Tradition says that Barcelona was founded by Phoenicians, skilled seafarers of the old, or by Carthaginians, who themselves were descendants of Phoenician traders. Modern historians do not accept, however, that Barcelona has been named after the family of the famous Carthaginian general Hamilcar Barca. During the Roman Era, the Colonia Faventia Julia Augusta Pia Barcino managed to become a significant cultural and financial centre well after 300 AD.
As the Roman Empire crumbled in the west, the city, called by then Barcinona, was conquered by the Visigoths who remained its lords for more than 300 years.
The Medieval Barcinona or Barjelūnah
As the Middle Ages took their turn, Barcinona turned into a significant religious centre which failed, though, to intercept the advancing Islamic Moors who eventually sacked the city in AD 717. During the Islamic occupation, Barjelūnah, as was known back then, was considered a strategic spot of immense strategic importance. Eventually, the Franks managed to conquer the city in the early 9th century and appointed a count as the city’s senior magistrate. In 985 the renowned Muslim general al-Mansur gained control of the city, and added it to the realm of the Umayyad caliphate of Córdoba.
Finally, the counts of Barcelona managed to establish their dominion over Catalonia until the end of the 11th century. The union of Catalonia and Aragon in 1137 marked the beginning of a new era of unprecedented financial growth for Barcelona. Unfortunately, successive plaques in the 14th century took their toll of the city’s population, leading to the rise of the rival Naples, which was selected as the capital of the Catalan – Aragonese kingdom in the middle of the 15th century.
The rise of the Habsburgs, the conquests of the Turks in the eastern Mediterranean and the discovery of the New World expedited Barcelona’s decline, especially as the city’s standing in Madrid’s royal court deteriorated during the 17th century.
In 1705, Catalonia supported Charles III’s claim to the throne of Spain, serving as his capital, thus evoking the attack of Philip V of Spain, who took control of the city in 1714, Philip dissolved all local administration. Surprisingly, this paved the way to a long – lasting age of prosperity, triggered mainly by the growth of the cotton industry.
Economic Growth & the Struggle for Independence
Barcelona didn’t enjoy peace for long. The French took and kept control of the city from 1808 to 1813. Napoleonic wars destroyed the surrounding territory, but afterwards industrialization swept the country. Textile growth resulted in the establishment of a powerful industry that made Catalonia Spain’s wealthiest territory. Population grew rapidly due to immigrant workers, which eventually led to social turmoil. Socialistic and anarchist movements increased as well as civic unrest, which culminated in the famous Setmana Tràgica, the “Tragic Week” in 1909.
Still, Barcelona remained Spain’s most important seaport during the 19th century. Catalonia’s economic might resurfaced the call for independence, which even led to a semi – autonomus status from 1913 to 1923.
The Horrific Spanish Civil War
In 1931, Catalans declared their Republic in Barcelona and the city became a symbol of Democracy and freedom, until the catastrophic Spanish Civil War, which broke out in 1936. The city fell in 1939 along with the republic, and local traditions and language were prohibited for almost40 years!
Finally, in 1977 an autonomous Catalan government was appointed and ever since several rights and prospects for self-government were given to the Catalans. Still, though, voices of independence have not ceased.
Knowing a bit more about Barcelona will add new meaning to everything you see during your short city break to the city.