Over the centuries the city of Barcelona has experienced periods of splendour and sometimes prolonged periods of gloom, but it has been and still remains a world reference for trade, industry, law, culture and politics. And this has been possible because Barcelona has always been able to lead the Catalan economy and society, thanks, first of all, to its privileged geographical location. As a result, Barcelona has always been, also, one of the main economic centres in Spain, particularly for its international projection.
By the Middle Ages, Barcelona had already developed into a major commercial centre which competed with the most powerful of the Italian city-states. After a period of marked economic decline, Barcelona re-emerged on the international scene as its trade relations with America flourished during the 18th century.
This leading commercial role during the Middle Ages made Barcelona a prominent city in the field of law, particularly commercial law. The code of legal customs entitled Llibre del Consulat del Mar constituted a sort of “common law” in the commercial Europe of the time and was used as far afield as the Hansa cities of Northern Europe.
Barcelona and Catalonia as a whole were among the motors of early industrial capitalism and the first Industrial Revolution. Early capitalist development in Barcelona and Catalonia was spearheaded by the textile industry and ran in parallel with the main driving forces of capitalist growth in other European countries. In the early 20th century, some of the most iconic developments in international industry and design originated in Barcelona, from the prestigious Hispano Suiza cars to some of the first furniture designs produced by Mies van der Rohe.
Barcelona’s cultural prominence defines some periods of its history. Romanesque art developed mainly in the northern part of Catalonia, but Barcelona became one of the principal European centres for Gothic art, especially civil Gothic, which is best appreciated in the city’s well preserved Gothic quarter. At the beginning of the 20th century, and until the outburst of the Spanish Civil War, Barcelona became one of the major artistic capitals of the world, thanks not only to the world renowned modernista (Catalan art nouveau) architecture of Gaudí, Domènech i Montaner and Puig i Cadafalch, among others, but to the prodigious ever-renewing artistic production of Picasso, Miró and Gargallo. In the area of Music, for example, the flagship figure of Pau Casals makes Barcelona one of the centres of the world , attracting musicians such as Schoenberg, when he has to fly from Vienna to Barcelona, or the world première of Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto. Barcelona witnesses at that time the rebirth of Catalan literature while being the leading world centre for publishing in Spanish. Therefore, it was no surprise when, in the 80s, Barcelona finally regained its prestige as a centre for innovation in architecture and design. Since the turn of the century, Ferran Adrià and a number of other culinary figures have succeeded in elevating gastronomy in Barcelona and Catalonia to the level of an art form in itself. Culture and sport have always been firmly linked in the city, perhaps the best example being the impressive football stadium of FC Barcelona.
In the area of politics, already in the High Middle Ages Barcelona, and Catalonia as a whole, developed a set of fundamental laws and rights typical of classic Feudalism codified in the Usatges. Later on, Barcelona created its own system of Medieval city government with a well established organ of guild representation (the Consell de Cent). Catalonia’s ventures into the Mediterranean during the Late Middle Ages must be criticized as any other example of military expansionist policy, but they give an evidence of the deep historical roots of its outward looking tradition. At the turn of the 19th and the 20th centuries, Barcelona witnessed a number of significant historical and political events, from the emergence of its own concepts of federalism, autonomy and nationalism to the development of the anarcho-syndicalist movement. And Barcelona was also one of the nuclei of democratic opposition to the Franco regime and one of the driving forces behind Spain’s subsequent transition to democracy, so praised by many around the world.
Yet none of these developments would have gained the same prominence had it not been for the exceptional geographical situation which has positioned Barcelona as the capital of the Western Mediterranean. The city is located by the sea and its historic commercial port is surrounded by beaches that extend over more than 14km of coastline. Even if the weather is relatively mild all year round, seasons are well differentiated, with hot summers and ski resorts in winter only a short drive away. Barcelona is very well connected by plane with all the other cultural and economic capitals of Europe. And some of the best swimming beaches in the whole world are less than one hundred kilometres away, in the Costa Brava…
Some useful links:
Barcelona City Council:
Tourism in Barcelona:
Tourism in Catalonia:
Tourism in Spain:
The weather in Barcelona: