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Barcelona Travel Guide

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Barcelona's History

The coast of Catalunya had been settled by the Phoenicians and the Greeks, but it was not until the Carthaginians established Barcino on an earlier Celtiberian settlement in the 3rd century BC that the modern name began to emerge. The Romans defeated the Carthaginians in 206 BC and ruled Spain for the next 600 years during which time Roman Law, language and culture took a firm hold. The Roman citadel was located where the cathedral and city hall now stand.

After sacking Rome in 410 AD, the Germanic Visigoths swept into Spain, renaming the city Barcinona and making it their captital between 531 and 554 until they moved to Toledo. The Visigoth kingdom came to an end in 711 with the Moorish invasion from Africa and Catalunya was briefly overrun until defeated beyond the Pyrenees by the Franks in 732. Charlemagne's knights pushed in after them and installed themselves at the head of the border counties to guard the southern flank of his empire. One of these feudal lords, Guifré el Pilós, became the Count of Barcelona in 878 and founded a dynasty that lasted for almost 500 years. While the rest of Spain remained Moorish, Barcelona and the rest of Catalunya retained its links to the rest of Europe. Catalunya's flag of four red stripes on a gold background represent his four bloody fingers drawn across his shield.

After Louis V refused to help repulse Moorish raiders in 988, the counts of Barcelona declared their independence from the Franks. This is celebrated as Catalunya's birth as a nation state and it was soon enlarged through a series of marriages and military adventures. Mallorca, Ibiza and Tarragona where taken from the Moors by Ramon Berenguer III and Provence was taken through mariage. Ramon Berenguer IV united Catalunya with Aragon though marriage, resulting in his son Alfonso II becoming the first Aragon-Catalan king, ruling the Mediterranean coast all the way to Nice. However, this was reversed by the next king, who lost many of these gains.

This period also saw the beginnings of democratic institutions with the introduction of an early code of laws in the 11th century, known as the Usatges de Barcelona. As well as ensuring complete Catalan control of the Balearic Islands, capturing Valencia and building a second city wall around the expanding Barcelona, Jaume I (1213-76) introduced the Consell de Cent, a municipal council composed of leading citizens. Sicily was taken in 1282 and in 1283 a parliament, later to become the Generalitat, was founded. Also during this period came the Llibre del Consolat del Mar, the foundation of European maritime law and the following century saw Barcelona at the peak of its glory with Sardinia, Corsica, Naples, the Roussillon and, for a short time, Athens under its control.

These centuries saw the construction of magnificent Gothic buildings such as the cathedral and other palaces and monuments. Barcelona acted as the focal point for the exchange of scholar and scientific knowledge between the European and Muslim worlds and the arts flourished under the great patrionage. Foreign trade saw to it that shipbuilding and conquest were established.

Ferdinand of Aragon-Catlunya (Ferrán II in Catalunya) married Isabella of Castille, thus forming the nucleus of the Spanish state. Barcelona was now just one of the seats of The Catholic Monarchs because in 1492 they finally captured the last Moorish stronghold, Granada. This year also saw the discovery of America by Columbus, financed by Isabella, and upon his return he was received by the monarchs in the Royal Palace in Barcelona.

The 16th century, which was a golden age for Spain , saw Barcelona's influence decline further and eventually Madrid, a previously insignificant city in the centre on the country was made the capital.

In 1640 a revolt against the five year old war with France started in Barcelona and saw Catalunya first declared as a republic allied to France. Forced to surrender under the 1652 seige of Barcelona, the Catalan territories north of the Pyrenees were given to France. The following years saw the city rebuilt, only to see it destroyed again in the wars against France of 1680 and 1690.

In 1705, following years of interference from Madrid, Catalunya signed a treaty with England and Genoa and went to war. This ended with the 13 month seige of Barcelona, which ended on 11th September 1714, celebrated today as Catalunya's national day. The Generalitat was dissolved and offical use of the Catalan language was banned. To add insult to injury an occupying force was installed in the Ciutadella fortress, built specifically for this purpose.