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History of Catalonia

History of Catalonia See also: History of Europe; History of Spain; History of France; Kings of Aragon.

In the 9th century the southernmost counties of the Frankish empire were separated from Muslim Spain by the Spanish March (Marca Hispanica), lying around the county of Barcelona.

The term Catalonia is first documented in an oath (early 12th century) to Ramon Berenguer III, Count of Barcelona, in which he is referred to as catalanicus heroes, rector catanicus, and dux catalanensis, and also the name Catalania (Catalonia) is found. In it catalanenses (Catalans) appears opposite gots (Goths), referring to the people of southern France.

In 1137 the counts of Barcelona became kings of Aragon to its west. Catalonia and Aragon retained however its traditional rights, and own personality with one of the first parliaments in Europe. During the 13th and 14th centuries Catalonia became one of the most important regions of Europe, dominating a maritime empire extending across the western Mediterranean Sea, after the conquest of Valencia, Balearic Islands, Sardinia, and the accession to Sicily of the kings of Aragon.

Thirteen years after the union (1479) of Aragon and Castile, which brought Catalonia into the new kingdom of Spain, the discovery of America by Columbus in a Spanish-sponsored expedition shifted Europe's economic centre of gravity from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean and undermined Catalonia's economic and political importance. Aragon was already and would continue to be an important power in the Mediterranean, but the maritime expansion into the Atlantic and the conquest of Central and South America was essentially a Castilian enterprise.

This War for Catalan Independence started as an upraising of peasants in Barcelona. The Catalan Generalitat got involved in the struggle between the Spanish and the French crowns in the Thirty Years' War when the president Pau Claris declared the Catalan Republic under the protection of Louis XIII of France.

After this war, Catalonia's traditional autonomy and privileges were revoked and Spain attempted to crush the Catalans' sense of identity as a nation. The Catalan language was repressed for the next two and a half centuries.


In the latter half of the 19th century Catalonia became a centre of Spain's industrialisation. Demands for autonomy rose from the 1900s, and a provincial body, the Mancomunitat, represented the four provinces from 1914 until its suppression by the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera in 1925.

In April 1931, the monarchy was replaced by a Republic (see history of Spain), which granted political autonomy to Catalonia and the Basque country. The Catalan Generalitat was established and autonomy was secured in September 1932. This was revoked following an uprising in October 1934, and after a second period of autonomy during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), Catalonia experienced with the rest of Spain the dictatorship of Generalísimo Francisco Franco. Only forty years later, after Franco's death (1975) and the adoption of a democratic constitution in Spain (1978), did Catalonia recover its autonomy and reconstitute the Generalitat (1979).