1. History of Catalunya a Return Home

Ruins at Monastery of Poblet, founded 1150. 
We visited two expat friends of Manel's in Torroella De Montgrí, Catalunya. We drank wine and talked for hours. I mentioned that this was my first visit to Spain. One of his friends responded, "Really? I've never been to Spain."
I thought. "Ah, I'm beginning to understand."


To understand a place you need to understand its past.

Those of you who follow my Twitter, Instagram and Facebook page, know from the steady flow of photos that the past week I have been in Catalunya, the northeastern portion of the Iberian peninsula.

This is Part 1. of my series of posts about Catalunya, what I experienced and what I learned. I believe it will take at least eight posts to cover all I want. At least eight. I learned a great deal. Of course, there will be information on Catalan wine. You can jump to the Outline if needed.

Admittedly, it was overly ambitious, and naive of me to attempt to describe the history of Catalunya. The region is rich with historical characters and events, there have been invasions, conquests, alliances, re-conquests, heroes and dictators. From the earliest days of pre-history, to the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Visigoths, Moors, Franks, and Spanish. Catalunya has repeatedly formed alliances and become the center of power. Catalans have suffered extreme losses and had their language and culture suppressed. It is a distinct history reflected in the Catalunya of today.

You can hear, smell, taste and see the impact of history on Catalunya. Throughout the last two thousand years of history, Catalans have remained distinct and proud. Catalunya has its own language, Català/Catalan, its own traditional foods and some of the best wine in the world. Once again, Catalunya has its own parliament and executive, known as the "Generalitat" with extensive autonomy.

As I've learned, many Catalans think of themselves as distinct from Spain. Proud to be Catalan, with their own language and culture. I will attempt to summarize with this history a little of what it means to be Catalan. There is much I learned. In future posts I will tackle the subjects of Catalan language, food, geography and wine. 

As I stated, an ambitious and naive effort. It is not lost on me that I am attempting this on the 4th of July, our Independence day. 


William Pollard Jr


History of Catalunya

People from Catalunya are called 'Catalans' . The term 'Catalonians' is used in English language text but 'Catalans' would be the preferred reference.  In English, Catalunya is spelled 'Catalonia'. Both are found in English language text; however, 'Catalonia' is used far more often. Catalans speak 'Català', which in English is spelled 'Catalan'. 

In my series of posts, I will use 'Catalans' for the people of Catalunya, and 'Catalunya' over the English 'Catalonia'. I will differentiate the language by using, 'Català/Catalan'. Thank you to my sister-in-law Crystal, for pointing out the distinction.


Pre- History
Archaeologists have discovered remnants of early human habitation in what is now Catalunya. These sites date back at least 100,000 years. Some of the most important Neolithic remains in Catalunya are the Cave of Fontmajor (l'Espluga de Francolí) and the Cave of Toll (Morà)
The Abrics de l'Ermita (Hermitage Rock Shelters), situated in the Serra de Godall (Ulldecona), preserve a series of cave paintings that have been declared World Heritage. Add these places to your list of must visit while in Catalunya. While I did not have a chance to see these caves, they are now on my list. 

Phoencians 7th Century BC - 6th Century BC
"The Phoenicians, whose origins were in what is today known as Lebanon, were the first to trade with the indigenous communities of meridian localities of what is now Catalonia and the coastal zones of the north-eastern part of the Peninsula, up to the zone that is today Languedoc. " Generalitat de Catalunya, an excellent article on the Phoenicians of Lebanon and the trade settlements they established. Greek trade would follow as well as Greek colonies.

Greeks Arrived in 6th Century BC
"The Greek peoples who came from Phocaea, in Asia Minor, after founding Massalia (Marseille) towards the year 600 B.C. and dominating the coastal arch defined between the Italian Liguria and the gulf of Roses, built Empúries and Roses. This first Greek colony was situated in the almost islet of Sant Martí d'Empúries towards 580 B.C. and was the origin of the future city of Emporion (market), from which name Empordà derives. Rhode (Roses), on the other hand, was founded a century later and became an important city in the third century." Generalitat de Catalunya, Colonizing and autonomous settlements. Iberian, Greek and Phoenician culture. 8th Century BC - 3rd Century AC.
Vineyards near Garriguella in the DO Empordà.
* Note: I visited the Mas LLunes winery of DO Empordà. Empordà whose name was derived after the Greek city of Emporion. It is located in the village of Garriguella, 10 kilometers from the border of France and 10 km from the Mediterranean sea. 

Mas LLunes Rhodes red wine. 
The Mas LLunes winery has a delicious red wine labeled "Rhodes" named after the Greek city of Rhode (Roses) founded in 380 BC. I will have more information on Mas LLunes and a reveiw of their Rhodes red wine in future posts. It is rather humbling to have walked through land with such an old and rich history.  

The Romans 
From the 5th to the 3rd century BC, the Romans took over. Remnants from this period can still be found in Barcelona especially in the Plaça del Rei and in the Gothic quarter. The Romans introduced infrastructure: Cities, roads, irrigation, grapes, olives, law, and the Latin language. The Catalan language has its roots in Latin. Note the Roman cities of Tarraco (Tarragona) and Barcino (Barcelona). The Roman province of Hispania Citerior, established the region that today is Catalunya. By the end of the first century B.C., Hispania was essentially romanized: language, writing and the ways of life of the people had been transformed by assimilation. 
*Note: Catalan wine was prized in Rome, where it was shipped in large amphora and transported by boats. In an upcoming post, I will write about a young winemaker who is reviving the practice of making wine in large amphora.

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Modern amphora for making wine.


8th - 9th Centuries
Catalunya was the first part of Hispania conquered by the Romans. It then came under Visigothic rule after the collapse of the western part of the Roman Empire. In 718, the area was occupied by the Moors and became a part of al-Andalus. The Frankish Empire conquered the area from the Muslims, beginning with the conquest of Roussillon in 760 and ending with the conquest of Barcelona in 801, as part of the creation of a larger buffer zone of Christian counties known as the Marca Hispanica.
* Note: I know I glossed over a lot of history. 
Birth of Catalunya
At the end of the ninth century, the future Catalunya was divided into ten counties which today still answer to the actual districts: Ribagorça, Pallars, Urgell, Cerdanya, Rosselló, Empúries, Besalú, Osona, Girona and Barcelona. During his reign, the count Guifré el Pelós (who died in 897) managed to gather under his command the following counties: Osona, Urgell, Girona, Barcelona and the Berguedà district, giving rise to what would be the central nuclei of Catalunya and the origin of a count and royal dynasty which would pass from father to son until 1410.
In 988 the count of Barcelona, Borrell II, refused to be the vassal of the Franc King, by calling himself Iberian duke and marquis by the grace of God. He stopped sending taxes to the Frankish kings and became independent. Catalan culture develops under the counts of Barcelona.
1162 the Crown of Aragon is formed by the marriage of Ramon Berenguer IV with Princess Peronella of Aragon.

12th - 15th centuries, Crown of Aragon expanded to Majorca, Valencia, Sicily, Sardinia, Naples and Athens. 
Barcelona is now center of power. 
Kings power is limited by Les Corts Catalanes, which required the authorization of the military, church and nobility. This moderated the King's power of taxation.
* 1359 the Diputacio del General was created, which has been compared to today's Generalitat.
1469 Castile and Aragon Unite with the marriage of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon. Foundation of a unified Spain. 
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Eight Kings of  Catalunya and Aragon were interred at the Monastery of Poblet.

Power Shift Away from Catalunya to Castile 
The Reconquista of Al-Andalus started almost immediately after the Arabs took over. By 1150 over half of the peninsula was reclaimed, and by 1249 the only remaining region still under Muslim control was the Emirate of Granada. In 1492 Spain conquered the Emirate of Granda. This was also the time that the discovery and conquest of the America's began and the beginning of power shifting to Castile.
Castile sponsored the Columbus expedition. It was not a Catalan enterprise. Trade began to shift from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic Ocean. Expansion to the Atlantic and the conquest of the Americas fed the coffers of Castile. The economic and political importance of Catalunya therefore weakened.
Catalunya retained its own laws as a principality of the Crown of Aragon but this came to an end when the Bourbon dynasty secured the throne of Spain in the War of Spanish Succession (1701–1714) and made the former Crown of Aragon territories into provinces of the Crown of Castile.
* 11 September 1714, Catalan troops were forced to surrender to the Castilian forces of France and Philip V of Spain. (Today recognized as "La Diada Nacional de Catalunya" The National Day of Catalunya. Today observed as an official holiday.) 
Subsequently, Philip V (1700 - 1724 and 1724 - 1746) abolished the Catalan State and the rest of the Crown of Aragon and ruled them under the Castilian absolutist law. This represents the birth of Spain as a unitary State.
By 1778 Seville was the only authorized port city to trade with the Americas. The Catalans, under the Crown of Aragon, had no right to trade directly with the Castilian controlled Americas. 
18th and 19th Centuries Growth and Rebirth
In 1810 Napoleon allowed Catalunya to become an independent Republic under his guardianship. In 1812 Napoleon incorporated Catalunya as part of his Empire until it became part of the Spanish Kingdom again in 1814 when the French were defeated.
In the late 18th century when the Bourbons ended Castile's trade monopoly with Spanish American colonies, Catalunya again experienced economic growth. In the latter half of the 19th century, Catalunya became a center of industrialization.
* Renaixença (Rebirth). The second third of the 19th century saw a Catalan cultural renaissance which promoted Catalan language, arts and architecture, with Antoni Gaudí one of the most memorable figures. Barcelona was the center of activity, Picasso, an Andalusian and Joan Miró, a Catalan, found inspiration there.
20th Century
At the start of the 20th century, Catalunya regained its united administrative system and a degree of self-rule. Barcelona’s regional government reinstalled a single institution to coordinate decisions among the four Catalan provinces and in 1914 the Mancomunitat was finally established. It was abolished 11 years later. 
* 1931 the establishment of an autonomous government for Catalunya, under the name of Generalitat. King Alfonso XIII of Spain fled into exile.
Spanish Civil War. An attempted coup in 1936 becomes a full-blown civil war that lasted from 1936 - 1939. Catalunya endures aerial bombings by Mussolini's air force and the German Luftwaffe. Thousands die in the Battle of Ebro.  
World War IIDuring World War II more than 50,000 Catalans died. 

Dictator Ship 1939 - 1975 General Francisco Franco
This was an extremely dark period for Catalans. Franco's regime intentionally repressed the population. Political parties and all democratic rights, such as freedom of speech and freedom of association were abolished. The use of Català/Catalan was made illegal. Franco's regime tried to crush all regional cultures, languages and identities within Spain. Even so, the Catalan language survived and continued to be used in private.
Thousands of Catalans went into exile. In addition, 4,000 Catalans were executed between 1938 and 1953, among them the former president of the Generalitat Lluís Companys i Jover.
The pact with the United States in 1953, and Spain's joining of the UN in 1955, implied that Franco's regime was legitimized by the international community, although it did not form part of the European Council or of the European Economic Community. 
Spanish MiracleIn 1959–1974 Spain experienced the second fastest economic expansion in the world in what became known as the Spanish Miracle and Catalunya prospered greatly from the expansion as Spain's most important industrial and tourist zone.
The dictatorship finally ended with Franco’s death in 1975. 
Generalitat Reinstated 
* Before the new Spanish Constitution was passed, Josep Tarradellas, the President of the Generalitat elected in exile, returned to Catalunya on 23 October 1977. He reinstalled the Generalitat and set up an interim government.
1978 Catalunya voted overwhelmingly for the new democratic Spanish constitution that recognized Catalunya's autonomy and language.
1979 the new Statute of Autonomy was approved. Catalunya became defined as a "nationality", Català/Catalan was recognized as Catalunya's own language, and became co-official with Spanish.

Catalunya Today
* Catalunya now has its own parliament and executive - together known as the "Generalitat" in Català/Catalan - with extensive autonomy.
Spain's current economic crisis has caused increased support for Catalan separation. More and more Catalans believe that Catalunya pays more to Madrid than it gets back. Much of Spain's debt crisis is blamed on the central government.
An informal, non-binding vote for independence was held in 2014, with 80% of those taking part voting "yes". The Spanish government in response said that Catalunya has no constitutional right to break away.
November 9, 2015, Catalan parliament narrowly approved a measure to implement a “peaceful disconnection from the Spanish state.” Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, immediately reiterated the central government’s position that any such move would be illegal and opposed by Madrid. 
On January 9, 2016, just hours before a deadline that would have triggered a fresh round of elections, Carles Puigdemont, the mayor of Girona, was selected as presidential candidate. Catalan president Artur Mas stepped aside, although he remained a member of the Catalan parliament. Puigdemont vowed to continue the efforts to establish an independent Catalan state. “We are a power at the international level,” said Puigdemont, that the time has come “to start the process of setting up an independent Catalan state.”
There are many resources with terrific information about the history of this region. They can tell the history of Catulunya far better than I. See links at bottom.

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Balcony with both Catalan flags.
As you walk around Barcelona or travel through Catalunya, you will see two different Catalan flags hanging from balconies and office buildings. The one with four red stripes on a yellow background is the Senyera and the one with an added star, which is normally white on a blue background, is the Estelada.
  • La Senyera is the official flag of the Spanish Autonomous Communities of Catalunya, Aragón, the Balearic Islands, Valencia and the historically Catalan-speaking city of Alghero in Sardinia. It is also included on the flags or coats of arms of Pyrénées-Orientales, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, the flag of Roussillon, Capcir, Vallespir and Provence in France and is a quarter of the coat of arms of Andorra.
  • The Estelada is an unofficial flag and is generally waved by supporters of Catalunya's independence from Spain. You will see many hanging from balconies in Barcelona and the rest of Catalunya.
After my first three days in Catalunya, I became sensitive to some of the issues with Spain. I noticed more and more the Catalan flags flying from homes and hung on public buildings. Català/Catalan was spoken as the main language everywhere I visited. I really wanted to learn how to speak Català/Catalan, more than the few words I learned. Since, I have become more careful with my discussions about Catalunya and Spain.

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At the Saturday market in Palamós.

With all that I experienced and have learned, it is not clear to me if the majority of Catalan citizens want independence from Spain. That is for them to decide. They may.

With great trepidation, in my next post I will attempt to discuss the Català/Catalan language. Another ambitious and naive effort. There will be links to resources for learning Català/Catalan.


Resources History of Catalunya:
Many thanks to Manel for helping me edit this page. Yes, I made some typos in Català and links.

Salut! 

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