Magazine article UNESCO Courier

A Thousand Years of Catalan History

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

A Thousand Years of Catalan History

Article excerpt

TEN centuries ago, the Count of Barcelona severed the ties of feudal loyalty that bound him to his liege lord, the King of France. From then on, a territorial, social and political entity centred on the ancestral house of Barcelona grew in strength and, from the thirteenth century onwards, was known as Catalonia.

As a marchland and the outpost of Carolinglan Europe in Muslim Spain during the High Middle Ages, and the driving force behind Catalan and Aragonese expansion between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries, Catalonia has a historical continuity of which even many Spaniards are unaware. Hence, the commemoration of its birth" a thousand years ago is more than a strictly political event.

Catalonia is a small territory of some 32,000 square kilometres which is situated in the north-eastern corner of the Iberian peninsula and forms part of the kingdom of Spain. However, historical Catalonia included part of southern France, and even today some people think of Catalonia as encompassing the Catalan-speaking regions of Valencia, the Balearic Iselands, Andorra, and the French Departement of Pyrenees Orientales. But let us leave polemics aside. The region referred to in this article is the autonomous community of the "Generalitat de Catalunya", whose capital is Barcelona.

In geographical terms, present-day Catalonia is a triangular-shaped region bounded in the north by the mountain chain of the Pyrenees, in the east and south by the Mediterranean, and in the west by the provinces of Aragon and Valencia, which are irrigated by the River Ebro. There is a wide variety of climate and relief. In the north are the Pyrenees, whose limestone spurs extend southwards. The transversal north-eastern cordillera and the Mediterranean coastal ranges make a contrast with the Ebro basin and the coastal plains. Although the climate is predominantly Mediterranean, the high mountain areas are Alpine in character.

From barely two million in 1900, Catalonia's population has risen to six million today. The increase is primarily due to immigration, which has compensated for the low birth rate of the Catalan population.

Catalonia is one of Europe's most economically dynamic regions. It occupies a pre-eminent position in the Spanish economy, along with Madrid and the Basque region. The industrial sector is particularly strong and is concentrated on textiles, paper and the graphic arts, chemicals and metallurgy, and tourism.

A dynasty that ruled for 5 centuries

Some 3,000 years ago the region was settled by Iberian tribes with which the Phoenicians and Greeks established trade relations, and in the third century BC it became part of the Roman province of Hispania. As elsewhere in Spain, Roman civilization left an indelible mark on the language, culture and law of Catalonia, which even inherited its agricultural and fishing techniques from Rome.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, Hispania was invaded by Germanic tribes and later by the Moors. In the eighth century AD, Charlemagne set up a number of vassal earldoms in the eastern Pyrenean region of France as marchlands facing Muslim Spain. When the Count of Barcelona became independent of the French kings in the tenth century, he established a dynasty that would govern Catalonia for the next five centuries. In the twelfth century, the Count of Barcelona became, through marriage, the king of Aragon. From then onwards, the CatalanAragonese confederation, also known as the Crown of Aragon, expanded into the eastern part of the Iberian peninsula. It conquered Valencia, the Balearic Islands and later Sardinia, Naples and Sicily, and eventually reached Greece and North Africa. This was a splendid period of Catalan culture. Among its artistic and intellectual highlights were its Romanesque (see page 29) and later Gothic, art and architecture and in literature the work of the thirteenth-century philosopher and mystic Ramon Llull and the fifteenth-century poet Ausias March. …

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