The region of Catalonia is known for its fervent nationalism and strong desire for independence from Spain. You'd be hard-pressed to wander the streets of Barcelona without encountering the Estelada, the Catalan separatist flag. This 3-hour Barcelona Catalan Culture Tour, focusing on the neighborhood of Gràcia, an extremely Catalan quarter of the city, aims to provide an introduction to Catalan culture and history and explore the complex issues surrounding the Catalan push for independence. We'll discuss what it means to be Catalan, why many Catalans do not identify as Spaniards, and the power of the Catalan language. Along the way, we'll learn about the history of this quaint neighborhood and how it fits in with the Catalan identity.
A Catalan Village in the Heart of the City
The neighborhood of Gràcia once laid outside of Barcelona, analogous, in a way, to how the region of Catalonia lays “outside” Spain. For centuries, the area was simply the tranquil site of the Santa Maria de Gràcia Carmelite convent; however, with the rise of wealth during the Industrial Revolution, well-off Barcelonians starting building "country homes" around the convent property. Eventually these multiplied and other larger early-19th century buildings filled in the district. Today Gràcia, fully a part of the city, still retains its village-like feel with small squares, parish churches and narrow streets, perfect for strolling.
A Sense of Identity
As we amble through the area, we will find broader clues to Catalan identity. We will see Antoni Gaudí's first commission, the fantastical Casa Vicens, where the architecture genius first used organic philosophies and symbols of Catalan nationalism (for more, see our Barcelona Gaudí Tour
). We will pass through Plaça de la Revolucio, commemorating the Glorious Revolution of September 1868 that deposed Queen Isabella II, underlining the rebellious spirit of Barcelona, and in particular Gràcia. In addition, underneath the square is an important bomb shelter from the Spanish Civil War (covered at greater length in our Spanish Civil War Tour
). This will lead to discussion of Catalonia's importance as bastion against General Franco. We may pass through the Plaça Diamant, which appears in Catalan writer Mercè Rodoreda's La Colometa
, set in a troubled post-Civil War Barcelona.
Barcelona Catalan Culture Tour
Our exploration of the Spanish Civil War and post-war period will lead us further to discuss the Catalan independence movement and to consider recent events, such as how Catalans in Gràcia and elsewhere marked the 300-year anniversary of the loss of Catalonian independence in 2014 by holding an "illegal" referendum to regain autonomy. What were the impulses behind this event, and what are the repercussions today? While the referendum has not been recognized by the Constitutional Court of Spain, the remarkable turnout speaks volumes about the passion Catalans hold for their culture and sovereignty.
Catalan Music, Food, and Culture
As we go along, we will pass by the homes of some famous Catalans such as rumba musician Gato Perez or opera singer Montserrat Caballé to talk about how their work figures into national identity. We may also stop by some traditional shops, particularly specialty food shops that have been in the neighborhood for generations and are now becoming a dying breed with the increasing globalization of the city (those looking to dig further into Catalan cuisine should try our Barcelona Food Tour
). We may enter a particularly ancient bodega
, going back in time as we admire its dusty but charming bottles of local vermuts
and wines, or a bakery known for its Catalan breads and functioning antique oven. Interacting with shop owners also allows for a brief lesson on Catalan language, its survival a testament to the power of Catalan identity.
We usually finish off in front of the city hall where we can see Gràcia’s historical gigantes
, or giants, enormous paper mâché figures dressed to represent the bourgeois or peasants of each Catalan village. These are usually brought out during local festivals, and seeing them provides a good opportunity for us to discuss some of the region’s lively customs
By the end of our walk we'll have made some progress in clarifying the issues surrounding Catalan identity and the push for independence from Spain. We will also immerse ourselves in the customs, traditions, and language of Gràcia—a microcosm of the larger Catalan region.
Note: For private experiences, this walk can be adapted for families or even visitors looking for a combined history-gastronomy approach.
Is this seminar walking intensive, and/or wheelchair accessible? We do cover a fair amount of territory on this seminar. Please contact us with any questions; we will be happy to advise if this seminar will be appropriate for you, and can also design a private, customized tour for visitors with mobility concerns.