Numerous summer visitors discover the cultural wealth of our area and often are particularly impressed with the strong national feeling of the local people. We offer this précis of Catalan history with an explanation of some of the more the important events.
Let’s begin this historical excursion over 2.700 years ago. In the first millennium before Christ Celts from Eastern Europe settled on the present Catalan territory. They mixed with the natives of the Neolithic period – the last era of the prehistorical time – and set up a number of independent free tribes. Beginning in the VIII Century before Christ the Greeks set up commercial subsidiaries near the sea, that later became colonies; the most important were called Empurion – Empuries -and Rhoda now Roses. One finds confirmation of the Greek past even in small villages as Vall de Santa Creu, between Llançà and Port de la Selva. A lot of evidence points to this period of the Empordà’s history as booming economically. For example during the Vth century about 300 ships sank within the radius of the Cap de Creus. This is a sure indication that ocean trade on this part of the Iberian Peninsula was very important.
In the year 218 before Christ the Romans reached Catalonia and took over Emporion. They stayed until the III Century after Christ and practised farming and trading. The Roman’s success is seen in their expanding outposts such as Barcino – Barcelona – and Tarraco, now Tarragona. By the fifth century of our chronology the Roman Empire comes to an end. The “barbarians” from Germania took over power. The Visigoths penetrated from the north to the Iberian Peninsula and declared, first of all, Barcelona to the capital and integrated Catalonia into the kingdom of Toledo.
Next, Spain was occupied by the Moors who reached Catalonia in 716. A part of the local population fled the Moors and emigrated to the Pyrenees or to the empire of the Franconians. They wanted to build fortifications to prevent an advance of the Moors onto their territories.
After the defeat of Roland’s in Roncevaux Karl of the Grand in 778 the province of Girona was entrusted to the counts resident at the boundary. The new territories were assigned to Carolingian rulers as fiefs. Barcelona became the centre of the property of the Franconians in Spain.
From the end of the IXth to at the end of the Xth century the power of the empire of the Franconians faded away. The counts of Barcelona used this situation to their advantage and took over domination in the city and withdrew from France. Their successors combated the Moslems, expanded their dominion through marriages to the north to Provence, now southern France, and built alliances between the counts of Barcelona and the Aragon kingdom.
Ramón Berenger I, count of Barcelona between 1035 and 1076 gave Catalonia the foundations of his political life through the union of the “Cortes” and the proclamation of the “Usatges” (Habits) that controlled the rights and habits within the country. In this respect Ramón Berenger reduced drastically the power of the king. Count Ramon Berenger IV marries Petronella of Aragon. From the XXII to the XV century Catalonia and Aragon formed a common kingdom; although each country retained its own administration. A period of economic prosperity for Catalonia was the result. The population increased; as did agricultural production. The cloister Sant Pere de Rodes expanded its influence to the Roussillon (France). Companies arose, forges multiplied, market and banking flourished. Barcelona traded with the Orient and came into competition with Venice and Genova, the major trading ports of Italy. This success brought about the growth of the urban bourgeoisie. Concomitantly they saw the commencement of the contestation of feudal structures in cities and villages. About 1160 saw the first Catalan text “Homilies d’Organya.” The Counsell de Cent [Council of 100] establishes a municipal government for Barcelona. The Gothic cathedral in Barcelona was begun in 1298.
The black plague in the year 1348 put an end to the period of bloom. The disaster harmed Catalonia as it depressed all of Europe. Bad harvests, famines and epidemics were the result. Fifty percent of the population dies. Social challenges shook the country, where the majority of the population lived. The crisis led to a climax during the civil war between the central government and Juan II from Aragon. In 1469 Catalonia became part of the new Catholic kingdom of Ferdinand [Ferran] II which integrated Aragon and Isabella Ith from Castilia.
From the XVI to the XVII century Spain was under the government of the leader Charles Quint, from Austria, and his successors. During this monarchy, which was independent from Austria, Catalonia formed an autonomous state and maintained its traditional institutions. Since Catalonia is divorced from Castilia it is isolated from the new opportunities, particularly dealing with the new world was prohibited in 1522. Most of the trade with the Americas is executed through the town of Sevilla. That hinders Catalonia, however, not, to put an own economical upswing in motion. The rulers of Castilia require the Catalans to commit to their politics financially and force it, to include soldiers during the thirty-years war’s in the fight against France.
In 1640 the Catalans revolt against the Castilia regime, and lead the elimination war (La Guerra dels Segadors), during which France supports them. They declare an independent republic under the domination of France; the Spanish monarchy recognizes the Catalan conditions.
In 1659 the so-called “peace of the Pyrenees” included a boundary-setting process, which separates the citizens of the Roussillon and the Cerdanya in France from Catalonia. At this time Catalonia dips into an economical recession, with re-newed plagues, epidemics and floods. With Philip Vth, the winner of the war of succession, the Bourbons mount the Spanish throne. This king rescinds all of Catalonia’s privileges; Catalonia must pay tribute as a Spanish province. In spite of this loss of autonomy a new economical boom begins, particularly during the middle of the eighteenth century. Again, economic success and healthier inhabitants is evidenced by an increase in population. Also, during this time Girona gets its first paper and textile factories.
At the beginning of the XIX century Catalonia is on the Iberian Peninsula economically in the offside, but the Catalans enjoy increased influence in the political life of Spain. This enhanced status becomes more evident when Napoleon’s troops invade the country in the year 1809. The siege of Girona lasts 7 long months; Catalonia becomes a French province in the year 1812.
In 1814 Spain again attains its independence; Ferdinand the VII rules as an absolute monarch.
The province of Catalonia modernizes itself in the course of the industrial revolution, particularly during the second half of the XIX Century. The city bourgeoisie makes noises to oppose the traditionally society. For example, a labour movement arises, but only within Catalonia. At the beginning of the XX Century La Lliga Regionalista attempts to re-gain self-determination for Catalonia. The national movement becomes stronger; the masses in the cities revolt against their miserable living conditions. In 1931 a new party wins the regional elections: La Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya. In all large cities of Spain an alliance of socialists and republican’s triumph; king Alphons XIII leaves Spain. In Catalonia an autonomous central government, La Generalitat de Catalunya, forms itself. It develops an autonomy statute for the country, which is confirmed in 1932 by the Cortes, the parliament in Madrid. In February 1936 the national front El Frente Popular wins the parliamentary elections. A “National investigation” forms itself to put an end to the “revolutionary” trends. The civil war begins on 18.7.1936.
Up to this time Catalonia had an autonomy statute, which provided its own central government, the Generalitat, culture sovereignty and its own economy billing. After the elections Spain is shaken by unrest, general strikes stop the economy, political murders accumulate. The country is divided into two irreconcilable sides. The assassination of the monarchic representative Jose Calvo Sotelo become the excuse for the military coup d’etat which was in the planning stage for months. The coup d’etat sets the stage for the civil war. On 16th July 1936 Francisco Franco y Bahamonde takes over the supreme command of the military and assures the relief Germany’s and Italy’s.
“Un millon de muertos” A Million of Deads is the title of a novel of Jose Maria Gironnella; he aptly headlines the dreadful result of the Spanish civil war.
During in the course of the civil war Franco begins to build up the “New State” – Estado Nuevo – in which any opposition is systematically suppressed. The civil war ends in the year 1939, the years of the hunger (años del hambre)last until into the fifties. During this time any emotion of Catalan patriotism is brutally suppressed. Catalonia is now merely a province, as every other province, and has to behave correspondingly: as Spanish. Even the use of the Catalan language is prohibited and punishable.
By the end of the fifties some intellectuals and artists in Barcelona began to reactivate Catalan patriotism. The prohibition of the Catalan language became softer. The Catalan protest movement became the catchment area of the critics of the francist regime. The protest movement did not form secret organizations, but went along practiced soft resistance in their everyday life. People began to complete forms in Catalan, hummed Catalan songs in the presence of Madrilenian representatives or asked the policeman for the way, but in the Catalan language. The central regime reacted completely helplessly to the new musical direction “Nova Cancó”: Event prohibitions and censorship of texts only intensified the political character of Catalan song recitals and formed the basis for a flourishing black market of the records of Maria del Mar, Pi de Serra and Lluis Llach. Llach’s hit song in 1968 was “L’estaca” and it became the resistance hymn, which compared the regime with a rotting stake, ” and it will fall, fall, fall” … was the refrain.
Dissatisfaction quickly spread through the ranks of the democratic opposition and the student youth. The stronger the repression against Catalan autonomy movement became, the blunter it became as a weapon. Also the local clergy got behind the demands of the opposition, and even titans of industry saw their interests were not being addressed by Madrid. When the aged Caudillo Francisco Franco dies on 20th November 1975, the path is free for political reforms. Prince Juan Carlos, which had taken over the business of the state since the 30th of October of the year, as an interim leader, is proclaimed king as Juan Carlos Ith of Bourbon. Within a short time he manages manoeuvring the conservative Franco faction out of the inner circle and he leads the country toward democracy at express train speed. The first areas to gain autonomy statute were Catalonia and the Basque region, both in 1979. The official and instruction language is Catalan and the central government; the Generalitat represents the interests of the citizens.