Location in Spain:
The Catalans can, with some justice, claim that it is the region where “it is all happening”. Since the 1992 Olympic games in Barcelona it has been on the world map as a place people want to visit and the capital is now very much an international city. But it has not lost its distinctiveness in respect of its heritage or its own everyday culture and language.
The region (`autonomia´ in Spanish) of Catalonia is consists of four provinces, each with a capital city of the same name:
Additionally, Barcelona is also the capital of the region of Catalonia.
The region of Catalonia (Catalunya/Cataluña) covers an area of some 32,000 square kilometres and has a population of about 6 million, the second highest of the seventeen regions in Spain after Andalucia.
The Catalonia coastline has two distinct profiles – that of the Costa Brava and that of the Costa Dorada. The former has cliffs and deep coves, especially further north where the mountains reach the sea. The latter provides long, wide and gentle beaches and more so in south, though variety can still be found everywhere.
The best known beaches are to be found at: L'Illa Roja at Begur, Waikiki, Altafulla, La Savinosa, La Mora in Tarragona and L'Home Mort at Sitges.
There are three distinct landscapes in Catalonia: the high sierras of the Pyrenees, the Mediterranean coast and the central lowlands. This gives great diversity – from the highest Pyrenaica through the unusual geological formations at Montserrat to the extinct volcanoes of La Garrotxa. Catalonia has some 140 protected environmental areas which make up 21 percent of territory.
It has one national park at Aiguestortes and Estany de Sant Maurici. There are nine wildlife parks at – Aiguamolls de l'Emporda, Serra Del Montsant, the volcanic area of la Garrotxa, Montserrat, Sant Llorenc de Munt and Obac, CadiMoixero, Cap De Creus, Delta de l'Ebre, and Montnegre and Corredor.
Sport and activities
The environment of the Pyrenees provides an excellent location for all kinds of fresh air sport. Winter sports, especially skiing and snowboarding can be practised at any number of ski resorts thoughout the Pyrenees. The best known are at Baqueira Beret, Boi Taull, La Molina, Masella, Port Aine, Port del Comte, Rasos de Peguera, Super Espot, Vall de Nuria y Vallter 2000.
In the summer this landscape of mountains and valleys opens up to many different activities, such as – hill walking, climbing, mountain-biking and canoeing. There are many companies that offer every form of activity holiday including: paragliding, ballooning and horse trekking. There is good provision of thermal spas which offer healthy and relaxing facilities set in spectacular scenery. And one must not forget water sports such as windsurfing, sailing and diving on the coast or rafting, canoeing and rowing on a wide variety of rivers.
UNESCO has designated as of world heritage importance these sites:
- Parque and Palacio Guel and Casa Mila (1984)
- Monasterio of Poblet (1991)
- Palau de la Musica Catalan and the Hospital de Sant Pau (1997)
- Iglesis Romanicas Catalanas del Valle del Boi (2000)
- Conjunto Arqueologico de Tarragona (2000)
From prehistory and historical times the artistic heritage is to be found everywhere, for example, firstly, in the Ruins of Ullastret and of Empuries, at the walls of Tarragona and in the Roman temple at Vic and then in the architecture of Sant Pere de Rodes, Cathedral of Seu d`Urgell, Sant Vicenc de Cardona, Gate of Santa Maria de Ripoll and in the unique collection of paintings, murals and exhibits in the Museu Nacional d´Arte de Catalonia.
Religious architecture of the gothic period is best seen in – Cathedral of Girona, the church of Santa Maria del Mar(Barcelona), the monasteries of Santes Creus and Polbet, Pedralbes and the Seu Vella de Lleida. Civil works of note are to be found at the Salo del Tinell, Hospital de la Santa Creu and Sant Pau and in the Llotja (Exchange) of Barcelona. Painters of the period include Ferrer Bassa, Bernat Martorell, brothers Serra, Lluis Dalmau and Jaume Huguet.
In the modern period, XIX and XX centuries, the outstanding figure is Antoni Gaudi whose Sagrada Familia and many other works place him among the greatest of architects/artists. In this period nearly all the artistic styles have been manifested in Catalonia – architectural rationalism (Gatpac), surrealism (Dali, Miro) and in music (F Mompou) and in the abstracts of A Tapies.
In traditional architecture the Masia stands out as a popular building form that is well suited to the landscape and rural buildings of Catalonia.
From the seventh century bc there is ample archeological and written evidence about the Iberos tribes in Catalonia and then of the first contacts with the Greeks (Empuries) and Romans (Aldovesta).
The Romans arrived in Empuries in 218bc during the Punic wars. They then settled in the town of Terraco (Tarragona) – today a UNESCO world heritage site.
The Moors from the eigth century developed two types of administration in Catalonia. To the north (Cataluña Vieja) it was essentially a feudal colony, while to the south they developed an Islamic culture, evidenced today at Tortosa and Lleida. Ramon Berenger IV ended the Moorish reign in 1149.
From the eighth century Catalonia expanded southwards(taking over Mallorca and Valencia) and into the Mediterranean (Sicily, Sardinia and the kingdom of Naples) and thereafter relied on sea bound trade and excursions (piracy!).
In more recent times Catalonia continued its quest for independence, incurring bloody conflicts in the process and losing much, especially under Felipe IV during the wars of succession and most recently under Franco. But with increasing prosperity, especially in the last twenty five years it has developed a true autonomy(ratified in 1978) – a process that continues today.
Festivals, gastronomy traditions
Among the many traditional civic festivals that of Sant Jordi (23 April) is most important – when the custom is to buy a book and to give a rose to your loved one. Other well known festivals are at Calcotada, Carnaval and Aplec of Cargol.
Catalan folklore has an easy going style. The Sardana dance, accompanied by a small dance band of traditional instruments, is a famous and found throughout the region. Many traditional dance groups, known as Esbarts, perform at nearly all the festivals in the villages and towns of Catalonia.
Catalan gastronomy is very varied, but two dishes throughout the region stand out. El pa amb tomatec I pernill (bread base with tomato and ham) and the Botifarra amb mongetes (sausage with green beans). Grilled dishes and fish (suquet de peix) are given many preparations. Rice dishes are also popular especially the “black” rice of Emporda.
Crema Catalana is a favourite dessert among many confectionaries. As for local wine, those of Penedes and Priorat are well respected and recently so too is that of Raimat.
Getting there and around
Catalonia is well connected. One can get there by land, sea and air.
- Catalonia has three airports:
- Barcelona el Prat international airport (BCN)
- Girona airport
- There are two international rail stations at Estacion de Sants and Estacion de Francia.
The former serves the whole of Spain and Portugal. The latter goes to France and connects to the rest of Europe.
- Motorways connect to Zaragoza and Bilbao, Madrid and almost the whole length of the Mediterranean coast.
- There are good bus services from the Estacion del Nord which provides long distance services nationally and internationally.