Each year, millions of people from all around the globe travel to the enchanting, seaside city of Barcelona, Spain, and that’s certainly no surprise. Barcelona is the capital of the autonomous community of Catalonia, and it’s renowned for its art and culture, stunning architecture, amazing selection of world-class dining opportunities, exceptional nightlife options and numerous water activities on the Mediterranean Sea. There’s no doubt that Barcelona should be at the top of your travel list, but it hasn’t always been among the best vacation destinations in the world. Barcelona originated from a complex history that was brutally formed through countless battles over a span of some 2,000 years.

Barcelona Beginnings

While history indicates that the Iberian Laietani tribe may have first inhabited this area, the earliest records show that Barcelona began life when it was founded by the Phoenicians and the Carthaginians. They christened their newest acquisition Barcino after one of their esteemed rulers who was known as Hamilcar Barca, and they held onto their prize until the Romans arrived to claim it during the first century B.C. The Romans were so proud of this particular conquest that they named Barcelona the capital of the region in the third century, and the Roman influence can still be felt and seen today thanks to the remains of underground stone corridors, ancient city walls and massive temple columns.

Changing Hands

When you rule a great city, it’s hard to keep it to yourself, and the Romans realized that when Barcelona fell into the hands of the Visigoths in the fifth century. Visitors today will want to visit the city’s Gothic Quarter to experience the many existing examples of Catalan Gothic architecture, which include the Santa Maria Del Pi Church. Barcelona was then captured by the Moors in the eighth century, and they held it for a full 100 years before the Franks took it from them. It seems that everyone wanted Barcelona for themselves, but the Spanish were determined to have it as their own once and for all.

The Spanish Marches

Around this time, the entire region was divided into counties, and the county of Barcelona was considered the most important by far. Barcelona’s Count Wilfred the Hairy established the Catalan Nation and a hereditary system of succession began. In the year 988, Count Borrell II secured the county of Barcelona’s independence from the Carolingian empire. He then expanded the entire region, and it later became known as Catalonia.

More Conflict

Eventually, Barcelona became a part of the Crown of Aragon through a marriage of convenience between two royal lines that should have made the city flourish better than ever, but it didn’t work out that way. The great city began to lose its power and importance, and this made things difficult for many years. Conflicts developed between Barcelona and Madrid, and Barcelona was even banned from doing any trading with the American colonies. At this point, it seemed that the city would fall, but Barcelona was far from done. Things changed again in the 17th century when Catalonia went to war with Spain and declared its independence with a little help from France. That didn’t last either, and the French troops of Napoleon later invaded Catalonia. Fortunately, Barcelona and all of the plundered territories were returned to Spain following the fall of the French Empire.


Barcelona Rises Again

When the Industrial Revolution began to gather strength in the 19th century, Barcelona’s contributions to the cause once again returned it to its status of a great and powerful city. It only got better from there, and Barcelona was honored with the opportunity to host the World’s Fair in 1888.

Freedom at Last

As Barcelona continued to thrive, a huge demand went up for more political freedoms against the Francoist dictatorship that Catalonia had been laboring under for several decades. Following the death of the dictator, Catalonia finally regained its complete political authority in 1977, and Barcelona was free to become one of the most important and elaborate cities in all of Spain. It continues to attract important events today, which include the hosting of the Olympic Games in 1992 and the Universal Forum of Cultures in 2004. 

The real beauty of Barcelona lies in the treasures left behind from each of these periods in history. Those visiting today will find themselves enriched by history that goes far beyond the vast Roman ruins and the Gothic churches. You’ll also be transported back through the ages by way of the many majestic cathedrals that are straight out of the 14th century, which include the Cathedral La Seu. Incredible plazas and masterpieces in sculpture may still be seen throughout the city, and the many whimsical, one-of-a-kind architectural creations by Gaudi, which include the Casa Mila, the Casa Battlo and the Palau Guell, are not to be missed.

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