- County of northeastern Spain, originally in the Frankish Kingdom;
- A province (B) in modern Spain.
Named after the city on the Mediterranean Sea, lying north of the mouth of the River Llobregat.
In the second half of the 8th century the Frankish Kings gradually pushed the Moors out of the lands between the River Rhône and the Pyrenees and then advanced beyond the mountains. In 801 Barcelona was taken. Although attempts were made to advance further by taking Tortosa and Tarragona, they failed, and it was not until 1128 that Tarragona, only fifty miles along the coast from Barcelona, was securely in Christian hands. Though Barcelona had been a Roman settlement (Barcino) important enough to be the seat of a Bishop, as the town on the edge of a great border region its importance was magnified several times over. Its rise as a great commercial city followed upon, rather than preceded, its political importance and its becoming a princely residence.
The border region of the Spanish March and the March of Gothia was often under the command of major figures in the Frankish Kingdom. In the early years of the 9th century William of Gellone, cousin of the Emperor Charlemagne, was the most prominent commander there. His son, Bernard of Septimania, dominated the marcher zone first in the late 820s and then between 835 and 844, when he was executed. His son William briefly held sway in 849 and 850, when he too was executed. Other great Frankish nobles commanded both sides of the Pyrenees, including Hunfrid, whose rebellion in 863 caused much trouble for a time, and Hunfrid’s successor, Bernard of Gothia, who in his turn struck out in his own interest in 878, during the feeble reign of Louis the Stammerer. Men such as these locked the marcher zone into the politics of the Kingdom.
There was an alternative: to choose men whose importance lay in the region rather than the Kingdom. When Bernard of Septimania was executed in 844 on the orders of the West Frankish King Charles the Bald, Sunifred Count of Urgell was appointed in his stead. He died at the hands of Bernard’s son William, soon to be executed himself. By the early 870s Sunifred’s sons had established themselves in several of the nearby counties and in 878, when Bernard of Gothia rebelled, the eldest brother, Guifré (or Wilfred the Hairy), was appointed Count of Barcelona. He kept Barcelona till he died fighting in 897, and was succeeded by his son. His descendants were Counts of Barcelona until the male line exhausted itself in 1410. His brothers had established themselves in other east Pyrenean counties; they too were followed by their descendants.
The Counts of Barcelona of Wilfred’s line were far less trouble to the Kings than the Frankish Counts had been. They were loyal, sought royal approval for their decisions when royal approval was proper and kept in contact with the French court. But they were far from royal power, itself much diminished in the 10th century. When al-Mansur, the minister of the Umayyad Caliph, lauched assaults on the Christian realms, Barcelona was one of the cities taken by his armies (in 985). The Count appealed to King Lothar for help but Lothar had too many problems of his own to be able to assist the most remote corner of his realm. Al-Mansur’s army soon withdrew. Two years after Lothar’s inability to respond, both he and his son were dead and a new dynasty had taken the throne of France. There was no dramatic rupture between the Capetian Kings and the Counts of Barcelona but the drift away from the French Kingdom was not going to be reversed by a dynasty, the southernmost of whose own lands lay in a bridgehead across the Loire opposite Orléans.
Though the comital family had held the County of Carcassone on the northern side of the Pyrenees, and later recovered certain rights there, and though some of the family’s possessions straddled the mountains, it was in the Spanish March that their strength lay. The Counts of Barcelona themselves usually held the neighbouring Counties of Gerona (Girona) and Ossona (Ausona) – northeast and north of Barcelona.
In the 11th century Count Berenger Ramon I (1019-35) had great difficulty with his nobles. His son, Ramon Berenger I (1035-76) by vigorous rule and by purchase got greater control over their castles and so limited their freedom. His sons succeeded him and in 1082 a rare event occurred in a family that generally managed to work together: the younger brother, Berenger Ramon II, murdered the elder, Ramon Berenger II, and usurped his rights. As Ramon Berenger III, the son of the murdered Count, grew up, the threat of future trouble loomed over the County. Happily, the First Crusade offered opportunities in this life for ambitious princes and the hope of salvation in the next for murderers, so Barcelona reverted to the legitimate heir without too much turmoil when Berenger Ramon II went off to the east in 1097 and did not return.
In the 12th century, as junior branches of the family died out, the Counts added Besalú (1111), Cerdanya (1117) and Rosellón (1172) to the County. Pallars Jussa (Lower Pallars), which lay to the west of the County of Urgell and was held by a separate family, also passed to the Count, by then the Count-King, in 1192. The enlarged County of Barcelona was becoming the region of Catalonia.
It was not in the Spanish March and the Pyrenean region alone that the Counts of Barcelona expanded. Count Ramon Berenger III married the heiress of the greater part of Provence and from 1111 that County was held either by the Count of Barcelona or, more usually, by a cadet, until it passed away from the family through an heiress in 1245/6. In the lands north of the Pyrenees and in Provence the Counts of Barcelona encountered the power of the Counts of Toulouse. The power of each ensured that the other could not dominate Occitania.
There were opportunities for expansion in the Iberian peninsula in the later 11th century as the small Taifa Kingdoms decayed, and again in the mid-12th century as the Almoravids, who had brought new vigour to Moslem Spain, themselves fell away into lassitude and corruption. The County of Barcelona, like the rest of Christain Spain, advanced. Tortosa and the lands of the lower Ebro were taken in 1148. The inland towns of Lleida (Lérida), on the River Segre, and Fraga, on its tributary, the Cinca, fell to the Count in the following year. This sharing by a nominally French County in the gains of the Spanish Kingdoms increased the association of Barcelona with Iberia; in 1137 the association had become intimate.
In that year Count Ramon Berenger IV, a vigorous and able ruler, was betrothed to a baby, a greater heiress than his Provençal mother. She was Petronilla, Queen Regnant of Aragon, and as Prince of Aragon the Count was ruler of the Kingdom until Petronilla came of age and married him in 1150. Their son, Alfonso II, became Count in 1162 and King in 1164, the first of a line of Count-Kings until 1410. Aragon provided the royal title but Barcelona the wealth. Nearly a century after the first Count-King’s accession, King Louis IX of France gave up all claims that the Kingdom of France had on the County of Barcelona in 1258.
By this time the enlarged County was becoming known as the Principality of CATALONIA, which was one of the lands of the Crown of Aragon for centuries.
Catalonia was reduced to the level of a province in the early 18th century, and in 1833 was divided up into four provinces. One of them was Barcelona, which was bordered by the other three and by the Mediterranean Sea. The province of Barcelona now belongs to the autonomous community of Catalunya, of which the city is the capital, and is exceeded in population in all Spain only by the province and community of Madrid.
Barcelona is also the seat of a Bishop. It was an ancient see, lost in the era of Moslem occupation, and refounded in the middle of the 9th century. Though politically dominant, Barcelona was not and is not the ecclesiastical capital, which is Tarragona, the ancient capital of the Roman province.