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The Economic History of Barcelona, Catalonia

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The Site

The site of Barcelona on the Mediterranean coast of the Iberian Peninsula is one of the most salubrious locations in the world. It is on the coast of a major sea which gives its inhabitants access to fishing and trade. The fertile land slopes gently down from its encircling mountains to the sea. The ancient site was bounded by two rivers which gave it a degree of protection from coastal marauders, yet provided access to the economies of those river basins. The encircling mountains gave protection as well.

There is evidence of human occupancy of the site from paleolithic times. It was even occupied by Neanderthals before then.

The founding of a city could have been by the Greeks, Phoenicians or Carthagenians, but was probably by the Greeks for a trading port. Later the Carthagenians took control up to the Ebro River (Barcelona).

The Name

The pronunciation in Catalan of the name as Barkalona tempts people to link the name of the city to the Barca family of Carthage because two generation of Barcas were the military leaders of Carthage in the area of the western Mediterranean Sea, but apparently the name of Barcelona is not related to the Barca family. Instead it derives from the Roman name of Pia Colonia Faventia Julia Augustus Barcino given to the village first established at the site.

Down the coast from where Barcelona is now the Carthagenian general, Hannibal Barca, assembled his force of ninety thousand infantry, twelve thousand cavalry and forty war elephants for the invasion of Italy in the region about 218 BCE.

Hannibal did not conquer Rome but Rome gained control of the Catalonian region in 205 BCE. When Rome finally defeated Carthage in 146 BCE Roman control of Catalonia was indisputable and undisputable until the invasion Visigoths after the collapse of the Roman Empire in the Fifth Century CE. During the three centuries that the city was controlled by the Visigoths it was known as Barcinona. The Visigothic King Ataulphus made Barcinona (Barcelona) his capital. Ataulphus was murdered in 415 CE and his successors transferred their capital to Toledo.

The rise of Islam in Arabia led in 717 CE to the conquest of Catalonia by the Moors. The Islamic forces continued over the Pyrenees into what is now France. There they encountered a resistance aided by Charlemagne that ultimately drove them back over the Pyrenees in 801 and liberated parts of Catalonia. Those areas were designated by the Carolingian kings as the Marca Hispanica (Spanish March (border)) and Barcelonian counts (dukes) were put in control of it. Those counts functioned independently of the Carolingian kings and extended the territory under their control. But in 985 the forces of the caliphate of Córdoba capture Barcelona and sacked it.

In 1137 the ruler of Catalonia, Ramon Berenguer IV, married the daughter of the king of Aragon, thus uniting Catalonia and Aragon. In the next two century the Aragon-Catalonian kingdom was extended enormously. Sicily and Sardinia came under its control. Naples came under the control of a Catalan dynasty. For a period of time Catalans controlled Athens and other Greek territories.

In 1410 last of the Barcelonian counts died without a male heir and the kingship of Aragon passed to a Castilian. The capital of the Catalonian-Aragonese empire was transferred from Barcelona to Naples in Italy. This is when Catalonia lost its sovereignty.

In 1474 the king of Aragon, Ferdinand, married Isabel, the queen of Castile, effectively uniting Spain. Ferdinand and Isabel directed their attention to the west and Catalonia suffered a loss of its prestige and power.

In 1640 Catalonia rebelled. It was aided by Louis XII of France and in 1659 a region of Catalonia was detached and made a part of France.

In the War of the Spanish Sucession Catalonia sided with Charles III of Austria and in opposition to Philip V, the eventual winner. Philip's forces captured Barcelona in 1714 and the elements of autonomy for Catalonia were eliminated.

The troops of Napoleon occupied Barcelona from 1808 to 1813.

Nevertheless Barcelona developed a textile industry the influx of workers for that industry drove further growth. Catalonia went on to become the richest region of Spain. In 1888 an industrial exhibition was held in Barcelona to display its prosperity. It attracted about four hundred thousand visitors.

The desire of Catalonian for self rule was never supressed. In 1913 Catalonia was granted a degree of autonomy by the Spanish government in Madrid and that continued through 1923, but the Spanish dictator, Miguel Primo de Rivera, eliminated that autonomy.

In 1931 Catalonia took advantage of the political turmoil of the times to assert Catalonian autonomy in the form of the Republic of Catalonia. In 1932 the government of Madrid worked out a compromise in which Catalonia was granted autonomy while remaining part of Spain. But the success of Franco's forces in the Spanish Civil War led to the termination of that degree of autonomy for Catalonia in 1938.

After Franco's death the government in Madrid once again in 1977 granted Catalonia a degree of autonomy which involved having its own parliament and an executive council. In 1979 a formal agreement between the governments of Spain and Catalona was signed granting Catalonia and with it Barcelona definite degrees of autonomy.

In 2014 the Catalonian government sought to hold a referendum on additional autonomy and independence and the government in Madrid denied Catalonians the right to hold such a referendum.

(To be continued.)

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