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Barcelona modern history - Barcelona during the 20th century

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Barcelona under attack 1939 - Placa Catalunya being bombed
Bombs over Barcelona in 1939. (click to enlarge.)

Spanish Civil War

In 1931 Spain's second Republic was established and King Alfonso XIII went into exile. Not only did Catalonia get its own parliament, but also the right to use its own flag and the recognition of using Catalan as the region's main language. 

However, in 1936 the army revolted and this became the starting point for a brutal and bloody civil war. In the first year, anticlerical opponents burned down many churches. Barcelona, which was on the republican side, was the most important city for the International Brigade. It also was one of the last cities to capitulate to General Franco's troops at the end of the war in 1939.

The Civil War took the lives of more than 700 000 soldiers and 50 000 civilians. The civilians either got executed or killed in the many bomb attacks. 

Barcelona was the most bombed city in Spain. The strategy was to kill the civilians in order to demoralize the soldiers on the front, as all of them had friends and family in the city. This act of war would later be used on a much larger scale during the Second World War, both by the Germans and the Allies.

Barcelona and Catalonia had to pay a high price for their defeat in the Civil War. General Franco established a dictatorship over Spain and the autonomous rights of Catalonia were taken away. The Catalan language was strictly forbidden, even in churches and schools. In the following years Barcelona received very little money from the government in Madrid, and for the next 30 years Spain was basically cut off from the rest of Europe and the world. 

After the war

Despite all that had happened, the city and industry managed to recover in Catalonia. People from poorer parts of Spain made their way to Barcelona, hoping to find work and a brighter future. 

The tourist boom of the 1960’s really helped the local economy, but it also established a contact between Franco's conservative Spain and a more modern Europe. However, it also led to some cultural changes that took some time for Spanish society to accept. The disapproval of the conservative population to blonde Scandinavian girls sunbathing topless on the Spanish coast is an example of this.

After General Franco's death in 1975 Spain didn’t take long to get out of its isolation. The grandson of the late King Alfonso XIII, Juan Carlos, was declared the new king. King Juan Carlos I successfully oversaw the transition from dictatorship to parliamentary democracy and in 1978 the regions of Spain won back the autonomy they had before the Civil War.

Most Catalans were happy with the restoration of autonomous rights and of Catalan as an official language. However, there are still many people who demand total independence.

Port Olimpic - The left tower in the background is Hotel Arts
  Port Olímpic was built for the Olympics in 1992

Spain joined the European Union in 1986. This, along with hosting the Olympics in 1992, led to a long financial boom.


Barcelona - Neil Schlecht 2002

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