Overview of Barcelona

History of Barcelona

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The earliest record of hominids living in Europe were found in the Spanish cave of Atapuerca. Fossils found here date back to 1.2 million years ago! More "modern" man, Cro-Magnons, began arriving in the Iberian Peninsula from north of the Pyrenees about 35,000 years ago. Paintings in the northern Spanish cave of Altamira completed circa 15,000 BC are an important marker in human history.

When the Greeks came upon the Iberian Peninsula in 5000 - 3000 BC, they discovered a the original inhabitants which they promptly name "Iberians". The Greeks settled along the Mediterranean Sea near modern day Cádiz, and grew to admire the most advanced group - the Tartessos. The Tartessian language from the southwest of Spain, written in a version of the Phoenician script in use around 825 BC, has been readily translated by John T. Koch as Celtic and is being accepted by a growing number of philologists and other linguists as the first Celtic language.

The native people inhabited the southwest through the northeast of the Peninsula with the Celts inhabited the north and northwest part of the Peninsula. In the inner part of the Peninsula, the two groups mixed, creating a distinctive culture known as Celtiberian.

During the late Roman Republic, Hispania arose in two divisions: Hispania Ulterior and Hispania Citerior. As the Roman Empire overtook the area, Hispania Taraconensis developed in the northeast, Hispania Baetica developed in the south (roughly Andalucia), and Lusitania in the southwest (corresponding to modern Portugal). Portions of the Celtiberian population joined Roman civilization, with local leaders increasingly admitted into the Roman aristocratic class.

In turn, Romans improved upon existing cities, such as Tarragona (Tarraco), and created others,Zaragoza (Caesaraugusta), Mérida (Augusta Emerita), Valencia (Valentia), Badajoz ("Pax Augusta"), and Palencia. The locals supplied Rome with food, olive oil, wine and metal and Rome made an impact on their society with emperors Trajan, Hadrian, Theodosius I, the philosopher Seneca and the poets Martial, Quintilian and Lucan all being born in Spain.

As the Roman Empire began to fall, Germanic tribes invaded Hispania in the 5th century. In the winter of 406, a frozen Rhine river led to invasion by the Vandals, Sueves, and Alans. More groups invaded as the Western Roman Empire continued to collapse and progressive "de-Romanization" took over many of the neighboring areas. However, Western classical society remained in the Iberian peninsula. Spain's languages, religion, and the basis of its laws originate from this period.

The Visigoths succeeded in overtaking Rome and arrived in Spain in 412. They founded the Visigothic kingdom of Toulouse and gradually expanded their influence into the Iberian peninsula. The Visigothic Kingdom ruled the region, and eventually turned down a spread of Arianism in favor of Catholicism. In 587, the Visigothic king at Toledo launched a movement to unify the various religious doctrines. This resulted in the Council of Lerida in 546 which constrained the clergy and extended the power of law over them under the blessings of Rome. However, the Visgoths did not have the impact of the Romans and eventually their empire fell as well in the 8th century.

The Arab Islamic conquest of North Africa had begun by 640 AD. In 711, an Islamic Arab and Berber raiding party was sent to Iberia to intervene in a civil war in the Visigothic Kingdom. Crossing the small passage of the Strait of Gibraltar, they defeated and killed Visigothic King Roderic on July 19, 711 at the Battle of Guadalete. By 718, the Muslims dominated most of the Iberian Peninsula. In the year 1000, Al-Mansur took Barcelona. The Christian cities were subject to raids and civil war. Medieval Spain was the scene of almost constant warfare between Muslims and Christians.

By the 15th century, the Kingdom of Castile and the Kingdom of Aragon were allied with dynastic families in Portugal, France, and other neighboring kingdoms. This was disrupted by the death of Henry IV in 1474. A power struggle for the throne of Castile included Joanna La Beltraneja, Queen Isabella I, and by the Castilian nobility. Isabella eventually retained the throne and ruled with her husband, King Ferdinand II. Known as the "Catholic Monarchs" (los Reyes Católicos), set the stage for the creation of the Kingdom of Spain. Their rule oversaw the final stages of the Reconquista of Iberian territory from the Moors and the conquest of Granada and the Canary Islands. They also expelled the Jews and Muslims from Spain under the Alhambra decree, though Muslim culture remained influential. They also authorized the expedition of Christopher Columbus, who became the first known European to reach the New World since Leif Ericson.

Isabella proved herself to be a political dynamo, ensuring long-term political stability by arranging strategic marriages for her five children. Isabella, married Alfonso of Portugal; Juana, married into the Habsburg dynasty when she wed Philip the Handsome; Juan, married Margaret of Austria; Maria, married Manuel I of Portugal; and Catherine, married Henry VIII, King of England and was mother to Queen Mary I.

The Spanish Empire became the first modern global empire. In the 16th century, Spain and Portugal were at the forefront of colonial expansion and the opening of trade routes across the oceans. Trade flourished across the Atlantic between Spain and the Americas and across the Pacific between East Asia and Mexico via the Philippines. Conquistadors descended on the Aztec, Incas and Mayans. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Spain was enjoying a cultural golden age (Siglo de Oro)).

Expansion in the Americas proved fruitful, with the 1500s bringing silver from Mexico. Spanish thinkers were free to formulate progressive theories on natural law, sovereignty, international law, war, and economics. Despite these modern thoughts, religion played a central role in the Spanish empire and played an important part in plans for expansion into the new world .

Charles V became king in 1516, uniting the Spanish Empire and the Holy Roman Empire. Also known as the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, he was the most powerful European monarch of his day. This could not last, as the Habsburg dynasty became extinct in the War of the Spanish Succession. Various European powers tried to assume control with King Louis XIV of France eventually winning the throne. However, ultimate control was eventually relinquished to the Bourbon dynasty. Philip V, the first Bourbon king, worried other European powers that Spain and France united under a single Bourbon monarch would upset the balance of power. The Grand Alliance of England, the Netherlands and Austria battled the Borbons for control and won. Philip V signed the Decreto de Nueva Planta in 1715 which revoked rights and privileges of different kingdoms that formed the Spanish Crown, specially Crown of Aragon.

The Napoleonic Wars sparked the War of Spanish Independence in 1808. Spain was invaded and Ferdinand VII was deposed. The Spanish people resisted Napoleon and juntas were formed across Spain in favor of Ferdinand VII. The Cortes assembled in 1810 at Cádiz and in 1812, they created the first modern Spanish constitution, the Constitution of 1812 (informally named La Pepa).

Meanwhile, the British fought Napoleon's forces in the Peninsular War, with Joseph Bonaparte ruling as king at Madrid. The brutal war was one of the first guerrilla wars in modern Western history. The French were eventually defeated at the Battle of Vitoria in 1813.

Ferdinand VII returned to rule, but undermined the juntas that had won the war. Revolution broke out and Spain was already bankrupt from the war with France and the reconstruction of the country. Unable to pay the soldiers, in 1819 Spain was forced to sell Florida to the United States for 5 million dollars. Armies throughout Spain pronounced themselves in sympathy with the revolters, led by Rafael del Riego. Ferdinand relented and was forced to accept the liberal Constitution of 1812.

Liberal rule followed for 3 tumultuous years. The government was chaotic, and reminiscent of the French Revolution and France was authorized to intervene. France crushed the liberal government and Ferdinand was restored as absolute monarch. At the same time, the American colonies were lost.

Ferdinand decreed the Pragmatic Sanction of 1830, enabling his daughter Isabella to become Queen. She took the throne in 1833 at three years old. Isabella's mother, Maria Cristina of Bourbon-Two Sicilies, was named regent until her daughter came of age.

The Ten Years's War began in 1868 with Cuba's revolt. This led to the abolition of slavery in Spain's colonies. Trouble continued with the explosion of the USS Maine, launching the Spanish-American War in 1898. Cuba gained its independence and Spain lost it's hold in the New World. In 1899, Spain sold its remaining Pacific islands (Northern Mariana Islands, Caroline Islands and Palau) to Germany. All that remained of the empire was Spanish Morocco, Spanish Sahara and Spanish Guinea.

Spain was neutral in World War I, which allowed it an economic advantage in supplying material for both sides. This was countered by the outbreak of Spanish influenza. A major economic slowdown began in the postwar period and the country went into debt. Spain's people were dissatisfied, and a major worker's strike was suppressed in 1919. At about the same time, the mistreatment of the indigenous population in Spanish Morocco led to an uprising. In order to avoid accountability, King Alfonso XIII supported the dictatorship of General Miguel Primo de Rivera, effectively ending the period of constitutional monarchy in Spain. Working with France, the Moroccan territory was recovered for a short period from 1925-1927, but bankruptcy and massive unpopularity left the king no option but to force Primo de Rivera to resign. The municipal elections of April 1931 offered further upheaval and the king fled the country without abdicating and a republic was established.

Under the Second Spanish Republic, a center-left political party was established and women were allowed to vote in general elections for the first time. However, earlier political problems remained troublesome. In the 1930s, Spanish politics were polarized with the left-wing and right-wing (the largest of which was CEDA- a Roman Catholic coalition) holding opposing views. In 1936, the left united in the Popular Front and was elected to power. This was undermined by revolutionary groups such as the anarchist CNT and FAI. There was severe political violence which escalated into civil war.

On July 17th, 1936 General Francisco Franco led the colonial army from Morocco to attack the mainland. General Sanjurjo moved south from Navarre. Both sides received foreign military aid, including the Nationalists from Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Portugal, the Republic from organized far-left volunteers in the International Brigades. The Siege of the Alcázar at Toledo had the Nationalists winning after a long siege. The Nationalists were able to move in, starving Madrid and moving east. The north, including the Basque country fell in late 1937 and the Aragon front collapsed shortly afterwards. The bombing of Guernica was probably the most infamous event of the war and inspired Picasso's painting. The Republicans desperately hung on, but the Battle of the Ebro in July through November 1938 was the beginning of the end. Barcelona fell to the Nationalists in early 1939 and the war was finally over. The war cost between 300,000 to 1,000,000 lives and destroyed the Republic. It also led to the accession of Francisco Franco as dictator of Spain.

Franco's rule is one of the most dominating features of Spain's history. During Franco's rule, Spain remained largely economically and culturally isolated from the outside world, and from any interior political rivals. Political parties were banned, except for the official party (Falange), labor unions were banned, political displays were abolished, and violence and intimidation were used freely.

The Spanish Miracle re-opened Spain to the outside world. Tourists flooded in, and Franco's rule began to crack. However, Francisco Franco ruled until his death on November 20th, 1975. The Spanish state was paralyzed without a ruler, and the need to transition to a modern democracy was apparent. This transition was finally complete with the electoral victory of the socialist PSOE on 28 October 1982.

Since Franco's demise, Spain has sought to shake off it's extreme conservatism and liberalize in both values and societal norms. On July 3rd, 2005 Spain became the first country in the world to give full marriage and adoption rights to homosexual couples. The country continues to progress and grow, rivalling it's European neighbors in excellence.


In the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC, the area was settled by the Laietani, in present-day Ciutat Vella, or "Old City". Another settlement was at Laie, near Montjuic. Both settlements had coinage and unique cultures.

At the start of the Second Punic War in 218 BC, Carthaginian troops occupied the area. Establishing a presence, this is usually cited as the foundation of the modern city of Barcelona. The Romans re-drew the town in 15 BC centered on the Mons Taber, a little hill near the contemporary city hall. Called Colonia Faventia Julia Augusta Pia Barcino (Faventia for short) by the Romans,the city grew in wealth and was admired for it's beautiful harbor. Remains of the Roman city can be found under the Plaça del Rei, at the entrance by the city museum (Museu d'Història de la Ciutat), and can be observed in the typically Roman grid-planning of Barri Gòtic.

The city was conquered by the Visigoths in the early 5th century and became the capital of Hispania. The area was reconquered in 801 by Charlemagne's son Louis who also made Barcelona the capital, of then Carolingian "Spanish Marches" (Marca Hispanica). The Counts of Barcelona became increasingly independent and expanded their territory to include all of Catalonia.

In 1137, Aragon and the County of Barcelona merged with the marriage of Ramon Berenguer IV and Petronilla of Aragon. Their son, Alfonso II of Aragon held both titles and ascended to the throne in 1162. His territories were known as the "Crown of Aragon". This early empire stretched from the western Mediterranean Sea to Naples and Athens in the 13th century.

Marriage once again united the areas when Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile married in 1469. The center of political power moved to Madrid and focus lie on the New World of the Americas. Barcelona continued to operate as a Catalan stronghold. The Catalan Revolt of 1640-52 further separated the city from Spain's Philip IV.

These struggles paled during the great plague of 1650-1654. The disease halved the city's population and the Napoleonic wars further ravaged the province. Slowly, the city's prominence returned with the postwar period of industrialization. In the summer of 1936, the city was set to host the Olympic Games, but an insurrection of the army in July 1936 plunged Spain into civil war. Several of the athletes who had arrived for the Games actually stayed to form the first of the Republican International Brigades, made famous by the writers Ernest Hemingway and George Orwell.

Barcelona, and Catalonia at large, were resolutely Republican. Public services were "collectivized" by the CNT and UGT unions. When the Republican government started to fail, the city fell under the control of anarchist groups. Barcelona May Day brought about further confrontations and the Stalinists and official government troops took hold in the city. On March 16, 1938 Barcelona was bombarded by Italian aircraft at the request of General Franco as retribution against the Catalan population. An ugly episode in the Spanish Civil War, the medieval Cathedral of Barcelona was bombed and more than one thousand people died. The city finally fell into Nationalist hands on January 26, 1939.

The 18th century brought the construction of the fortress of Montjuic. Overlooking the harbor, it was used by French astronomers Pierre François André Méchain in 1794.

The resistance of Barcelona to Franco's coup d'état was to have lasting effects after the defeat of the Republican government. The autonomous institutions of Catalonia were abolished[31] and the use of the Catalan language in public life was suppressed. Barcelona remained the second largest city in Spain, at the heart of a region which was relatively industrialized and prosperous, despite the devastation of the civil war. The result was a large-scale immigration from poorer regions of Spain (particularly Andalucia, Murcia and Galicia), which in turn led to rapid urbanization. Barcelona hosted the Olympic Games in 1992, which helped revitalize the city.

The death of Franco in 1975 brought democratization to Spain. Barcelona was a strong advocate for change as it had been treated poorly during Franco's rule. Catalan autonomy was advocated with massive demonstrations in 1977 and again in 2010.

Barcelona was improved and promoted as the 1992 host city of the Summer Olympics. The city blossomed as an international tourist destination. More and more people arrive in the city each day, some to visit, but many to stay.

Update 17/10/2011

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