The autonomy of “Cataluña” in Spanish (Catalunya in Catalan) is situated just south of France, between the Mediterranean Sea and Pyrenees Mountains. It has played an important role in Spain’s evolution since Iberians settled along its coast and traded with the Phoenicians, through its Golden years and decline, until the present day. And as a result of this special relationship, the Catalan autonomy is deemed a “Historical Nationality” in the Spanish Constitution, along with the Basque Country and Galicia.
The word Catalunya (“Catalonia” in English) first appeared as “Los Catalanenses” in the late 11th century, most likely prior to it becoming the name for a group of counties, that comprised part of the March of Gothia and March of Hispania, under the control of the Count of Barcelona and his Frankish relatives. The origin of the name, Catalunya, however, is subject to diverse interpretations because of a lack of evidence. What is undisputed, however, is that it later formed part of the Kingdom of Aragon, whose King Ferdinand married Castile’s Queen Isabel, creating the Kingdom of Spain, in 1492.
Catalonia’s main areas of interest are:
- Barcelona, the capital and home of renaissance man Antoni Gaudí (because he was more than just an architect). Within its city limits you can find an array of buildings from medieval, to modernist, to contemporary, within shouting distance of its many beaches. Then there are its festivals, such as San Jordi, held in April, with its tradition of a book for a rose. Not to mention the many restaurants, vibrant nightlife, museums…
- Tarragona, in the south, has a Roman Coliseum and aqueduct. Inland from the coast are the vineyards for the famous “cava” (sparkling wine) the region produces.
- In-between is the seaside village of Sitges, with its famous Carnival in February and shallow, crystal blue water.
- In the north are the rocky coves of La Costa Brava, the city of Girona and the white villages of Cadaqués, that gave us the surrealist mind of Salvador Dalí, and Figueres, where you’ll find his museum.
- Lleida (Catalonia’s oldest city, with artifacts dating to the Bronze Age) rises in the middle of the depression of the Pyrenees Mountains. It is one of the few places in Spain where Castilian isn’t the main language.
Throughout the countryside are medieval villages to visit and rural homes in the mountains to relax in. The coast is populated with different beach towns, each with its own charm. The local people are called “Catalans” and many are bilingual, speaking “Catalan” in addition to “Castellano”. Fish and seafood from the Mediterranean Sea form the foundation of the local cuisine. “Butifarra” comes in different colors (white, black and red) while”pa amb tomàquet” [Catalan pronunciation: ˈpam tuˈmakət] is served with most meals. The region’s many wines of different flavors and artisan beers provide the refreshments for its world famous eateries. And to top it all off, the smell from the nearby “panadería” scents the morning air, making it one of the few places in the world where you can enjoy good pastries and good coffee at a café.
Here’s a video touring the famous Boquería market in Barcelona. Hear how renowned Chef Isidre Gironés switches between Spanish and Catalan as he does his shopping. It’s standard fair for many residents of the region, giving the region a bit of a twist.
For the other autonomies