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Catalans (Països Catalans)

Catalans (Països Catalans)

ETHNONYM: Catalonians


Identification. Catalans can be defined by participation in the historical polity of Catalonia, which occupies the northwest Mediterranean coast and eastern Pyrenees. Some areas of the formerly independent political unit now form separate regions in contemporary Spain and France: Valencia, the Balearics, and Roselló (Pyrenees Orientales). Andorra constitutes an independent state. Together these are known as the "Països Catalans" (Catalan countries). The traditional primary language of the polity is Catalan, a Romance language, although most inhabitants are bilingual (in Spanish or French). In the contemporary Països Catalansafter two centuries of industrial development and immigrationlanguage, residence, cultural traits (food, arts, etc.), heritage, and political affiliation are complex and ambivalent markers of ethnic, class, and national membership.

Location. Catalonia is located between 40° and 42° N and 0° and 3° E. Roselló lies at about 42° N and between 1° and 4° E. Valencia falls between 38° and 40° N and 2° W and 1° E. The Balearic Islands lie between 38° and 40° N and between 1 ° and 4° E. The total land surface is 69,032 square kilometers; in Spain, the Països Catalans occupy 13 percent of the land surface while in France, Roselló occupies less than 1 percent of the land surface. The countryside is predominantly mountainous, dropping from the Pyrenees (above 3,000 meters) and the Iberian system to the Mediterranean coast. The most important rivers, the Ebre (Ebro) and Xúquer (Júcar), originate outside the Països Catalans, while the rest of the hydrographic network consists of small, intermittent rivers that flood periodically. The climate is Mediterranean, characterized by a season in which heat and dryness coincide from June to September, with strong rains in September/October and April/May. The eastern and southern regions are extremely arid (less than 30 centimeters precipitation per year).

Demography. Regional populations of the Països Catalans are: Catalonia, 6,079,903 (1987); Valencia, 2,918,714 (1987); Balearics, 671,233 (1987); Roselló, 349,100 (1986); and Andorra, 49,976 (1986). Catalans constitute 28 percent of the population of Spain; Catalans in France, by contrast, represent less than 1 percent of the national population. Population density averages 176 persons per square kilometer, and the population is stable. Approximately 9,000,000 speak Catalan; almost all are bilingual. Immigrants account for the majority of Spanish or French monolinguals.

linguistic Affiliation. Catalan is a Romance language derived from Latin and written with the Roman alphabet. It has 7 vowels and 27 consonants. Dialects are associated with the historical divisions previously cited, including Valencian, Mallorquí, Menorquí, and Eivissenc.

History and Cultural Relations

Settlement in Catalonia antedates historical records, with Paleolithic and Neolithic remains. Successive immigrations have included Celts, Iberians, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans (who established a capital in Tarragona in the first century b.c.e.), Jews, Visigoths, Arabs, and Gypsies. Barcelona was reconquered from the Arabs in 801 and became capital of the Frankish county of Catalonia. Catalonia became independent about 988, uniting with the Kingdom of Aragon in the twelfth century. Balears and Valencia were reconquered from Arab domination in the thirteenth century. The Catalan-Aragonese empire also extended into Sardinia, Naples, Sicily, and Greece as its mercantile society and culture flourished. At the end of the fifteenth century, its population neared 700,000. In 1469, King Ferdinand of Aragon and Catalonia wed queen Isabella of Castile and Leon, uniting the two kingdoms that became the foundation of Spain. For centuries thereafter, Catalans struggled to preserve political and cultural autonomy as the Mediterranean region lost power to Atlantic states. Bids for independence were defeated by the central state in 1640-1659 (at which time Roselló was incorporated into France) and in the early eighteenth century. Nonetheless, the subsequent growth of trade with Spain's New World colonies and of industry, especially textiles, gave Catalonia new economic power in the nineteenth century. In the twentieth century, a rich Catalonia has attracted immigrants from the rest of Spain while seeking to redefine its relationship to the centralized state. Under the Second Spanish Republic (1931-1939), especially during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939, Catalans sought new forms of autonomous government; Franco's victory brought an intense repression of the polity, its culture, and its language. Under the Spanish democratic regime (1977), the Països Catalans have regained autonomy within the reorganized state, and a revitalization of Catalan language and culture has been evident in Spain, with repercussions as well in France.


Catalans have been urban for millennia. Major cities include Barcelona (with a metropolitan area of 3,000,000), Valencia, Palma de Mallorca, Tarragona, Perpinyà (Perpignan), Lleida, and Girona. All tend to be based on Roman models, although they have undergone extensive development subsequently, especially in the past century. Cities tend to be centered on civil, Catholic church, and commercial activities, which form a core network rather than occupying a single central space. The urban landscape is extremely dense, as is typical of the Mediterranean. Residences, long associated with professional quarters and workplaces, are now more often separated from work and tend to reflect class-linked variations on a shared pattern of multistory apartment buildings. The rural Països Catalans center on the mas, an agricultural household production unit, with dispersed populations in the north and larger villages in the south. Northern houses consist of extended-family dwellings above barns and storage areas, developed on a Roman pattern; southern houses are simpler but encompass wide variations. Since the industrial era, rural areas have been invaded from urban centers and, in the past twenty years, by intensive tourism, both internal and external.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Roughly 10 percent of the active population of the Països Catalans is engaged in agriculture, with 45 percent in industry and 45 percent in service. The last is the most productive sector (60 percent of the net product), mainly because of international tourism.

Agricultural production is dominated by arboriculture: citrus, grapes, and olives, all of which are now highly industrialized in production. The need for irrigation constrains other crops, although rice is characteristic of Valencian agriculture and cuisine. The typical production unit is a horta (huerta ), a small, single-family irrigated garden of less than one hectare. These gardens produce domestic foodstuffs as well as flowers and specialties for urban markets. Domestic animals may include cattle, pigs, and sheep, but milk and meat products are generally industrialized. Fishing, despite a long economic and cultural tradition, has largely disappeared.

The Països Catalans lack natural energy resources for industry; growth relied on imported fuels until the construction of nuclear reactors. Cottage industries in the eighteenth century gave way to family-controlled urban factories and rural mill towns (colònies ) in the nineteenth. Textiles were the foundation of growth; chemicals, leather, construction materials, automobiles, and appliances have also been important, organized as government or multinational corporations. Commerce and finance were linked to industrial growth, especially in the development of a petite bourgeoisie (shopkeeper and small merchant) infrastructure.

Division of Labor. This follows gender and class. Women of rural and working-class households participate actively in the production process; middle-class and upper-class women have been less incorporated into the labor market than in similar developed areas. Class division has been a source of conflict for centuries.

Land Tenure. The Països Catalans are typified by small and medium landholdings; even among the bourgeoisie, money tends to be heavily invested in land, both rural and urban.

Kinship, Marriage, and Family

Kin Groups and Descent. Traditional Catalan kinship is based on the stem family and a designated heir, generally an elder male. This pattern has been increasingly nuclearized in cities, although ties across generations remain strong. Descent is bilateral; kinship terminology is equivalent to the rest of Latin Europe with an emphasis on the nuclear family and designation of generational and affinal distance.

Marriage. Catalans are monogamous, following Catholic tradition. Civil marriage has been permitted in Spain since 1968, divorce since the 1980s. Both were available earlier in France. There are no marriage rules beyond minimal Catholic exogamy, although land and economic interests have shaped marriages in rural areas as well as among urban elites. In rural traditions, the inheriting couple resides with the heir's family. Neolocal residence is more common in the city, although economic limitations on space may preclude it.

Domestic Unit. Coresidence of the productive unit has been a cultural ideal, and the unit may include grandparents, siblings and families, children and spouses; this is more common in the countryside than in cities. The past three decades have seen a dramatic rupture in domestic relations throughout the Països Catalans.

Inheritance. In Catalan customary law, two-thirds of the property was given to the designated heir, and the rest was divided equally among all surviving children, including the heir, constituting the dowry or a professional stake for other siblings. After 1555, three-quarters was allotted to the heir. Customary law may still be invoked, but generally equipartite division seems to dominate, at least in cities.

Socialization. Children are raised primarily by mothers with help of other female kin or servants. Fathers have variable but limited involvement. Schooling was dominated by the Roman Catholic church until the establishment of post-Franco governments, which have greatly expanded all youth services.

Sociopolitical Organization

The Països Catalans today encompass regions in Spain and France and the independent state of Andorra.

Social Organization. Catalan society, since the Middle Ages, has been divided into socioeconomic groups based on occupation, descent, wealth, and prestige markers (education, cultural goods). Medieval and early modern categories of nobility, clergy, merchants, and artisans have given way since the nineteenth century to modern capitalist divisions. Successive waves of modern immigrants have been incorporated as workers with marked social and cultural discrimination. Conflict has been intense and often violent.

Political Organization. The Països Catalans now comprise three autonomous Spanish regions and eight provincesCatalunya (four provinces), the Comunitat Valenciana (three), Illes Balears (one)as well as a French department and the Principat of Andorra, administered by sindics representing its joint rulers, the bishop of the Seu d'Urgell and the president of France. Local administration is heavily fragmented. Municipal and autonomous governments ("Generalitats" in Catalonia and Valencia, the "Consell" in Balears) have been elected by universal suffrage in Spain since 1977. France has a longer tradition, but in Andorra voting citizens account for only 25 percent of the population. Spain and France have party systems in which class and nationalist interests are debated. Services are distributed among all levels of government. Taxes are paid to municipal governments and to the state, which redistributes part of them: the Spanish national budget is 25 percent for local administrations, 10 percent for autonomous regions, and 65 percent for national services. Països Catalan citizens also vote for European parliament members and participate in Common Market programs.

Social Control. Values of authority, tradition, and the importance of appearance are inculcated through school, home, and church. Formal systems of control include police, prisons, and the army, organs of the national state against which Catalan governments have attempted to construct their own agencies. Conflict between Catalonia and the central state, as well as internal class conflicts, have been recurrent themes of Catalan history.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs and Practices. For centuries, the Roman Catholic church has provided the dominant belief system, while also being an important actor in Catalan society. This identification of the Catholic church and Catalan culture has been weakened by industrialization, secularism, and cultural contact. Most Catalans are Catholic by baptism and observe other Catholic life-cycle rites, but many do not practice regularly. Only one-third of those in Spanish Catalonia identified themselves as Catholic in 1988. Jews lived in the area until their expulsion in the early modern period; synagogues and mosques are now found in Barcelona and other metropolitan centers as a result of recent immigration. There are also active Protestant and evangelical communities, the latter including many Gypsies. Religious leaders are generally specialized males, but Catalonia also has many men and women in religious orders in schools and charity work as well as monasteries and convents.

Ceremonies. The religiously based calendar, now secularized and politicized, includes: New Year's Day (January 1); Reis (Epiphany and distribution of gifts, January 6) ; Carnestoltes (Carnivals); Pasqua Florida (Easter); Pasqua Granada (Pentecost); Sant Jordi (feast of Saint George, the patron saint, April 23); a group of primarily summer festivals of fire and fireworksSant Josep (feast of Saint Joseph, or "Falles" in Valencia, March 19), Sant Antoni (feast of Saint Anthony, June 13, in Balears), Sant Joan (feast of Saint John, June 24) and Sant Pere (feast of Saint Peter, June 29); Dia dels Difunts (Day of the Dead, November 2); and Nadal (Christmas, December 25). Sunday is the general weekly holiday. Saints and apparitions of the Virgin Mary figure in regional and local cycles as well as folklore, legend, toponyms, and personal names.

Arts. Catalan culture is one of the richest in Europe, traceable to the artistic, architectural, and literary golden age in the Middle Ages and early modern period. Urban, elite, and educated culture has coexisted with folk traditions to the present. Urban culture declined in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but it revived in the nineteenth century with the growth of industrial wealth. Catalan expression, however, was limited by Francoist repression. Well-known figures from the Països Catalans, important in development of local and international culture, include: Ramon Llull, Ausiàs Marc, and Ramon Muntaner in early writings; Salvador Espriu, Vincente Blasco Ibáñez, and Llorenç Villalonga in contemporary literature; Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, and Pablo Picasso (formative period) in painting; Antoni Gaudí, Aristides Maillol, and Josep Lluís Sert in architecture and plastic arts; and Pablo Casals and Montserrat Caballé in music. Folk traditions of note include music and dancing, especially the sardana, a Mediterranean circle dance that has become a national symbol; gastronomy and wine; ceramics; and various forms of textile design.


Elliott, J. H. (1963). The Revolt of the Catalans: A Study in the Decline of Spain (1598-1640). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gran enciclopedia catalana (1968-1980). 15 vols. Barcelona: Editorial Gran, Enciclopedia Catalana. 2nd ed. forthcoming.

Hansen, Edward (1977). Rural Catalonia under the Franco Regime: The Fate of Rural Culture since the Spanish Civil War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

McDonogh, Gary (1986). Good Families of Barcelona: A Social History of Power in the Industrial Era. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Vilar, Pierre (1962). La Catalogne dans l'Espagne moderne. Paris: S.E.V.P.E.N.

Woolard, Kathryn A. (1989). Double Talk: Bilingualism and the Politics of Ethnicity in Catalonia. Stanford: Stanford University Press.


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LOCATION: Northeast Spain

POPULATION: About 6 million


RELIGION: Roman Catholicism


The Catalan people live in an area of northeast Spain called Catalonia. Historically, Catalonia also included Valencia, Andorra, the Balearic Islands, and the French department (or province) called Pyrenees Orientales. Speakers of the Catalan language can still be found in these areas. Following centuries of foreign rule, Catalonia became an independent political entity in ad 988 and united with the Kingdom of Aragon in 1137. Together, the two regions established an empire that eventually extended to Sardinia, Naples, Sicily, and Greece. After the marriage of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in the fifteenth century, the kingdoms of Aragon and Catalonia were united with Castile and León. After this union, the Catalans struggled for centuries to preserve their political and cultural identity.

By the nineteenth century, Catalonia had become a major economic power in Spain due to trade and industrialization. It has remained one of Spain's wealthiest and most developed regions. It has attracted large numbers of immigrants from the south throughout the twentieth century. During the years of Francisco Franco's dictatorship (193975), Catalan regionalism was suppressed and the local language outlawed. In 1979, Catalonia became an autonomous region with its capital at Barcelona. In 1992, it gained the international spotlight as host to the Summer Olympic Games.


Catalonia is located in Spain's northeastern corner. It is roughly the size of the state of Maryland. It is bound to the north by the Pyrenees mountains, to the east and south by the Mediterranean Sea, to the southwest by Valencia, and to the west by Aragon. The region is dominated by the Pyrenees. Catalonia is divided into four administrative provinces: Lleida, Girona, Barcelona, and Tarragona. A fifth region within Catalonia is Andorra, a small country jointly governed by France and Spain.

Catalonia has a population of approximately 6 million people, roughly 15 percent of Spain's total population. Much of the region's population growthup from barely 2 million in 1900is due to immigration. Over 25 percent of Catalonia's inhabitants live in Barcelona.


Catalan is the official language of Catalonia. It is also spoken in Valencia, Andorra, the Balearic Islands, and the French department (or province) of Pyrenees Orientales. Catalan is a Romance language like French, Italian, and Castilian Spanish. It is similar to the Provençal language spoken in the south of France. From the late 1930s to the mid-1970s, Catalan, like other regional languages in Spain, was suppressed by the Franco regime. Now the language can be heard on television and radio and is taught in the schools. Road signs in Catalonia are printed in both Catalan and the national language, Castilian. The most common Catalan names are Jordi (the equivalent of George) for men, and Montserrat and Núria for women. Catalan was the official host language for the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona.

English Catalan
beach platja
good day bon dia
please si us plau
welcome benvinguts
common sense seny


Catalan folklore has been strongly influenced by Roman Catholicism. Saints and visions of the Virgin Mary play a prominent role in legends, tales, and customs.


The majority of Catalans, like most other people in Spain, are Roman Catholic. However, the role of religion has decreased in the lives of many people in the region. This is due to the industrialization and modernization of Catalonia, as well as to outside cultural influences. Most Catalans mark major events such as baptism and marriage with the appropriate religious ritual. However, many are not regular churchgoers. Religious minorities include Protestants, evangelical Christians, and Jews.


Catalans celebrate the standard holidays of the Christian calendar. Other religious dates include Epiphany (Reis) on January 6; Easter Monday, in March or April; the Feast of St. George (Sant Jordi), Catalonia's patron saint, on April 23; Pentecost (Pasqua Granada), in May; and several summer festivals marked by fires and fireworks, including the feasts of St. Anthony on June 13 (in Balears); St. John on June 24; and Sts. Peter and Paul on June 29. The Catalan national holiday is La Diada on September 11. The Day of the Dead (Dia Dels Difunts) is celebrated on November 2. Boxing Day (December 26) is also observed.

Towns and villages celebrate their patron saints' days every year in a "main festival," or fiesta major. This climaxes in an all-night dance. All Catalan festivals are marked by the dancing of the sardana, the Catalan national dance. Another typical feature is the presence of ritual figures called giants (gegants) and bigheads (capgrosses), enormous papier-mache forms that are carriend in processions. The grotesque bigheads are objects of jokes and mockery.


Besides baptism, first communion, and marriage, military service can be considered a rite of passage for Catalans, as it is for most Spaniards. The first three of these events are the occasion, in most cases, for big and expensive social gatherings in which the family shows its generosity and economic status. Quintos are the young men from the same town or village going into the military in the same year. They form a closely knit group that collects money from their neighbors to organize parties and serenade girls. In the mid-1990s, the period of required military service has been greatly reduced. The government planned to replace required military service with a voluntary army.


The Catalans generally have a reputation for being hard-working, ambitious, and conservative. In contrast to the passionate flamenco of the Andalusians, their national dance is the stately sardana. They tend to regard themselves as European rather than Spanish. They spend little time in other parts of Spain, preferring to vacation either in their own region or abroad in France, Italy, or England.


Homes in northern Catalonia often house an extended family above a first floor that is used as a barn and/or storage area. Traditionally, Catalan homes and workplaces were often combined into a single building. This type of arrangement has become less common with urbanization and the spread of multistory apartment buildings.


Economic interests have traditionally played an important role in rural, and even some urban, marriages. According to custom, one son inherited all the family property. This resulted in the creation of many wealthy estates but also in a high rate of emigration. In cities, the nuclear family (parents and children) make up the household. In the country, a family may include grandparents as well as aunts and uncles. Men have a limited role in child-rearing, which is primarily the responsibility of the mother and female relatives or nannies. The last three decades have seen a weakening of family ties among many Catalans.


Catalans wear modern Western-style clothing. Their tastes tend to be more conservative than those of their neighbors in other regions. Traditional male Catalan garb includes the distinctive barretina, a sock-shaped, red woolen hat that can be seen at festivals. It is often worn with a white shirt and black slacks and vest. Women's festive costumes include elaborate lacework in both black and white.


Catalonia has a rich culinary tradition. The earliest Spanish cookbook in existence was written in the Catalan language in the fourteenth century. Typically Mediterranean flavors predominate in Catalan cuisine. These include olive oil, garlic, onions, tomatoes, nuts, and dried fruits. A favorite Catalan dish is escudella I carn d'olla, a boiled meal-in-a-pot comparable to the French potau-feu. Meats and sausages are simmered with vegetables; the broth is then served with pasta as a first course, with the rest served as the main course. Catalonians are fond of mushrooms. About six dozen edible varieties grow in their homeland. Mushrooms often appear sautéed as an appetizer (tapas) or as an ingredient in soups, sauces, and stews. A Catalan staple, eaten as a snack or a meal accompaniment, is pa amb tomáquet, bread smeared with tomato and sprinkled with oil and salt.


Catalan children, like other Spanish children, receive free, required schooling between the ages of six and fourteen. Many students then begin the three-year bachillerato (baccalaureate) course of study. Following this, they may opt for either one year of college preparatory study or vocational training. Schooling in Catalonia was dominated by the Catholic Church until the 1970s. An expansion of educational services followed the Franco regime. Study of the Catalan language is required in the region's schools.


In art and architecture, Catalonia is especially prominent in connection with two widely separated periods: Romanesque, and modernist. The region contains some 2,000 buildings erected during the Romanesque period, which flourished from around ad 1000 to 1250. At the turn of the twentieth century, the modernist style was championed by architects including Antoni Gaudí, Josep Puig I Cadafalch, and Lluís Domènech. Great painters include Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, and Salvador Dalí. Each has a museum in Barcelona devoted to his work. Well-known contemporary Catalan writers include Salvador Espriu and Llorenç. Prominent twentieth-century musicians from Catalonia include cellist Pablo Casals and opera singers Montserrat Caballé and José Carreras.


About 10 percent of Catalans in the labor force are engaged in agriculture, 45 percent in industry, and 45 percent in the service sector (jobs that serve the public directly). Catalan has a thriving tourism business. Much agricultural work is performed on small, family-owned plots. Fruits and vegetables are grown, and animals, including cattle, pigs, and sheep, are raised. Catalonia is one of the top five industrialized regions of Europe. Catalan industrialization began with textile production in the nineteenth century. Other important industries include chemicals, leather, construction materials, automobiles, and appliances. The region also has the greatest number of small, high-tech companies in Spain.


Soccer (called fútbol ) is Catalonia's most popular participant sport. Fishing, sailing, and hiking or climbing in the Pyrenees are other favorite outdoor activities. Winter sports include Nordic and cross-country skiing, ice skating, and ice hockey. Squash, tennis, and golf are also widely played. The 1992 Summer Olympics were held in Barcelona.


Like other people in Spain, the Catalans enjoy watching television. The fine arts have played an important role in the Catalonian heritage. Catalans enjoy going to opera houses, theaters, and museums in Barcelona and other cities. Catalans generally vacation in their own region, usually going to the same place every year. They also enjoy traveling abroad to other European countries.


The Catalan national dance is the sardana. It is performed at festivals and other special occasions throughout the country. Dancers form a circle, holding their clasped hands high in the air. Short, quiet steps alternate with longer, bouncy ones. The bands that play music for the sardana are called coblas. They consist of the flabiol, a three-holed flute that is played with one hand while the player beats a small, elbow drum called a tabal; woodwind instruments called tenoras and tibles; the brass trompeta, fiscorn, and trombó; and the contrabaix, or double bass. A regular sardana session, or audació, consists of half a dozen dances, each lasting about ten minutes. Marathon sessions called aplecs, however, include twenty-four dances played by three or four different coblas and last all day. Group singing is very popular among Catalans, and many belong to traditional Catalan choirs.


As Spain's most prosperous region, Catalonia has been spared many social problems. Catalan efforts to maintain cultural identity and independence have remained peacefulunlike those of the Basques. The traditional Catalan family structure has been weakened in the postwar decades. Immigration to the region has resulted in social and cultural discrimination.


Lye, Keith. Passport to Spain. New York: Franklin Watts, 1994.

Schubert, Adrian. The Land and People of Spain. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.

Williams, Roger. Catalonia. Insight Guides. Singapore: APA Publications, 1991.


Spanish Foreign Ministry. [Online] Available, 1998.

Tourist Office of Spain. [Online] Available, 1998.

World Travel Guide. Spain. [Online] Available, 1998.

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