Catalonia comprises of four separate provinces – Girona, Lleida, Barcelona and Tarragona – in the north eastern corner of Spain. In an area of 32,000 square kilometres – that’s about three quarters of the size of Switzerland – and with 500 kilometres of coast, it boasts a fascinatingly diverse geographical nature.
Geography of Catalonia
In the north, the Pyrenees reach 3,000 metres, descending through wonderfully lush pine and fir tree valleys.
In the east the area around Olot is extinct volcanic territory and just northwest of Barcelona are the weirdly shaped mountains around the legendary Montserrat. In the south west of the region is the Ebro Delta, one of the Mediterranean’s finest surviving wetlands, teeming with flamingos, purple heron and other migratory birds. The coast also offers contrasts between the rocky cliffs and sandy beaches of the Costa Brava and the apparently infinitely wide beaches of the Costa Dorada – with towns as different as Sitges, perhaps Spain’s most spectacularly outrageous resort; Tarragona, with its lovely old town and Roman heritage; and Cadaqués, with a landscape that illuminates Dalí’s paintings.
Map of Catalonia
History of Catalonia
The history of Catalonia is as complex as the history of Spain itself and helps explain the fiercely independent nature the people still retain. “Catalonia is not Spain” the banners will proudly claim – because they have what Catalans themselves refer to as hecho diferencial – the differentiating fact. Catalans have always considered themselves to be different. In the 14th Century, Catalan traders were the equal of those in Genoa and Venice and they developed the wealth of the region. In 1479, when Aragón and Castile united, Catalonia was still independent enough to stand alone. In the War of the Spanish Succession, the Catalans allied themselves with Archduke Charles against Philip V and the reprisals for this continued for many years. Always a centre for anarchism and socialism, Barcelona and Catalonia were staunchly Republican in the Civil War, again leading to reprisals which were deeply wounding, including the banning of the language in public life. By the mid 1990s, however, Catalonian nationalism was a force again and, in 2006, the region was officially recognised as a ‘nation within Spain’.
Catalan is the first language of more than seven million people – mainly in Catalonia but also in Andorra, the Roussillon region of France and in northwest Sardinia. It has close connections with Spanish, obviously, but without the Moorish influences, but also has much in common with French vocabulary – as you will often see by the street signs. If you can speak Spanish, you should have no problems in the area as there are few occasions where you will meet someone who only speaks Catalan. If you were to consider moving to Barcelona, for instance, then learning Catalan alongside Castellano- traditional Spanish – would be really useful and greatly appreciated by the locals.
Economy of Catalonia
One of the main reasons Spanish politicians worry about Catalan nationalism is that the economy of the region is vital for the nation. For example, 25% of all Spain’s production industries are based in Catalonia. Agriculture, once so important for the area, now accounts for only 4% of the wealth – but nearly all of Spain’s cutting edge electronic, automotive, chemical and textile industries are based here. With unemployment often a third lower than the rest of the country, young people from all over Spain still migrate here for work.
Broadly speaking, the climate of Catalonia is typically Mediterranean – meaning many hours of sunshine, mild winters and warm summers. The higher altitude areas around the Pyrenees experience temperatures below freezing in the winter and annual rainfall of in excess of 1,000 mm, as well as lots of winter snow. Barcelona and the coastal area to the north are much wetter than in the south, as well as being milder in the summer. Inland Catalonia has a continental Mediterranean climate, experiencing very hot days in the summer but also cold winters.
See Also: Catalonia Tourism