An essential guide to Catalonia
Located in the far north east of Spain, Catalonia is the country’s second most populated autonomous community with a staggering 7.5 million people living inside its borders. Its populace even accounts for over 16% of Spain’s total population. Catalonia’s history and culture are regarded extremely important to those that live within the region, and many appreciate if those visiting are familiar with some of the things that make up part of Catalonia’s identity.
A brief history of Catalonia
The first use of the term ‘Catalonia’ was in the 12th century, and after the fall of Charlemagne in this era, Catalonia united with the neighbouring Kingdom of Aragon. It was still part of the Kingdom of Aragon when Spain became unified following the marriage of Isabella and Ferdinand, but it operated as a separate region with its own language and laws.
However, when Catalonia chose to support the Habsburgs instead of the Spanish in the War of Spanish Succession, King Philip V banned the Catalan language and culture upon his victory. Such was seen as justified punishment for choosing not to support him in the war.
In the 19th century, nationalist sentiment grew in Catalonia and more than a decade later Catalonia was finally recognised as semi- autonomous. This however was short lived. During the Spanish civil war in 1936, the region supported the loosing Republican side. After Franco’s victory, the same suppression of Catalonia took place.
Following the defeats of Hitler and Mussolini, Franco lessened the suppression of Catalonia in fear that he would lose his power in an uprising. After his death in the 1970’s, the country transitioned to a democracy allowing freedom of cultural expression. Since then, the people of Catalonia have been trying to strengthen the Catalan culture and language once again.
The current independence movement started in the early 2010s, its supporters claiming that while Catalonia supports the rest of the country economically, the Catalan culture is still not recognised enough by Spain. This sentiment led to the referendum vote in 2017, an illegal vote which resulted in many political leaders being arrested. These political leaders are awaiting trial in prison but protests continue in support of regional independence.
Tìo de Nadal
A festive log with a funny face. From December 13th up until Christmas day, children ‘feed’ the Tìo with dried fruit and berries. Then on the 25th, they beat the log with a stick singing and encouraging it to ‘poop’ presents. This is how children receive their presents on Christmas day.
Typically, the Caganer (a figurine squatting and defecating) is hidden in the nativity scene waiting for children to find it.
Occurring from 31st October-1st November, this festival marks the end of summer and the beginning of the colder months. Traditionally, warm chestnuts are eaten along with panellets (marzipan tasting almond pastries usually covered in pine nuts). During La Castanyada, All Saints Day is celebrated commemorating loved ones who have passed away.
Important dates and events
La Merce celebrates the feast day of Our Lady of Mercy on September 24th. It lasts a whole weekend and consists of other Catalan traditions like Correfoc (a fire run), Sardana (a traditional dance), Gegants (papier maché giants) and Castellers (human towers).
This day marks the defeat of Barcelona during the 1714 War of Spanish Succession. It is now known as Catalonia Independence Day.
On April 23rd, the day Sant Jordi (the patron saint of Catalonia) died, locals exchange books and roses.
Sant Joan is also an important figure in Catalonia who is celebrated on June 23rd. Celebrations include fireworks, bonfires, and a warm welcome to the sunny season in Catalonia.
Food and drink
The staple dish of the Catalan region is pan con tomate, toasted bread with tomato, salt, and oil. This is one of the region’s most simple dishes, but also one of the most delicious. Other traditional dishes include rovellos (big mushrooms with a red and orange colour), esqueixada (cod fish with vegetable salad, olive oil, and vinegar), and butifarra (spicy sausage). Dessert wise, crema catalana – a traditional crème brulee- is often enjoyed.
Traditionally, escudella (a stew with vegetables and meat) is served on Christmas day, while canelons (pasta rolls stuffed with leftover cheese and meat from the previous day) are eaten on December 26th.
From November to April, calçotada (similar to onions that are peeled and eaten with salvitxada sauce) are also eaten.
Some typical regional sauces are garlic mayonnaise (allioli) and romesco, a spicy sauce with tomatoes, peppers, garlic, and olive oil.
Cava, Catalonia’s version of champagne, can also be traced back to the region, as well as Moscatell, a sweet wine served during the colder months and especially during La Castanyada.
With more than 9 million native speakers of the language, here are few essential Catalan phrases to use during your stay.
- Hello – Hola ‘ohh-lah’
- Goodbye – Adéu ‘ah- day- oo’
- Good Morning- Bon Dia ‘bon dee-ah’
- Good Afternoon – Bona Tarda ‘bon-ah tar-dah’
- Goodnight – Bona nit ‘bon- ah neet’
- How are you? Com estàs? ‘cohm eh-stas’
- Please. Si us plau ‘see ooh-s plough’
- Thank you! Merci! ‘mer-see’
- You’re welcome. De res. ‘dah ress’
- I’m sorry. Ho sento ‘oo sen-two’
- Do you speak English? Parles angles? ‘par-less ang-less’
- Street. Carrer. ‘Kah-rerr’
- Cheers! Salut! ‘sah- loot’
Sandra Roig is Marketing Director at AB Apartment Barcelona. AB Apartment Barcelona is an apartment rental agency offering over one thousand short and long term apartments across Barcelona.