Archive for September 1, 2006

A Little Catalan History

Since Alex and I have been here we’ve been exploring different areas around Barcelona. We’ve come to appreciate the rich and long history that Catalunya has. To be honest, before we came here I only knew of a language named Catalan but I never associated it with such a rich past. I feel I have to explore this history a bit and here is some of what I’ve learnt. The following information was taken from many sites (Wikipedia and Geocities to name a few) and I don’t claim authorship to any of it:

The territory that now constitutes the autonomous community of Catalonia in Spain, and the adjoining Catalan region of France, was first settled during the Middle Palaeolithic. Like the rest of the Mediterranean coast of the Iberian Peninsula, it was colonized by Ancient Greeks and Carthaginians and was part of the pre-Roman Iberian culture. Later it was part of the Roman Empire, then came under Visigothic rule after Rome’s collapse.

The northernmost part of Catalonia was briefly occupied by the Moorish (Muslim-ruled) al-Andalus in the eighth century, but in 732 local Visigoths regained autonomy, though they voluntarily made themselves tributary to the emerging Frankish kingdom. The grouping of these local powers were Marca Hispanica.

A definite Catalan culture developed in the Middle Ages under the leadership of the Counts of Barcelona. As part of the Crown of Aragon — most historians would say the dominant part — the Catalans became a great maritime power, expanding by trade and conquest into Valencia, the Balearic Islands, and even Sardinia and Sicily. There are areas today in France and Sicily that still speak a dialect of Catalan.
The marriage of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon (1469) unified Christian Spain; in 1492, the last of al-Andalus was conquered and the Spanish conquest of the Americas began. Political power began to shift away from Catalonia toward Castile.

For some time, Catalonia continued to retain its own laws, but these gradually eroded. Over the next few centuries, Catalonia was generally on the losing side of a series of wars that led steadily to more centralization of power in Spain. The most significant conflict was the War of the Spanish Succession, which began when Carlos II died without a successor in 1700. Catalonia supported the claim of a member of the Austrian branch of the Hapsburg dynasty, while the rest of Spain generally supported the French Bourbon claimant, Felipe V. Following the final surrender of Catalan troops on September 11, 1714, Felipe V’s Nueva Planta decrees banned all the main Catalan political institutions and imposed military-based rule over the region.
In the latter half of the 19th century, Catalonia became a center of Spain’s industrialization; to this day it remains the most industrialised part of Spain, rivaled only by the Basque Country. In first third of the 20th century, Catalonia several times gained and lost varying degrees of autonomy, but Catalan autonomy and culture were crushed to an unprecedented degree after the defeat of the Second Spanish Republic (founded 1931) in the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) brought General Francisco Franco to power. Even public use of the Catalan language was banned.
After Franco’s death (1975) and the adoption of a democratic Spanish constitution (1978), Catalonia recovered cultural autonomy and some political autonomy. Today, Catalonia is almost universally recognized as one of the most economically dynamic regions of Spain and the Catalan capital, Barcelona, is a major international cultural centre and tourist destination.
Catalonia’s original statute of autonomy adopted by the Spanish government December 22, 1979 officially recognised Catalonia as a nationality. This was recently superseded by a new statute of autonomy August 9, 2006, which defines Catalonia as a nation.
The Catalan flag, known as the senyera, is one of the oldest flags in Europe. There is documentary evidence of it since the 13th century but it may have even existed even before then. According to legend, Guifre el Pelós, the count of Barcelona, marches his army into France to help his uncle, Carles el Calb, defend France from the Norman invasions. Guifre miraculously drives the Normans out but is mortally wounded by an arrow to the chest. As he lays dying Carles dips four of his fingers in his nephew’s blood and runs them across his nephew’s golden shield, thus creating the symbol of Catalan nationality that is still used today.

Sant Jordi, or Saint George, is the patron saint of Catalonia (as well as England) and his saint’s day, April 23, is a well-known Catalan holiday. According to legend, the knight Sant Jordi killed a dragon and rescued a princess. Sant Jordi cut off the dragon’s head and from the blood emerged a rose bush. On April 23 friends and family typically exchange roses and buy books for each other. Sant Jordi’s red cross on a white background can be seen on the shield of Barcelona and on the English flag.

Also known as “The Day of Lovers,” La Diada de Sant Jordi is like Valentine’s Day with some uniquely Latin twists. The main event is the exchange of gifts between sweethearts–men give their novias roses, and women give their novios a book to celebrate the occasion. Roses have been associated with this day since medieval times.

September 1, 2006 at 1:09 pm Leave a comment

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