Barcelona, as the capital city of Catalunya, a cultural nation in itself, holds a very different national identity from that of her political mother, Spain. Spain, as is geographically understood today, is a relatively new concept, formed in 1469 when the kingdom of Castile was united with that of Aragon, where Catalunya resided and then included parts of southern France, Italy and many Mediterranean territories. Everything from a shared linguistic and political history to cultural policy was and to a certain extent still is lacking in the conventional definition of a united Spain. However, that should alarm no newcomers to the city. Any acts of violence seen in the notorious Basque Country, are absent from Catalunya and besides the odd yellow and red striped flag of Catalan Graffiti, the Spanish-Catalan dialogue mainly makes for an ever colourful debate among young and old inhabitants of Barcelona, whether migrant workers from Andalucia, old-blood Catalans, or ex-patriots. What it manifests is a lively politico-cultural atmosphere that refuses repression and the stagnation of Franco’s dictatorship and is as healthy in this sense as the glorified Mediterranean diet.
Barcelona has always represented the cultural leftist resistance of Iberia. From their odd Christianity in the middle ages when most of what we now call Spain was under Moorish rule, the Barcelonan resistance to the 1478 Spanish Inquisition, to almost gaining independence from Castile in the Guerra dels Segadors in the mid 1600s to loosing in the end and instilling the need for Catalan oppression for centuries to come by Castile, Barcelona has constantly seemed to back the wrong side and resist status-quo. Later during the War for Spanish Succession, Barcelona backed the Austrian candidate instead of the French, because of its bitterness from France’s backstabbing in the previous war, but France won, again punishing Barcelona with Felipe the V prohibiting the Catalan language and tearing down the huge merchant’s quarter, La Ribera, to put a military Citadel looming over the city in its place. This type of language prohibition and citizen repression continued and kept resurfacing, even until the 20th century after two dictators, one only ending a mere 31 years ago. Just a brief look at Barcelona’s history of resistance and constant cultural oppression from exterior powers portrays that which underlies all of Barcelonan culture.
However, as they say, there can be no growth without the hard times, and Barcelona’s tougher history is precisely the reason that the city has become the modern metropolis it is today, starting with the Catalan Renaissance or Renaixença in the late 19th and early 20th century. From turning the old Bourbon Citadel into a gigantic park, to tearing down the old city walls and expanding the city into l’Eixample and even hosting the Universal Exposition in 1888 which put Catalan Modernism and Architect Gaudí at the head of the Modernist movement internationally, Barcelona, for the last century and a half, despite oppressive forces, has constantly created from destruction and oppression. Like the Parc de la Ciutadella demonstrates, a constant Modernist philosophy underlies Barcelonan art and culture, re-appropriating oppressive symbols as emblems of Catalan nationalism and rebirth. From the Sagrada Familia’s non-conformist refusal of straight lines in Gaudí’s architecture to Surrealist Painters like Miró and Dalí and the ever-famous Picasso of Cubism, Barcelona is an avant-garde city, constantly relying on the pioneering and exploratory nature of its culture.
Today, Barcelona epitomizes the head-spinning amalgamation of old Europe with her quaint cobblestoned streets and colourful markets; with modern cosmopolitan Europe seen along the posh shopping boardwalks of Passeig de Grácia; and with the Bohemian Europe of the Barrí Gotic and the Funkiness of the Borne. The sea-side
boardwalk of the Olympic promenade, the beaches, museums and an internationally renowned music scene with festivals such as Sonar and a round the clock night life attract all types of travellers throughout the world. It still serves as the gateway from Spain to the rest of the continent and International influence is more visible here than in any other Spanish city. Barcelona has always been and still is the emblem of the political and cultural left and chic alternative lifestyles co-exist with bourgeoisie elegance.