Barcelona | The cradle of Catalan culture
The cradle of Catalan culture, amongst many other cultures and civilisations, and a witness to major transformations such as the Industrial Revolution or the Civil War amongst many others, Barcelona has a fascinating history. Find out more about it!
The first human settlements in Barcelona date back to Neolithic times. The city itself was founded by the Romans who set up a colony called Barcino at the end of the 1st century BC. The colony had some thousand inhabitants and was bounded by a defensive wall, the remains of which can still be seen in the old town.
For over 200 years, Barcelona was under Muslim rule, and, following the Christian reconquest, it became a county of the Carolingian Empire and one of the main residences of the court of the Crown of Aragon. The fruitful medieval period established Barcelona’s position as the economic and political centre of the Western Mediterranean. The city’s Gothic Quarter bears witness to the splendour enjoyed by the city from the 13th to the 15th centuries.
From the 15th to 18th centuries Barcelona entered a period of decline, while it struggled to maintain its economic and political independence. This struggle ended in 1714, when the city fell to the Bourbon troops and Catalonia’s and Catalans’ rights and privileges were suppressed.
A period of cultural recovery began in the mid-19th century with the arrival of the development of the textile industry. During this period, which was known as the Renaixença, Catalan regained prominence as a literary language.
The 20th century ushered in widespread urban renewal throughout Barcelona city, culminating in its landmark Eixample district, which showcases some of Barcelona’s most distinctive Catalan art-nouveau, or modernista, buildings. The Catalan Antoni Gaudí, one of the most eminent architects, designed buildings such as the Casa Milà (known as La Pedrera, the Catalan for stone quarry), the Casa Batlló and the Sagrada Família church, which have become world-famous landmarks.
The freedoms achieved during this period were severely restricted during the Civil War in 1936 and the subsequent dictatorship. With the reinstatement of democracy in 1978, Barcelonasociety regained its economic strength and the Catalan language was restored. The city’s hosting of the 1992 Olympic Games gave fresh impetus to Barcelona’s potential and reaffirmed its status as a major metropolis.
In 2004, the Forum of Cultures reclaimed industrial zones to convert them into residential districts. An example of the renewed vigour with which Barcelona is looking towards the 21st century.
What to see
The day begins in the city’s oldest quarter with the Barcelona Walking Tours Gòtic, a fascinating walking tour of the city’s impressive Gothic legacy. After the tour, you can continue discovering and admiring the city’s architectural gems, if you head for the Passeig de Gràcia and visit Gaudí’s Casa Batlló and La Pedrera. If you like, you can top up your energy levels at one of the tapas bars in the area. Then, you can head towards the FC Barcelona stadium & museum, one of the city’s most popular visitor attractions. And afterwards, what about a ride up to Tibidabo? You can also stop at Cosmocaixa, the spectacular Museu de la Ciència, and from the top of Tibidabo you can enjoy some of the most breathtaking views of Barcelona. It’s also a good place to have dinner while you look out over the city.
You can make use of your Barcelona Card and ride on the Funicular to explore Barcelona‘s other hill: Montjuïc. Here you can visit the Fundació Miró, the Olympic Ring, the Poble Espanyol, a place full of charm, and the impressive Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. Lunchtime provides the perfect excuse to go down to the sea and the Barceloneta and, after you’ve enjoyed a delicious dish of rice or seafood, ride in the lift to the top of the Columbus Monument, the Mirador de Colom (free with the Barcelona Card), to enjoy magnificent views of Barcelona and its famous Rambla. At the base of the monument you can hire a bike and go on a cycle ride along the seafront to the Olympic Village, where the culinary delights on offer and the sea breezes will tempt you to stay on for dinner.
Make the most of your time in Barcelona centre to devote the morning to a spot of retail therapy, and when it’s lunchtime, you’ll find something to suit all tastes in this part of the city. From here, it’s just a short metro ride to the Sagrada Família, where you can take time out to admire Gaudí’s masterpiece. You can continue on the metro or bus to the Park Güell, where you’ll be able to spend an idyllic afternoon strolling through this magic place designed by Gaudí. From the park, you can walk down to the neighbourhood of Gràcia, with its narrow streets, squares and shops which will provide the perfect end to your activity-packed visit to Barcelona.
Catalonia’s gastronomic heritage can be traced back to medieval times and is still based on the value of produce and terroir stemming from locally sourced, seasonal ingredients that reflect the vast wealth of the Catalan landscape: the sea, the mountains, vegetable gardens, orchards and woodland… This tradition has given rise to such popular recipes as escudella i carn d’olla, a type of pot au feu, and a chargrilled vegetable salad known as escalivada, to name just two of the typical dishes that bring the wealth of our produce to your plate. Produce brought in daily to all the city’s food markets and a key ingredient of the Mediterranean Diet, which was awarded Intangible Cultural Heritage status by UNESCO in 2010. And, in addition to the exquisite and varied traditional historic recipes, we have to add the creative signature cuisine that has put many of our restaurants at the forefront of cuisine around the world. After receiving such accolades, it comes as no surprise that Catalonia was named European Region of Gastronomy in 2016.