The Catalans occupy the eastern sector of the green northern zone of Spain. They face the Gulf of Lyon and the Mediterranean Sea. They are both European and Mediterranean in character and were for some centuries the principal Iberian maritime power. They are the most populous and most Europeanized of the three northern separatist regions of Spain, reflecting their origin as a French march. Barcelona is the most populous province of Spain. The four Catalan provinces, which also include Gerona, Lerida and Tarragona, count a little more than three and one half million people, i
Catalonia borders France and Andorra in the Pyrenees. The prov ince of Gerona is the extreme northeast province of Spain. Ingress into it and to the Costa Brava from France is from the city of Perpignan. Gerona is mountainous and green, dotted with small farmsteads that look more like those of France than of Spain. The town, known to the Romans as Gerunda, is older than history. From the windows and balconies of some of its houses, one can fish in the River Onar.
Farther west in the Pyrenees lies Lerida, a long, narrow province that includes the basin of the Segre down to where it joins the Ebro. Old Roman Ilerda, the capital, is located in the south of the prov ince, which is a center of olive oil, wine, grain and sugar beet pro duction.
South of Lerida and Barcelona is the province of Tarragona, which has a long seacoast once contested between Rome and Carthage. The port of Tarragona was an early administrative capital and com mercial center. It is known best now for its wines, liqueurs and spices.
Barcelona is the capital of the central province of Catalonia. The people of Barcelona are the Parisians o Spain. They are imagina tive, shrewd, artistic and voluble. They display very little of the dour personality of the people of the meseta. Their language is a southern languedoc, the speech of the French troubadors. They have given Catalonia their personality and inspired its resistance to Spanish nationality. They are separatists like the Basques but, unlike the Basques, their real affinity is to the French tradition. Whereas the Basques forced their way into France, the Catalans forced their way into Spain.
Barcelona was, until recently, the largest city in Spain and would still be so except for an extraordinary national effort to enlarge and develop the capital city. Its population is one million and a half, while Madrid has nearly two million people. Barcelona is the fore most seaport and the largest trading center of Spain, manufacturing textiles, machinery, electrical equipment and other goods. Its busi ness district resembles that of a progressive European city. Its trade fair attracts international exhibits. It is the only truly international city in Spain.
Barcelona has flourished since early times, but its present character and importance was established by Charlemagne, who needed a stable front against the Moors. The limits of the march of Barcelona marked the limit of Christian influence on the east coast of Spain. Since Catalonia had served the same purpose for Rome in stabiliz ing the Carthaginian frontier, the Ebro River marks a subtle but real ethnic and cultural boundary on the peninsula. Those to the north derive basic traditions from the Roman and Prankish, those to the south from the North African. Since the Moorish influence is stronger elsewhere in Spain than it is in Catalonia, the difficulties of mutual understanding and cooperation between Catalonia and Castilian Spain are increased.
Since medieval times the Catalans have enjoyed their own laws, called their own assemblies and settled their own disputes. Like the Basques, they have known a long tradition of democratic community responsibility and, like the Basques, they have resisted the successive loss of their communal rights and privileges in the process of the unification of the nation. Also like the Basques, they have consist ently sided with the outsiders and the claimants to the Spanish throne in an effort to preserve their bargaining position and their own autonomy. Catalonia has frequently been in open insurrection against the state. In addition to its own interests, Catalonia, closest to France and therefore closest to the popular French political ideas, carried French republican unrest into royalist Spain. Barcelona has become the center of socialism, syndicalism and anarchism, (as distinct from anarchy), in Spain. Barcelona was first to defend the republican government at the outbreak of the civil war in 1936 and last to sur render to the nationalists. It was the seat of the autonomous Catalan government from 1932 to 1939 and seat of the republican government of Spain during the last four months of the civil war. It is a matter of pathetic irony that this region which had been actively trying to secede from the central government actually provided the central government for a period.
Barcelona reached the pinnacle of its power at the beginning of the fifteenth century when it outshone Venice and Genoa, when its ships were everywhere on the sea and when its consuls dominated every port. Under the Counts of Barcelona it flourished in music, painting and architecture as well as in material well-being. Its long decline began when it became a pawn in the larger power politics of the peninsula, first joined to Aragon and later to triumphant Castile. But Catalonia shares one characteristic in common with the rest of Spain. It survives with grace and equanimity the ebb and flow of temporal power. Modern Catalonia is as vital and as artistic today as it has ever been. Modern Catalan music, art and architecture play a leading part in the life of Spain and indeed in the life of the world.