Barcino, the original name of Barcelona, has its origin in the
first century A.D., when the Romans established
a small colony around the Taber mount. Barcelona formed this
way part of Eastern Hispania, the capital being Tarraco, now
known as Tarragona, city, capital and province south of Barcelona.
The Roman cities in Catalonia were small, except Tarraco,
but they formed a compact and well communicated net which
covered the whole country. Some cities were built on the site
of former Iberian villages, others like Barcelona, moved the
established indigenous settlements to more easy to defend
plain regions, or to key positions on high points between
In the surroundings of the Barcino colony, remains of old
native settlements have been found, including some from the
late Bronze Age. The remains of two Roman walls clearly show
that the mount Taber colony was the first structured urban
nucleus in the whole plain. A nucleus, which would be kept
walled -with different outlines- until well into the nineteenth
century, when the Cerda plan of the so called “eixample”
tore down the last walls to start the urban development of
the rest of the plain. There, other urban centres had thrived
like Sants or Gracia.
Between the fourth century and the thirteenth
century the city nucleus founded by the Romans was consolidated,
and a process of expansion began that later would give a definitive
shape to the city. After many political upheavals and the
retreat of Moorish Spain, Barcelona experienced feudalism
and a growing maritime trade, which allowed it to strengthen
its position as a political, religious and trade centre.
The most important features of the city’s growth were
the new suburbs and the new buildings and houses built outside
the old city and the modernization of the city centre.
At the end of the thirteenth century a second city wall was
built to give protection to the new suburbs around the Basilica
of Santa Maria del Mar, where the thriving new buildings of
the Mercadal and the port were to be found.
The walls of the thirteenth century sheltered
the new houses built outside the area of the Roman city, and
from the 14th century on, Barcelona gained a third stretch
of walls around the cultivated fields of the Raval area.
After the departure of the royal court, the Mediterranean
seemed small and insignificant alongside the Atlantic trade.
Within the confines of the newly established city, Barcelona
erected a Gothic city around its geometric and political centre,
the Plaza Sant Jaume, while artisans flourished around the
Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar, in the suburb of La Ribera,
turning Barcelona into a city of merchants, navigators, traders
and professionals. In the city was a high level of participation
with its corporate identity, its selective and gradual approach
to affairs. In fact it was the Barcelona of the guilds.
For Barcelona the eighteenth century was
quite significant: In 1714 defeat in the War of the Spanish
Succession and in 1808 the struggle against Napoleon's army
in the Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) War. The eighteenth
century was the Age of Enlightenment and enlightened despotism.
A century that the German philosopher Immanuel Kant summed
up as "dare to think for yourself". A time of many
changes across Europe that concluded with the outbreak of
the French Revolution in 1789.
Barcelona experienced a period of economic revival after
the military occupation of 1714, by means of military spending
in the city, the opening of cotton and calico mills and authorisation
to trade with the Americas. It was still a walled garrison
city with the newly-built fortress of the Ciutadella to protect
and keep it under firm control. Within those city walls reforms
led to the development of the suburbs El Raval and la Rambla
and the embellishment of the main streets of the city with
neoclassical façades and buildings.
Barcelona at that time was a city in a state of flux, where
old rural ways of life were making way for a modern city and
industrial centre. It was the passing of the Ancien Regime
and the beginning of the Capitalist Era.
From the proclamation of the new Cadiz Constitution in 1812
till the Republic of 1873, Barcelona experienced the various
social and political upheavals that were experienced throughout
Spain. There were riots, strikes, the burning of convents,
bombardments of the city and other kinds of confrontation
resulting from the great strains within the city.
The city itself passed from being a provincial capital in
1833 to being governed by revolutionary councils later in
the 19th century.
Anyhow, these struggles brought up further developments that
radically changed the city: The most obvious was to demolish
the city walls that still surrounded Barcelona, which in turn
made possible the growth of the city and the absorption of
neighbouring towns, and the destruction of the Ciutadella
Militar (site of the military garrison) to make way for the
1888 Universal Exhibition. Within the old walled city the
first reforms were made to deal with the lack of public areas,
and the properties of religious orders along the Ramblas and
in the Raval were reclaimed.
As for industry, Barcelona - which was known as "the
small Manchester" - inaugurated the first railway in
Spain in 1848 and later saw the founding of the labour unions
UGT in 1888 and CNT in 1910.
At the beginning of the twentieth century,
Cerda thought of expanding the city based on a rigid grid
system but it was carried out in a rather imprecise way. Barcelona
became a capital of the cultural avant-garde, a city where
the new advances in science and technology made an impact
on every aspect of the daily life of its inhabitants. A new
generation of industrialists and politicians started out on
ambitious industrial and development plans to turn Barcelona
into a modern metropolis, which they called "big"
Barcelona. But 40% of the city’s residents were still
illiterate in 1900 and 18% in 1920. There were fresh initiatives
in schooling and professional training; new market necessities
and the city’s housing problems were dealt with; the
first city trains were built, the tramway was electrified,
the streets were lit and lifts were installed in buildings.
Barcelona was on its way to becoming a fast-moving vibrant
city, a city characterised by the media and mass consumption.
During this period the football clubs Barça and Espanyol
were founded, the mountains of Montjuïc and Tibidabo
were developed and the city grew to the east.
The barricades and sacking of religious buildings in the
"Tragic Week" of 1909, the gangsterism of the 1920s,
the Second Republic, the military revolt and the bombs of
the Civil War (1936-1939) left behind a defeated city, without
energy to confront the long post-war period.
Barcelona made a dramatic break with its immediate past after
the Spanish Civil War, as well as with the hopes and aspirations
of the 1931 Republic.
In the years that followed the war, the daily life of the
city was one of rationing and smuggling, and cinemas and street
festivities were the only escape from the shortages and repression
of the long years of the dictatorship.
In the Barcelona of the fifties, surrounded by shanty towns
that grew up in the shadow of new industrial complexes, cars
and television sets began to be seen in streets and houses.
The city continued growing until the whole metropolitan area
took in Barcelona itself and 26 neighbouring boroughs.