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Catalonia (kătəlōˈnēə), Catalan Catalunya, Span. Cataluña, autonomous community, 12,390 sq mi (32,090 sq km), NE Spain, stretching from the Pyrenees at the French border southward along the Mediterranean Sea.

Land and Economy

Catalonia comprises four provinces, named after their capitals: Barcelona, Girona, Lleida, and Tarragona. Barcelona, the historic capital, contains more than a third of the region's residents. Catalan and Spanish have been the official languages of Catalonia since 1978, which has led to a considerable revival of Catalan. Mostly hilly, with pine-covered mountains, it also has some highly fertile plains. Cereals, olives, and grapes are grown, and one third of the wines of Spain are produced there. The beautiful 240-mi (386-km) seacoast has fine harbors, excellent fisheries, and an active tourist trade. The Ebro (Ebre, in Catalan), Segre, and Cinca rivers furnish hydroelectric power for the industries in Barcelona and Girona provs.; chief products are textiles, chemicals, automobiles, airplanes, locomotives, and foundry and other metal items. The service sector has grown rapidly.


Trade has been active along the coast since Greek and Roman times. The history of medieval Catalonia is that of the counts of Barcelona, who emerged (9th cent.) as the chief lords in the Spanish March founded by Charlemagne. United (1137) with Aragón through marriage (see Raymond Berengar IV), Catalonia nevertheless preserved its own laws, cortes (or corts), and language (akin to Provençal). Catalan art and Catalan literature flourished in the Middle Ages. In the cities, notably Barcelona, the burgher and merchant classes grew very powerful.

Catalonian traders rivaled those of Genoa and Venice, and their maritime code was widely used in the 14th cent. They, and adventurers like Roger de Flor, were largely responsible for the expansion in the Mediterranean of the house of Aragón (see Aragón, house of). Catalonia failed in its rebellion (1461–72) against John II of Aragón, and after the union (1479) of Aragón and Castile, Catalonia declined. The centralizing policy of the Spanish kings, the shifting of trade routes with the consequent loss of commercial income, pirate attacks, and recurring plagues and famines were all major factors.

Agitation for autonomy was always strong. In the Thirty Years War (1618–48), Catalonia rose against Philip IV. The Catalan region of Roussillon, in the Pyrenees, passed to France in 1659 (see Pyrenees, Peace of the). In the War of the Spanish Succession, Catalonia sided with Archduke Charles against Philip V, who in reprisal deprived it of its privileges. In the late 19th and early 20th cent. it was a center of socialist and anarchist strength. In 1931 the Catalans established a separate government, first under Francesc Macià, then under Lluis Companys, which in 1932 won autonomy from the Spanish Cortes. A revolution (1934) for complete independence failed, but in 1936 autonomy was restored.

In the civil war of 1936–39, Loyalist Catalonia sided with the Republic and suffered heavily for its opposition to Franco. Barcelona was the Loyalist capital from Oct., 1937, to Jan., 1939. Catalonia fell to Franco in Feb., 1939. Under the Franco dictatorship, the use of Catalan was banned in public life. Catalonia elected its first parliament as an autonomous community in 1980, and by the mid-1990s Catalonian nationalists had become a force in both Catalonian and Spanish politics.

Increased autonomy for Catalonia and recognition of the region as a “nation” within Spain was approved in 2006, but the Spanish constitutional court subsequently (2010) greatly limited the significance of the changes, leading to increased support for independence. The Spanish government blocked a proposed Catalonian independence referendum in 2012. Catalonian parties continued nonetheless to press the issue, and the central government's intransigent stand on any vote increased pro-independence sentiment. In 2013 Catalonia called for a referendum, later changed to a nonbinding poll, to be held in Nov., 2014, but the Spanish constitutional court called for its suspension. Conducted by grassroots organizations, the poll drew roughly half the region's voters; 80% voted for independence. Spain's constitutional court later declared the vote unconstitutional.

After pro-independence parties won a majority in Catalonia's 2015 elections, the regional parliament approved a plan for secession. The plan was revoked by the Spanish courts, but Catalonian leaders had promised to ignore such a ruling and proceeded with an independence referendum in 2017. Despite at times forceful Spanish police intervention, 43% of Catalonians voted, 92% in favor. The Spanish government then moved to take control of the region, and Catalonia's parliament declared independence before it was dissolved. The declaration was generally rejected internationally. Spain charged Catalonian officials involved with rebellion and sedition, and their conviction in 2019 on various charges (including sedition) sparked days of sometimes violent demonstrations by Catalonians. New elections late in 2017 again gave a majority to pro-independence parties, but due to central government objections a new government was not sworn in until June, 2018.

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(Cataluña), a historical region in northeastern Spain, including the provinces of Barcelona, Tarragona, Gerona, and Lérida. Area, 31, 900 sq km; population, 5 million (1970), mainly Catalans. Barcelona is the administrative, economic, and cultural center and main port of Catalonia. Much of the region is occupied by the Catalan Mountains, which reach 1, 712 m; a narrow band of coastal plain stretches along the Mediterranean Sea. Maquis and oak and pine forests grow on the slopes.

Catalonia is one of the most important industrial regions of Spain, accounting for almost one-third of the total value of the country’s output in manufacturing. About 70 percent of the region’s population and about 80 percent of all the people employed in industry live in Barcelona and its industrial suburbs and satellite cities. The main branches of industry are metalworking and machine building (30.4 percent of all those employed in the industries in Spain in 1969), the textile industry (72.2 percent), and the chemical industry (35 percent). Catalonia contains about 80 percent of the production capacities of Spain’s cotton and wool industry, whose development has for the most part been dependent on imported raw materials. The synthetic fiber and the petrochemical industries are developing. The most developed branches of machine building are the production of textile machines (over 80 percent of the national output), metalworking machine tools (about one-sixth), and automobiles and tractors; 218, 300 passenger cars, or 59 percent of the total Spanish output, were produced in Barcelona in 1969. Catalonia is also the site of an electrical and electronics industry, the production of railroad equipment, motor building, paper and cement industries, and the mining of potassium-rich minerals and brown coal.

In 1969 the electric power output was 7.27 billion kilowatt-hours, produced mainly by hydroelectric power plants.

Agriculture produces for the market, with large mechanized capitalist farms dominating production. Less than 36 percent of the total area is cultivated, and orchards cover about two-fifths of the cultivated lands. Poultry raising and swine raising are developed.


The name “Catalonia” first appeared in official documents in the early 12th century as a designation for the county of Barcelona and the adjoining lands. Previously the region had been in close contact with the Franks, who conquered it from the Arabs between 785 and 811; this fact contributed to the development of the Catalans as a separate ethnic group. In 1137 the county of Barcelona was united with the Kingdom of Aragon through a personal union; in 1164 it became part of Aragon, the counts of Barcelona becoming kings of Aragon. However, Catalonia retained a large degree of political independence; it retained its Cortes, legislative rights and administration, and commercial and tax privileges. Catalonia was economically the most developed part of the Kingdom of Aragón. Catalonian cities conducted large-scale trade, which was promoted by Aragon’s conquest of the Balearic Islands, Sicily, Sardinia, and Naples in the 13th through the 15th centuries. In the 13th and 14th centuries an oppressive serfdom was established in Catalonia. Peasant uprisings in 1462–72 and 1484–86 compelled the king of Aragón to abolish serfdom in Catalonia in 1486. When Spain was united in 1479, Catalonia became one of the provinces but retained many of its liberties (fueros) until the 18th century. The population of Catalonia, which gradually developed into a separate nation, defended its fueros against infringements by the royal power in the uprisings of 1640–42 (the Segador uprising) and of 1705–14.

In 1714 the Spanish government, after having suppressed an uprising of the Catalans, abolished the fundamental Catalonian liberties. When a new administrative division was introduced in Spain in 1833, Catalonia ceased to exist as a separate administrative unit. The national movement became stronger in Catalonia beginning in the 1840’s. In 1914, as a concession to the national demands of the Catalans, the Spanish government created a body of local self-government for all of Catalonia, the Mancomunidad, which was abolished in 1925 by the dictator M. Primo de Rivera. The establishment of the Spanish Republic in 1931 was followed by a new upsurge of the national movement in Catalonia. On Sept. 9, 1932, the Spanish Constituent Cortes adopted a law on the autonomous status of Catalonia, and on Nov. 20, 1932, in accordance with the statute, a Catalan parliament was elected and a local government was formed. After the suppression of the October revolutionary uprising of 1934, the Catalan autonomous administration was virtually abolished. The victory of the Popular Front in 1936 brought to the Catalans the restoration of their autonomous rights, which they enjoyed until the capture of Catalonia by the Francoists in February 1939. In the 1950’s and 1960’s the national movement in Catalonia achieved some successes in the development of the national culture, such as the publication of books in Catalan.


Soldevila, F. Història de Catalunya, 3rd ed. [Barcelona] 1937.
Valls-Taberner, F., and F. Soldevila. Historia de Cataluña, vols. 1–2. Madrid-Barcelona, 1955–57.
Garcia Venero, M. Historia del nacionalismo catalán (1793–1936). [Ma-drid] 1944.

L. V. Ponomareva

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


a region of NE Spain, with a strong separatist tradition: became an autonomous region with its own parliament in 1979; an important agricultural and industrial region, with many resorts. Pop.: 7 012 600 (2003 est.). Area: 31 929 sq. km (12 328 sq. miles)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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