Catalonia


CATALONIA   CATALUNYA; Cataluña (Castilian/Spanish).

Map of Spain with Catalonia highlighted. Españ...

Map of Spain with Catalonia highlighted. Español: Localización de Cataluña respecto a España. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Former principality and province, and present-day autonomous Community in the north of eastern Spain.   Bordering on France, it includes the eastern Pyrenees, and its Mediterranean coast extends northeastwards, then northwards, from a little south of the delta of the River Ebro.   Its principal language is Catalan, a Romance language closer to Provençal than to the Castilian that we now call Spanish.

It was part of the Mediterranean territory that the Frankish Kingdom conquered from Muslim Spain in the late 8th and early 9th centuries, and which over time formed into the Marches of Gothia or Septimania on the northern side of the Pyrenees and the Spanish March to the south.   Barcelona became the leading city and its Count the principal officer in the Spanish March.   Various great lords, both Frankish and Catalan, held the office of Count in the 9th century but by the end of it, one family, that of Wilfred the Hairy, held the County of Barcelona and many of the other Counties on either side of the Pyrenees.

As the Kingdom of the West Franks became the Kingdom of France, the destiny of the Spanish March, remote from the centre of French power, became  increasingly linked with its neighbours in Iberia.   Long before 1258, when Louis IX renounced any claims he had on Catalonia as King of France, the practical links between the region and the Kingdom had disappeared.

The senyera, a flag of Catalonia, and also use...

The senyera, a flag of Catalonia, and also used by several lands and municipalities of the ancient Crown of Aragon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the 12th century the Counts of Barcelona united some of the petty counties with their own, and in mid-century took Tortosa and Lérida from the Muslims.    The region of which Barcelona was the capital was increasingly being called Catalonia, from the castellans, whose power and many castles Count Ramon Berenger I (1035-76) had brought under his control.   He and his wife were known as the princes of the land, and their descendant, Ramon Berenger IV (d.1162), was called Prince of Aragón, first as Regent, then as consort of its Queen.   As a result the designation of Principality became attached to Catalonia.

Catalonia was linked to the Kingdom of Aragón from the time of Ramon Berenger IV’s Regency.   His son Alfonso II succeeded as Count in 1162 and as King in 1164, but although they had a common ruler Aragón and Catalonia remained distinct realms.   The Principality in the 12th century still extended north of the Pyrenees to include what is now the French Department of the Pyrénées-Orientales.  This northernmost region of Catalonia was detached from the main body between 1276 and 1343, as part of the Kingdom of Majorca, held by a younger son of James I of Aragón, and his descendants.

In the united Spain of the 16th century Catalonia retained many of its privileges, though the Habsburg Kings looked for ways of integrating Catalonia more fully.   In 1640, when Philip IV was hard-pressed by the revolt of Portugal, his attempt to use Catalan soldiers against Portugal led to a widespread Catalan revolt against him, a revolt which was given French support.  In 1658 the revolt ended, but in the Peace of the Pyrenees in the following year, Catalonia north of the Pyrenees became French as the province of Roussillon.

In 1705, during the War of the Spanish Succession, Catalonia transferred its loyalty to the Archduke Charles.   With the victory of the Bourbon candidate, Philip V, Catalonia was deprived of its privileges in 1714 and was no longer governed by a Viceroy.  Its ruler was a military officer, the Captain General.

The Case of the Catalans considerd

The Case of the Catalans considerd (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1833 the province was divided into the provinces (clockwise from the northwest) of Lérida (Lleida), Gerona (Girona), Barcelona, and Tarragona.   During the later 19th century a strong nationalist sentiment emerged again in Catalonia, alongside industrialisation.   In the early years of the 20th century the central government in Madrid saw Catalonia as one of its major problems and in 1913 sought to appease Catalonian sentiment by uniting the four elected provincial councils into one council for all Catalonia, the Mancomunitat.   Trouble continued between the central government and Catalonia and was one factor in bring the military dictator, Primo de Rivera, to power in 1923.   He abolished the Mancomunitat.

The Second Republic allowed autonomy to Catalonia, 1931-4 and from 1936;  the government was known as the Generalitat, from a committee of the Catalonian Cortes in the middle ages. The Civil War, 1936-9, was partly caused by right-wing and nationalist opposition to regional autonomy in Spain, so that the victory of General Franco in 1939 inevitably brought Catalan autonomy, which had wide support across the political spectrum within Catalonia, to an end.

After Franco’s death in 1975 his conservative successors knew that theirs was a transitional regime.   Amongst the things that would have to change was unyielding centralism.   The Constitution of 1978 made provisions for limited regional self-rule, and among the first three regions to which this possibility was offered was Catalonia.   A Statute of Autonomy was drawn by negotiation between Catalan politicians and the government of Spain during 1979 and was approved by referendum in October.   The Parliament was elected in 1980, with the executive using the name of Generalitat again.

Catalunya is 6th in area of the 17 autonomous communities of Spain, but only Andalucía, nearly three times bigger in area, has more people.   In density of population Catalunya is exceeded only by Madrid and Pais Vasco (the Basque Country).

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