History of Barcelona

History of Barcelona

The history of Barcelona stretches back well over 2000 years to its origins as an Iberian village, named "Barkeno". Its easily defensible location on the coastal plain between the Collserola ridge (512 m) and the Mediterranean sea, on the coastal route between central Europe and the rest of the Iberian peninsula, has ensured its continued importance, if not always preeminence, throughout the ages.

Barcelona is currently a city of 1,673,075 inhabitants (2006), the second largest in Spain, and the capital of the autonomous community of Catalonia. Its wider urban region is home to three-quarters of the population of Catalonia and one-eighth of that of Spain.


The origins of the city of Barcelona are unclear. The coastal plain near Barcelona conserves remains from the late Neolithic and early Chalcolithic periods. Later, in the third and second centuries BC, the area was settled by the Laietani, an Ιberian people, at "Barkeno" on the Táber hill (in the present-day "Ciutat Vella", or "Old City") and at "Laie" (or "Laiesken"), believed to have been located on Montjuïc. Both settlements struck coinage which survives to this day. [ [http://www.tesorillo.com/hispania/2ibericas1.htm#layetanos Cecas ibéricas en la zona catalana ] ] At around the same period, a small Greek colony, "Kallipolis" (Καλλίπολις), was founded in the region, though its exact location is unclear.

The area was occupied in 218 BC, at the start of the Second Punic War, by Carthaginian troops under the leadership of Hannibal Barca. Up until this point, the northern limit of the Punic territories had been the Ebro river, located over 150 km to the south.

This military occupation is often cited as the foundation of the modern city of Barcelona, but despite the similarities between the names of the Carthaginian dynasty and the modern city, it is usually accepted that the origin of the name "Barcelona" is the Iberic name "Barkeno".

Legends about the foundation

At least two founding myths have been proposed for Barcelona by romantic historians since the fifteenth century. One credits the Carthaginian general Hamilcar Barca, father of Hannibal, with the foundation of the city around 230 BC under the name of "Barkenon", "Barcelino" or "Barci Nova". Despite the similarities between the names of this Carthinagean family and the modern city, it is usually accepted that the origin of the name "Barcelona" is the Iberic "Barkeno".

The second attributes the foundation of the city to Hercules before the foundation of Rome. During the fourth of his Labours, Hercules joins up with the Jason and the Argonauts in search of the Golden Fleece, travelling across the Mediterranean in nine ships. One of the ships is lost in a storm off the Catalan coast, and Hercules sets out locate it. He finds it wrecked by a small hill, but with crew saved. The crew were so taken by the beauty of the location that they founded a city with the name "Barca Nona" ("Ninth Ship").

Roman Barcino

Information about the period from 218 BC until the first century BC is scarce. The Roman Republic contested the Carthaginean control of the area, and eventually set out to conquer the whole of the Iberian peninsula in the Cantabrian Wars, a conquest which was declared complete by Caesar Augustus in 19 BC. The north-east of the peninsula was the first region to fall under Roman control, and served as a base for further conquests. While Barcelona was settled by the Romans during this period under the name of "Barcino" (see below), it was considerably less important than the major centres of "Tarraco" and "Caesaraugusta", known today as Zaragoza.

The name "Barcino" was formalised around the end of the reign of Caesar Augustus (14 BC. It was a shortened version of the name which had been official up until then, "Colonia Faventia Julia Augusta Pia Barcino" (also "Colonia Julia Augusta Faventia Paterna Barcino" [Incr. ap. Gruter, p. 426, nos. 5, 6.] and "Colonia Faventia" [Pliny the Elder, iii. 3. s. 4.] ).

As a "colonia", it was established to distribute land among retired soldiers. The Roman geographer Pomponius Mela [Pomponius Mela, ii. 6.] refers to "Barcino" as one of a number of small settlements under the control of "Tarraco". However its strategic position on a branch of the Via Augusta allowed its commercial and economic development, [Rufo Festo Aviano, Or. Mar. 520: "Et Barcilonum aoena sedes ditium".)] and it enjoyed immunity from imperial taxation. [Paul. Dig. 1. tit. 15, de Cens.]

At the time of Caesar Augustus, "Barcino" had the form of a "castrum", with the usual perpedicular main streets of the "Cardus Maximus" and the "Decumanus Maximus" and a central "forum" located on the Táber hill (25 m), site of the iberic "Barkeno". The perimeter walls were 1.5 km long, enclosing an area of 12 ha.

By the second century, the city had the form of an "oppidum" and a population of 3500–5000. The main economic activity was the cultivation of the surrounding land, and its wine was widely exported. The archeological remains from the period (sculptures, mosaics, "amphorae") indicate a relatively rich population, although the city possessed none of the major public buildings (theatre, amphtheatre, circus) which are found in more important Roman centres such as "Tarraco". The one public building which was present was the temple, dedicated to Caesar Augustus and probably constructed at the start of the first century. It was quite large for a city the size of "Barcino", 35 m by 17.5 m, on a "podium" and surrounded by Corinthian columns.

The first raids by the Germanic tribes started around 250, and the fortifications of the city were substantially improved in the later years of the third century under Claudius II. The new double wall was at least two metres high, up to eight metres in some parts, and was punctuated by seventy-eight towers measuring up to eighteen metres high. The new fortifications were the strongest in the Roman province of the "Tarraconensis", and would be important in increasing the importance of "Barcino" compared with "Tarraco".LPK.

Paleochristian Barcino

The first Christian communities in the "Tarraconense" were founded during the third century, and the diocese of "Tarraco" was alreadyestablished by 259, when the bishop Saint Fructuosus (Fructuós) and the deacons Augurius and Eulogius were killed on the orders of the emperor Valerian. The Christian community in "Barcino" appears to have been established in the latter half of the third century.

The persecution of the Christians under Diocletian at the start of the fourth century would lead to at least one martyr in the region of "Barcino": Saint Cucuphas ( _ca. Sant Cugat). Apparently of African origin, Cucuphas had evangelised in several areas of the "Tarraconense", including "Barcino", "Egara" (modern Terrassa) and "Iluro" (modern Mataró), before being killed at "Castrum Octavium" (modern Sant Cugat del Vallès, just over the Collserola ridge from "Barcino"/Barcelona). Saint Eulalia ( _ca. Santa Eulàlia) is also often considered as a martyr from "Barcino".

The Edict of Milan in 313 granted a greater freedom of religion to Christians in the Roman Empire and put and end to widespread persecution. The first recorded
bishop of "Barcino" was Praetextatus (Pretextat) (d. 360), who attended the synod of Sardica in 347. He was succeeded by Saint Pacian (Catalan: "Sant Pacià", c. 310–390) and Lampius (Lampi) (d. 400). Pacian is particular known for his works "De baptismo" ("On baptism") and "Libellus exhortatorius ad poenitentium", about the penitencial system. The first major Paleochristian temple, the Basílica de la Santa Cruz at the origin of the modern cathedral, was constructed around the end of the fourth century.

Visigothic Barchinona

At the start of the fifth century, the Western Roman Empire suffered ever more serious attacks at the hands of various Germanic peoples, notably the Goths and the Vandals. Alaric's step-brother and successor Ataulf led the Visigoths into southern Gaul, and after a defeat at the hands of the Roman forces at "Narbona" (modern Narbonne) in 414, across the Pyrenees into the "Tarraconensis".

Ataulf established his court at "Barcino", where he was murdered by his own troops in 415.

The death of Ataulf, who had imprisoned then married Galla Placidia, daughter of the emperor Theodosius I, changed the relations between the Visigoths and the Romans. Under Wallia (415–419), the Visigoths became "fœderati", allies charged the control of the other Germanic tribes who had invaded "Hispania". Wallia was notably successful in this task, and the emperor Honorius extended the area of Visigoth control to include "Aquitania" and "Gallia Narbonensis". Wallia established his capital at "Tolosa" (modern Toulouse) in 417.

"Barcino" would remain an important, if provincial, centre of the Visigoth kingdom, notably because of its excellent defensive walls. After the death of Alaric II at the Battle of Vouillé against the Franks in 507, his successor Gesalec (507–511) moved the capital from "Tolosa" to "Barcino". Amalaric (511–531) ruled from "Narbona", but was murdered by his troops in "Barcino", from where his successor Theudis ruled until 548. "Barcino" returned to its role as a provincial centre with the establishment of the Visigoth capital in Toledo by Leovigildus in 573.

The Visigoths formed only a minority of the population of the city, occupying the positions of authority. The first rulers were Arians until the adoption of Christianity as the state religion in 589, but the practice of Christianity by the city population was tolerated. The religious centre moved from the Basílica de la Santa Cruz, converted into an Arian temple, to the Church of Saint Just. Christian Councils were held in 540 under bishop Nebridi and in 599 in the reconsacrated Basilica under bishop Ugern.

The language spoken at the time was undoubtedly Vulgar Latin, including by the Visigoth rulers who were rapidly Latinised. Over time, the spelling of the Latin "Barcino" (declined as "Barcinone", "Barcinonem", "Barcinonam", "Barcinona") gradually came to include an intercalated "h" to represent the hard /"k"/ sound (as in modern Italian), and the use of the different Latin cases declined.

Jewish Barchinona

The Jewish population of "Barcino"/"Barchinona" dates from the mid-fourth century at the latest. While the Jewish religion had been tolerated by the Romans, Jews suffered varying degrees of discrimination and persecution under the Visigoths. The Jewish population of "Barchinona" was considerable enough under the reign of Wamba (672–680) to demand a royal edict to expel the Sefardim.

Muslim Barshiluna

The Moorish forces arrived in the Iberian peninsula in 711 to help Akhila II in the civil war which opposed him against Roderic. Akhila renounced his throne in 713 in favour of Ardo, and a Moorish expedition under Al-Hurr quickly expanded the territory under their control. After the conquest and devastation of Tarraco in 717, "Barchinona" surrendered peacefully and was hence spared from major destruction.

Moorish rule in "Barshiluna" (also transliterated as "Medina Barshaluna", "Madinat Barshaluna", "Bargiluna" and "Barxiluna") lasted less than a century. While the cathedral was converted into a mosque and taxes levied on non-Muslims, religious freedom and civil government was largely respected. The local Walí was mostly concerned with military matters, with the count and the local bishop having large day-to-day control of the local population.

Barcelona in the Spanish March

Louis the Pious, son of Charlemagne, captured Barcelona in 801 after a siege of several months. It was to be the most southerly of his gains from Moors as he was pushed back from Tortosa, and the rivers Llobregat and Cardener marked the boundaries of the Carolingian possessions. The border regions were organised into the Spanish Marches ("Marca Hispanica"), administered by a number of counts appointed by the King, and Barcelona became the seat of a county.

The first Carolingian Counts of Barcelona were little more than royal administrators, but the position steadily gained in power and independence from the central rule with the weakening of the Carolingian kings. At the same time, several of the counties of the Spanish Marches came to be ruled by the same individual. The last Count of Barcelona to be appointed by the Carolingian authorities was Wilfred the Hairy ( _ca. Guifré el Pelós) at the Assembly of Troyes in 878: Wilfred, who was already Count of Cerdanya and Urgell, also received the counties of Girona and Besalú. At his death in 897, Wilfred's possessions were divided between his sons Wilfred II Borrel, Sunyer and Miró the Younger, marking the beginning of a hereditary régime. Wilfred II Borrell was the last of the Counts of Barcelona to pledge fidelity to the Carolingian court, although the "de jure" feudal link was not abolished until 1258 with the Treaty of Corbeil.

The preeminence of the Counts of Barcelona among the nobility of the Spanish Marches was in part due to their ability to expand their territory by conquests from the Moorish "walís". They also repopulated their inland realms, whose population had plummeted after two centuries of war. The city of Barcelona, easily defensible and with excellent fortifications, prospered with the increasing power of its overlords, while the other Marcher counties had more limited prospects.

Barcelona under the Crown of Aragon

While Alfonso II of Aragon inherited the Crown of Aragon in 1162 thanks to the marriage in 1137 of Ramon Berenguer IV, Count of Barcelona, Count of Barcelona, with Petronila of Aragon, future Queen of Aragon, the administrations of Aragon and Catalonia remained mostly separate. The city of Barcelona was by far the largest settlement in Catalonia, at least four times larger than Girona, and a vital source of royal income. The royal court passed much of its time from town to town, to ensure the continued loyalty of the local nobility, and steadily developed into a representative body known as the Corts of Catalonia.

The economy of Barcelona during this period was increasingly directed towards trade, with representatives known as consuls in all the major Mediterranean ports of the period.

Barcelona under the Spanish monarchy

The marriage of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella of Castile in 1469 united the two royal lines. The centre of political power became Madrid and the colonisation of the Americas reduced the financial importance (at least in relative terms) of Mediterranean trade.

The unification of the Spanish kingdoms and the riches of the New World were not without political repercussions for of Europe, leading ultimately to the War of the Spanish Succession from 1701 to 1714. The Catalan nobility sided with the Habsburgs against the Bourbon Philip V, which led to the abolition of Catalan autonomy with the last of the Nueva Planta decrees in 1715, and to an end of the national influence of the city of Barcelona.

However, from the end of the eighteenth century, the position of Barcelona as a Mediterranean port and the proximity of lignite deposits in the Berguedà became important factors in the Industrial Revolution. Catalonia as a whole, and Barcelona in particular, became important industrial centres, with an increase in wealth (if not political power).

In 1888, Barcelona hosted the Universal Exposition, which led to a great extension of its urbanised area from Citadella Park to Barceloneta. The city absorbed six surrounding municipalities [Sants, Les Corts, Sant Gervasi de Cassoles, Gràcia, Sant Andreu de Palomar and Sant Martí de Provençals. Horta was annexed in 1904 and Sarrià in 1924.] in 1897 and the new district of the "Eixample" (literally "the extension") was laid out. The relative prosperity of the city restored its role as a cultural centre, as is witnessed by the architecture of Antoni Gaudí still visible around Barcelona.

A second major international exhibition was organised in 1929, leading to the urbanisation of the area around Plaça Espanya and providing the impetus for the construction of the metro, inaugurated in 1924.

The Second Republic and civil war

The city had prepared to host the People's Olympics during the summer of 1936, building the
Olympic Stadium and developing the Montjuïc area, but the insurrection of the army in July 1936 plunged Spain into civil war. Several of the athletes who had arrived for the Games stayed to form the first of the Republican International Brigades, made famous by the writers Ernest Hemingway and George Orwell ("Homage to Catalonia").

The city, and Catalonia in general, were resolutely Republican. Many enterprises and public services were "collectivised" by the CNT and
UGT unions. As the power of the Republican government and the Generalitat diminished, much of the city was under the effective control of anarchist groups.

Barcelona was bombarded for three days beginning on March 16th, 1938, at the height of the Spanish Civil War. Under the command of the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, Italian aircraft stationed on Majorca attacked 13 times dropping 44 tons of bombs, aimed at the civil population. These attacks were at the request of General Franco as retribution against the Catalan population. The medieval Cathedral of Barcelona was bombed and more than one thousand people died, including many children. The number of people injured is estimated to be in the thousands. [ [http://arxxiduc.wordpress.com/2008/03/16/a-bitter-day-for-barcelona/ 1938 Bombardment of Barcelona] ]

The city finally fell into Nationalist hands on 1939-01-26.


The resistance of Barcelona to Franco's coup d'état was to have lasting effects after the defeat of the Republican government. The autonomous institutions of Catalonia were abolished [Decree of 1938-04-05.] and the use of the Catalan language in public life was suppressed and forbidded, although its use was not formally illegalised as often claimed. Barcelona remained the second largest city in Spain, at the heart of a region which was relatively industrialised and prosperous, despite the devastation of the civil war.

The result was a large-scale immigration from poorer regions of Spain (particularly Andalucia, Murcia and Galicia), which in turn led to rapid urbanisation. The district of Congrés was developed for the International Eucharistic Congress in 1952, while the districts of El Carmel, Nou Barris, El Verdum and Guinardó were developed later in the same decade. Barcelona's suburbs, such as L'Hospitalet de Llobregat, Bellvitge, Santa Coloma de Gramenet, Sant Adrià de Besòs, and Badalona, also saw a dramatic population increase, often tenfold over a single decade.

The increase in the population led to the development of the metro network, the tarmacking of the city streets, the installation of traffic lights and the construction of the first "rondas" or ringroads. The provision of running water, electricity and street lighting also had to be vastly improved, if not always fast enough to keep pace with the rising population.

The massive immigration not only left a city which was extremely densely populated (1,557,863 inhabitants, 15,517 per km², in 1970), often housed in very poor quality accommodation, but also contributed to the decline in the specifically Catalan culture of Barcelona. While the use of Catalan in private was tolerated in the later years of the dictatorship, the immigrants to Barcelona spoke only Spanish. Catalan-language education was unavailable, even if there had been any social pressure to learn the local language (which was far from the case in urban areas).

Modern Barcelona

The death of Franco in 1975 brought on a period of democratisation throughout Spain. Pressure for change was particularly strong in Barcelona, which considered (with some justification) that it had been punished during nearly forty years of Franquism for its support of the Republican government. Massive, but peaceful, demonstrations on 1977-09-11 assembled over a million people in the streets of Barcelona to call for the restoration of Catalan autonomy. It was granted less than a month later.

The development of Barcelona was promoted by two events in 1986: Spanish accession to the European Community, and particularly Barcelona's designation as host city of the 1992 Summer Olympics. The process of
urban regeneration has been rapid, and accompanied by a greatly increased international reputation of the city as a tourist destination. The increased cost of housing has led to a slight decline (−16.6%) in the population over the last two decades of the twentieth century as many families move out into the suburbs. This decline has been reversed since 2001, as a new wave of immigration (particularly from Latin America and from Morocco) has gathered pace. [The proportion of the population born outside of Spain rose from 3.9% in 2001 to 13.9% in 2006. http://www.bcn.es/estadistica/catala/dades/inf/guies/bcn.pdf]

See also

*History of Spain
*History of Catalonia
*Bishop of Barcelona


Much of this article has been translated from the article "Historia de Barcelona" on Spanish Wikipedia.

External links

* [http://www.bcn.cat/ Official site] of the Barcelona city administration
* [http://www.barcelonaexplori.com/barcelona-history-timeline.html Barcelona History Timeline] on BarcelonaExplore.com
* [http://oreneta.com/libro-verde/ Barcelona on-this-day historical almanac] based on the 1848 "Libro verde de Barcelona"

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