelona, was born and died the famous Salvador Dali; now there is a theater-museum of Dali. The famous Port Aventura, Europe’s most visited amusement park, is just 110 km from Barcelona.
Barcelona sights: what to see in the city?
As mentioned above, the most popular attractions in the city are the creations of Antoni Gaudi. The most famous of them is the calling card of Barcelona – the Sagrada Familia.
Another quite popular Gaudi object is Park Guell.
The Gothic Quarter, the oldest district of the city, today reflects Gothic architecture and a bit of Roman.
A very picturesque place is the Old Port of Barcelona, close to where the Monument to Christopher Columbus rises.
The Monjuïc hill was host to the 1992 Olympic Games and since then has been home to various sporting venues, the most important of which is of course the Olympic Stadium. On the same hill are popular with tourists at the National Palace and the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc, one of the most beautiful fountains in Europe.
For soccer fans a visit to Camp Nou, the stadium of the famous soccer club Barcelona, would be a great experience.
This is not a complete list of attractions in Barcelona.
Climate and weather in Barcelona
Due to its southern location, Barcelona’s climate allows tourists to admire the city’s cultural and historical heritage all year round. In the winter, the temperature during the daytime usually does not drop below +10. But the most popular time to visit, of course, is summer, when the holiday season reigns. From May to October the daytime temperature stays above +20. The sea warms up to a comfortable temperature in June and stays warm until the end of September.
How much does a trip to Barcelona cost?
From Moscow and St. Petersburg, direct flights to Barcelona are traditionally operated by the Spanish budget airline Vueling. Tickets cost an average of 7,000-9,000 rubles one way. Domestic low-cost airline Pobeda also flies to Barcelona, and sometimes during promotions you can get tickets for 5-6 thousand rubles.
Of course, the coronavirus has made significant adjustments to the flight schedule to Barcelona from Russia.
Find airline tickets to Barcelona
For 60-80 euros in Barcelona is quite possible to find a comfortable classic double room in a hotel or rent an apartment. Those who like budget accommodation can find a modest room for 40-50 euros. Where to stay in Barcelona? More information about traveling to Barcelona on your own can be found here.
The cost of food, souvenirs, sightseeing and other expenses is a very subjective question.
There are many temptations and things to spend money on in Barcelona, but in general, prices are not high by the standards of Europe. And prices in local supermarkets personally we were pleasantly surprised. If you rent an apartment with a kitchen and cook your own food without eating in the institutions, you can save a lot. Your humble servants did not have this opportunity, so we ate, as a rule, or in tapas bars or fast food. On average, we spent 60 euros a day for two people. In the blog you can read our detailed review and photo report about the trip to Barcelona.
Religion and population
The vast majority of Barcelona residents consider themselves Catalans and practice, like all Spaniards, Catholicism.
As has been said many times before, the Catalans have succeeded in having Catalan recognized as an official language. It is, of course, similar to Spanish in many ways, but there are slight differences in pronunciation and spelling. In Barcelona, as well as in the whole of Catalonia, there is a strong promotion of the Catalan language. All menus in cafes/bars/restaurants, signs and signboards are written first of all in Catalan and then may be duplicated in Spanish or English. If you learn a few phrases in Spanish before your trip, you will of course be perfectly understood.
English language skills among the population of Barcelona, as it seemed to us, is at a relatively low level. Certainly, if a professional guide or an administrator of a large hotel or a waiter of a prestigious restaurant is in front of you, he will speak excellent English, but if we are talking about a small tapas bar spoken by an average local, be prepared that he may have absolutely no perception of English, even at the level of a schoolchild with a three-year pupil.)
The cuisine of Barcelona is mainly traditional Spanish cuisine with a mix of local, Catalan dishes. Gazpacho, seafood paella, sangria, jamón – these are typical gastronomic representatives of Barcelona.
Attitude to Russians
Barcelona is one of the biggest tourist centers of Europe and the local population has long been accustomed to the endless flow of tourists from all over the world. The attitude towards Russian tourists here is the same as towards representatives of other nations but we have not noticed any Russophobia. Catalans are reserved and keep their opinions to themselves:)
Many of our compatriots went to Barcelona for permanent residence, so if a barman, waiter, front desk attendant, or landlord who rents you an apartment turned out to be Russian, you should not be surprised.
Many of our compatriots, by the way, moving to Barcelona, deepens in the study of the history of the city and country and retrain as tourist guides – give interesting excursions in Russian. We will tell about such excursions below.
Spain is a member of the European Union, and the currency unit is the euro.
To visit Barcelona you need a Schengen visa for Spain or any other Schengen Agreement state.
Every year, on the last Sunday in March, Barcelona changes to daylight saving time. On the last Sunday of October it changes to winter time. In summer the difference with Moscow is minus 1 hour, and in winter – minus two hours.
Excursions in Russian
As mentioned above, in Barcelona a huge number of our compatriots, who are happy to give you personal or group tours and tell really interesting facts and stories. In a separate article we have broken down and advised. the best, in our opinion, excursions.