A Short History of Barcelona
Barcelona, Spain's second largest city after Madrid, is the capital of the Autonomous Community of Catalonia in the North East of Spain (map) and a major economic center for finance, business, media, arts and international trade. Its location on the Mediterranean coast brings it mild, humid winters and warm, dry summers. With a population of 1.6 million it is the eleventh most populated city in the European Union and the sixth-most populous urban area (after Paris, London, Ruhr Area, Madrid and Milan) with almost 5 million people living in the Barcelona metropolitan area.
Legend has it that the city was founded by either the mythical Hercules, or around 250 BC by the Carthaginian general Barcas (father of Hannibal). The Romans fortified the town as a military camp in about 15 BC. As the western Roman Empire collapsed, the Germanic Visigoths grew in strength and, by the fifth century, had conquerored most of Gaul (France) and Iberia (Spain) including Barcelona. Three centuries later the dominance of the Visigoths had been replaced by the might of the Moors (North African people who were early converts to Islam). But not for long - in 801, Louis, son of Emperor Charlamagne, reconquered the area and it became part of a buffer zone, known as the Spanish Marches (map), which separated the Iberian Peninsula, controlled by the Moors, from the Frankish Kingdom which extended across much of Western Europe (map).
By the middle of the 12th century, the Counts of Barcelona had expanded their territory to include all of Catalonia including the ancient kingdom of Aragon. The territory known as the Crown of Aragon, with its center in Barcelona, reached its height in the 13th century having conquered Sicily, large chunks of Southern Italy and Athens in Greece. Barcelona's power declined in the mid 15th century when Isabella of Castille married Ferdinand of Aragon which, after considerable infighting, eventually united the majority of Spain under one monarch. Their daughter, Catherine of Aragon would later marry into the English House of Tudor (thus validating, in the eyes of European royalty, the rather dubious origins of the Tudor dynasty). The subsequent annulment of their 24-year marriage by her husband, Henry VIII, led to England breaking away from the Catholic Church and a souring of relations between Spain and England which continued through various wars and a number of centuries.
Books you may know that are set in and around Barcelona
This article was originally published in July 2009, and has been updated for the
May 2010 paperback release.
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