The first human settlements in Barcelona date back to Neolithic times. However, the city itself was founded during the 1st century BC by the Romans, on top of an old Iberian colony called Barke-no. Barcino – the Roman name for Barcelona – was built taking the Mont Tàber – a small mountain situated where Plaça Sant Jaume is now – as its centre. During the 2nd century BC a defensive wall surrounding the city was built, the remains of which can still be seen all around the Old Town.
In 711 Barcelona was conquered by the Muslims, who controlled the city until 801, when it was reconquered by Charlemagne’s troops and became the regular residence of the court of the Crown of Aragon. The following centuries were a fruitful period for Barcelona. The crisis of the remaining Muslim Kingdom and the importance of the city’s harbour to trade and transport materials gave Barcelona the status of economic and political centre of the Western Mediterranean. A clear example of this is the city’s old town, known as Barri Gòtic, with its amazing buildings built between the 13th and the 15th centuries following the gothic style.
However, the end of the Medieval Era brought nothing but a period of depression for the city with the Black Death and numerous civil wars that left a weak and hungry population. This compromised the city’s economic and political independence as well as its status as important city of the Mediterranean.
In 1714, after a terrible battle where numerous Catalan soldiers died, the city finally fell to the Bourbon troops (nowadays the Spanish royal family). This heralded the start of a period where Catalonia’s and Catalan’s rights and privileges were suppressed.
The Industrial Revolution brought new hope for the city’s habitants: the development of the textile industry brought work and money to locals and gave back to the city the status of being an economically important Mediterranean city. It was during this period that the popular Ramblas were built as well as the neighbourhood of La Barceloneta. A period of cultural recovery known as the Renaixença also started in the mid-19th century: after years of being persecuted, Catalan culture, language and traditions regained prominence and were openly celebrated.
During the 20th century Barcelona underwent an urban renewal with the application of Pla Cerdà. This project established a new direction for the city and as a result led to the Eixample district, popular for it’s squared isle of houses. Dating from this period are some of the most distinctive Catalan art-nouveau and modernist buildings such as La Pedrera/Casa Milà, the Casa batlló and the Sagrada Família (all made by Gaudí) or Domenech I Muntaner’s Casa Ametller date from this period.
The Spanish Civil War in 1936 was the start of a new period of economic and political decline. The continuous bombings and attacks from General Franco’s troops brought hunger and poverty to Barcelona’s inhabitants, getting worse with the subsequent Military dictatorship. Catalonian and Catalan’s rights were suppressed.
With the reinstatement of democracy in 1978, Barcelona society regained its economic strength and Catalan’s rights were restored. The city’s hosting of the 1992 Olympic Games put Barcelona in the spotlight and showed the world its potential, reaffirming its status as a major metropolis. The number of tourists increased dramatically causing the development of an important Tourist Industry – not only in the city but also around Catalonia – with a supposed eleven thousand-million euros of income in 2011.
In 2004, due to the Forum of Cultures the city had an important boost and some of the most abandoned areas were refurbished. The clearest example of this is the new district 22@, the most important urban development project in Barcelona, which transformed two-hundred acres occupied by old factories into a new modern space for innovation and creativity.
[Pictures credit: Roman City via Localyte; Painting 1714 war via Secret Forest; Barcelona in the 18th century via Gencat; Barcelona in the 20th century via Agrupació Fotogràfica de Catalunya; Bombing of Barcelona 1938 via Antiquari; Barcelona Olympics 1992 via Desdebellaterra; Forum 2004 via Singular Digital]