A vibrant character that astonishes with tradition, arts and history
Barcelona is one of the most popular destinations in Europe. With its sinuous architecture and vibrant centre, this city enchants with its solid traditions and history that traces back to its ancient name, ‘Barcino’. So let’s discover its history and explore what to see.
Roman inscriptions (Jay Cross CC BY 2.0 Wikimedia Commons)
According to legend, the Carthaginian Hamilcar Barca, Hannibal’s father, founded the city of Barcelona. However, the existence of a Carthaginian Barcelona has never been proven. Therefore, it is likely that the first inhabitants of Barcino (Latin name of modern Barcelona), founded around 300 BCE, were people of Iberian origin.
Later, the Romans reorganised the town as a Castrum (a military camp), located on Mount Tàber, a hill where the town hall and the seat of the Generalitat de Catalunya (Plaça de Sant Jaume) stand today. The Romans baptised the city as Colonia Iulia Augusta Faventia Paterna Barcino. The ancient organisation of the streets is still visible in the maps of the old town and in the Roman walls that have remained standing. It is believed that Barcino also had an amphitheatre near the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar.
La rendición de Granada (by Francisco Pradilla)
After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the whole of Southern Europe was hit by the famous barbarian invasions, which saw the Visigoths in the 5th century CE conquer Barcelona. Subsequently, after a period of tranquillity, a new cycle of incursions from the south by the Islamic Caliphate turned Spain into a theatre of battles.
There followed a period of advances and numerous battles, pitting the armies of North Africa against the Christian kingdoms of Central Europe, who were fighting them from the north. Notably, in 801 CE, the Franks, led by Ludwig the Pious, substracted part of northern Spain from the Caliphate and made Barcelona the county’s capital.
This ongoing Spanish dispute between Christians and Muslims went down in history as “Reconquista”, an almost eight-hundred-year period in which the progressive conquest of the Moorish Muslim kingdoms of al-Andalus (the Arabic name for southern Spain and Portugal) by Christian armies took place.
However, from the 10th century onwards, Barcelona experienced a long period of prosperity. In 1137 CE, through a game of alliances, the count became king of Aragon and the city the most representative centre of the realm and capital of the Principality of Catalonia. Barcelona became a major port of the Mediterranean Sea, and its merchants and shipowners competed against the Italian Genoese. The city was enriched with sumptuous Gothic buildings, and between the 13th and 14th centuries CE, two new city walls fortified its medieval heart.
In the 15th century CE, the city entered a period of decadence that continued over the following centuries due to the trade exclusion from newly discovered America. Then, in 1717 CE, following its defeat against the forces of the first of the Bourbons of Spain, King Philip V, Catalonia lost its political independence.
Industrialisation in the 19th century continued throughout the 20th century, revitalising the economy, and the city once again became a substantial commercial, political and cultural centre. Witnesses to this are the two Universal Expositions organised in 1888 and 1929.
In the second half of the 19th century, the project to demolish the ancient medieval walls made way for the “Estension”, meaning “extension” (“Eixample” in Catalan), which enlarged the city’s boundaries to encompass the villages in the nearby suburbs.
During the Civil War, Barcelona sided with the Republic. More specifically, the city’s strong and entrenched anarchist movement gave impetus to massive collectivisations and widespread experiences of self-management in industry and public services. During the WWII that followed, the city was bombed on several occasions, mainly by the Italian Legionary Air Force and the Nazi Condor Legion in the service of General Franco. There were 385 bombings, which caused 2,750 deaths. The city was occupied on 26 January 1939 by the Francoist Army. The regime abolished the autonomous political institutions and banned the use of the Catalan language. During the 36 years of the dictatorship, Barcelona experienced a period of social and cultural transformation. Heavy immigration (essentially from southern Spain) injected large numbers of Spanish-speaking inhabitants into the city’s substratum, reducing the impact of Catalan.
After the war, Barcelona began a new cultural and urban development that transformed it into the modern metropolis of the present.