The population is 1,621,537. Situated on a plain between the Llobregat and Besós rivers and lying between mountains and the sea, Barcelona is the second largest city of Spain with a 1,621,537. Textiles, machinery, automobiles, locomotives, airplanes, and electrical equipment are the chief manufactures. International banking and finance are also important.
The marriage of Count Raymond Berengar IV to the heiress of Aragón united, the two lands under one dynasty; the title, count of Barcelona, was subsequently borne by the kings of Aragón, who made the city their capital, and later the kings of Spain. Under its strong municipal government Barcelona vastly expanded both its Mediterranean trade, becoming a rival of Genoa and Venice, and its cloth industry and flourished as a banking center. Reaching its peak around 1400, the city later shared in the general decline of Catalonia. It was repeatedly occupied by the French.
Barcelona was always the stronghold of Catalan separatism and was the scene of many insurrections. It was the center of the Catalan revolt (1640-52) against Philip IV of Spain. Later it also became the Spanish center of anarchism, syndicalism, and other radical political beliefs. It was the capital of the Catalan autonomous government (1932-39) and the seat of the Spanish Loyalist government from Oct., 1937, until its fall to Franco on Jan. 26, 1939. Barcelona remains a center of separatism and political liberalism; in the 1950s, it was the scene of sporadic demonstrations against the Franco regime. Present-day Barcelona is a cultural center of Spain, and since the 1970s it has reasserted its Catalan linguistic character. It was the site of the 1992 Summer Olympics.
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A handsome modern city, Barcelona has broad avenues, bustling traffic, and striking new buildings. The old city, with winding, narrow streets (Roman walls are still visible), has many historic structures, including the imposing Cathedral of Santa Eulalia (13th-15th cent.) with its fine cloisters, the Church of Santa María del Mar, the city hall, and the Lonja or exchange. Also notable is the Church of the Sagrada Familia (begun 1882), designed by Antonio Gaudí. Barcelona is the site of the Fine Arts Museum of Catalonia, the Contemporary Art Museum, museums of Miró’s, Picasso’s and Dali’s works, and a noted opera house.
The city originated as a Roman fort constructed on a knoll, which has remained the religious and political center of the city. In the late Middle Ages, the city outgrew this fortification and expanded down to the sea. New perimeter fortifications were constructed, the seaside wall not being completed until 1536. The city’s interior was renowned for its numerous religious and civic monuments. As the political seat of Catalonia, Barcelona housed in its center the palaces of the king and the Diputació del General, the principality’s treasury. The city was governed from the palace of the Consell de Cent, a council of five executives and a jury of one hundred “honored citizens.” The royal shipyard (the drassanes) dominated the western end of the port district, and the maritime merchant hall (Llotja de Mar) governed the busy port.
The Barri Gòtic (“Gothic Quarter” in Catalan) is the centre of the old city of Barcelona. Many of the buildings date from medieval times, some from as far back as the Roman settlement of Barcelona. Catalan modernisme architecture (often known as Art Nouveau in the rest of Europe), developed between 1885 and 1950 and left an important legacy in Barcelona. A great number of these buildings are World Heritage Sites. Especially remarkable is the work of architect Antoni Gaudí, which can be seen throughout the city. His best known work is the immense but still unfinished church of the Sagrada Família, which has been under construction since 1882, and is still financed by private donations. As of 2007, completion is planned for 2026.
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Barcelona was also home to Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion. Designed in 1929 for the International Exposition for Germany, it is an iconic building that came to symbolize modern architecture as the embodiment of van der Rohe’s aphorisms “less is more” and “God is in the details.” The Barcelona pavilion was intended as a temporary structure, and was torn down in 1930 less than a year after it was constructed. A modern re-creation by Spanish architects now stands in Barcelona, however, constructed in 1986.
Barcelona won the 1999 RIBA Royal Gold Medal for its architecture, the first (and as of 2009, only) time that the winner has been a city, and not an individual architect.