Wednesday, October 5, 2011

An Overview of Catalonian History from the Frist Evidence of Man to Today:

         The Catalonian region of Spain has been settled since the Stone Age and between times of war and peace it has grown to be an area thick with history. The first evidence of early man in the area can be found in the Alt Emporda region, located in the northeast corner of Catalonia, bordering France and the Mediterranean Sea. Here discoveries of Dolmens, early tombs made of two side by side upright stones with one stone laid across the top have been found and can be dated back to the Neolithic Era, considered to be the last part of the stone age, beginning in roughly 9500 BC. This shows that man was living in Catalonia very early on and has continued to settle there since. Later evidence of man is also seen in the first trade ports of the area located at Empurie, dating back to 550 BC, though it has continued to be functional throughout history. Life and growth was flourishing throughout Catalonia at this time as the ports continued to grow. However, the Romans attacked the area in 218 BC after Hannibal and his elephants marched over the Pyrenees and Alps from Catalonia and into France and Rome. They wiped out the civilizations and cities and created their own capitol of the region in south Catalonia known as Tarraco. Today there are still vestiges of the old city within Barcelona that I hope to be able to look at in the time that we have there. Once the Roman Empire collapsed the Visigoths controlled the peninsula for a short time before the Muslim and Berber tribes moved in and took power. The Muslims remained in power for only a short time before the Franks and Charlemagne were able to reclaim Catalonia in 801. Interesting to note is that because the reign of the Muslims over Catalonia was so short their art and culture was not affected by Islamic culture and remains as it was before their rule, unlike the rest of Spain and the peninsula.
            Thus begins the rule of the Counts of Barcelona who were entrusted with the buffer state that Charlemagne created along the Pyrenees between France and Spain, including modern day Catalonia. The counts were local lords that Charlemagne put in power and their rule remained unbroken for five hundred years. Under the rule of Ramon Bereguer I Catalonia established the first constitutional government that Europe had ever seen. They created the Usatges in 1060, the first bill of rights. This led to a period of expansion and development, where Catalonia grew to become the ruler of the sea, expanding trade under a code Libre del Consolat de Mar created in 1258. Catalonia and Barcelona grew and flourished with more trade than any other region. However, this all ended when Fernando the II came into power in 1556 and united all of Spain under one Catholic rule. He then drove out the Jews who were key players in the growing trade and business industry causing the industry to collapse and trade to move elsewhere. Trade remained low and the wealth of the area dwindled through the taking of power by Felipe the IV in 1621. He began his rule by starting the thirty years war with France. However, the people of Catalonia saw no reason to fight with France, especially since they had in times past been a part of that country, and so they rose up and killed the Viceroy assigned to rule Catalonia for King Felipe. Spain didn’t succeed in winning the war and ceded all the Catalan lands north of the Pyrennes to France. This shows how the border initially developed and this is how it still lies today. Dark times continued to befall Catalonia as a war broke out between the two ruling families, the Hadsburgs and the Bourbons, Barcelona siding with the Hadsburgs. This led to a heavy besiegement of Barcelona, with the city eventually falling on September 11, 1714, now celebrated as National Day, the victory was then granted to the Bourbons. Here followed a long period of wars with France, including the Peninsula wars, and the War of Independence after Napoleon put his brother Joseph on the throne much to the disparagement of the people of Spain. Though trading restrictions were lifted and Catalonia began to trade freely with the Americas, the continuous wars impeded on the growth that could otherwise have been expected. However, we do see a rise in the power and prestige of Barcelona when it became the first city to industrialize in 1854 through the manufacturing of cotton goods with raw materials from America. This growth led to a late renaissance in Catalonia beginning in 1859, an era of cultural growth where it was a source of pride to be a Catalan. The first home rule party of Catalonia was founded in 1887 and it furthered disputes with the central government over the perceived unnecessary conflicts in Morocco, and lose of trade with the American colonies. However, Barcelona was able to remain a strong city and in 1888 it held the first Universal Exhibition, showing off the power and wealth of the city. This led to a surge in new buildings and architectural growth that, due to Spain’s non-participation in World War I, still stand today. Through this long history we see the strength and power of Catalonia remain vastly unchanged by the sea of cultures around it. Though once it was a part of France and under Islamic rule, the culture remains a pure representation of the citizens and the area. 


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