Skip to content

We ask you, humbly: don't scroll away.

Hi readers, it seems you use Catholic Online a lot; that's great! It's a little awkward to ask, but we need your help. If you have already donated, we sincerely thank you. We're not salespeople, but we depend on donations averaging $14.76 and fewer than 1% of readers give. If you donate just $5.00, the price of your coffee, Catholic Online School could keep thriving. Thank you.

Help Now >


Free World Class Education
FREE Catholic Classes

A principality within the Spanish Monarchy, occupying an area of 12,414 square miles in the north-east corner of the Iberian Peninsula. The name is derived either from the compound Gath-Alania, referring to the occupation of that region by the Goths and Alans, or from Gothaland, or from Catalanos, supposed to have been the name of an indigenous people identical with Ptolemy's Catalauni, or, according to others again, from Otger Catalo, a hero of the Eastern Pyrenees who vanquished the Saracens about the year 756. The principality forms a right-angled triangle, of which the least side lies along the Eastern Pyrenees, the greater leg of the right angle forming the boundary of Aragon, while the hypotenuse of the triangle is represented by the Mediterranean coastline. Thus Catalonia is bounded on the north by France (the ancient province of Roussillon) and the little independent republic of Andorra, on the west by Aragon, on the south-west by Valencia, and on the east by the Mediterranean. Its surface slopes gently from the Pyrenees down to the sea-coast on the one side and the basin of the Mediterranean on the other, the eastern portion being drained directly into the Mediterranean by the Ter and Llobregat rivers, the western by the Noguera and Segre into the Ebro. Of these rivers, only the Ebro is really navigable in any part of its course, though the Segre is used as a waterway for timber and the produce of the upland country.

According to the census of 1900, Catalonia had a population of 1,960,620–an average of about 157.25 to the square mile. Its climate, somewhat cold in the north-east, is generally very temperate, the olive and fig being cultivated throughout and the orange in the maritime regions, which compare in beauty with the most celebrated portions of Greece and Italy.


Peopled, according to the most probable opinion, by Iberian races, Catalonia was from the earliest ages invaded by foreign settlers, the Greeks in particular founding the colonies of Rhodon (Rosas) and Emperion (Ampurias) on the beautiful Gulf of Rosas. The Carthaginians left no traces of their presence in Catalonia, although Hannibal marched across it; but the Romans, conquerors of Carthage, making themselves masters of the country, founded its civilization and its language. The Catalan language, a neo-Latin dialect, differs from Castilian chiefly in the absence of doubled vowels and in the suppression of the unaccented syllables which follow an accent (e.g. temps, for Castilian tiempo, "time"; foc for fuego, "fire"). Catalonia forms part of the Roman Hispania Tarraconensis and Citerior, and the country is still full of Roman remains. It next formed the first State established by the Goths in Spain, Astolfo having set up his court at Barcelona. When the Arabs took possession of Spain the lot of the Catalans was particularly hard, since their country, lying directly in the path which the Emirs followed on their victorious expeditions into Gaul, found it impossible to begin such a struggle for independence as the Asturians and the Aragonese had begun. But after the conquest of the Mohammedans by Charles Martel, and their expulsion from Gallia Narbonensis, the Catalans could lift up their heads among the recesses of the Pyrenees, where they gathered under the leadership of Quintillian, an independent chief in the district of Montgrony. Soon Charlemagne began his expeditions into Catalonia (778), conquering Gerona, Barcelona, Ausona (the modern Vich ), and Urgel. Louis the Pious, son and successor of Charlemagne, formally undertook the conquest of Catalonia, which, under the name of Marca Hispanica (the Spanish March), he entrusted to Borrel. This district was ruled by dependent counts from 801 to 877, and in the latter year this dignity was made hereditary by the Diet of Quercy, Wilfrid the Hairy beginning a dynasty of counts who in a short time became independent. Wilfrid set the boundaries of his dominions at the rivers Segre and Llobregat, and founded the monasteries of Ripoll and Montserrat, the two centres of Catalan national life.

Wilfrid was succeeded by Borrel I, Suñer, and Borrel II, in whose time Almansor took and sacked Barcelona (985). In this period we find Catalonia divided into various countships–Barcelona, Ausona, Urgel, Ampurdán, Perelada, Besal&ú, Gerona, etc.–now united, now separated, until the time of Bérenger III. Ramón Bérenger I, the Old (1035-1076), published the Usatges (Customs), the first civil code of the Reconquest (1071), and left the throne to his two sons, of whom Ramón Bérenger II, called the Fratricide, because he was believed to have put his brother to death, was vanquished in an ordeal by combat, and journeyed to the Holy Land in penance for his crime. Ramón Bérenger III, the Great, married Dulcia, heiress of Provence, united the two countships, and entered upon the Aragonese policy of intervention in Italian affairs. Ramón Bérenger IV, the Saint, married Petronilla, daughter and heiress of Ramiro the Monk, thus bringing about the union (1137) of Aragon and Catalonia (see C ASTILE AND A RAGON ); he also finished the reconquest of Catalonia, capturing the cities of Tortosa and Lérida. After Alfonso-Ramón, who succeeded to the kingdom and the countship in 1162, the histories of Catalonia and of Aragon are one. Especially worthy of note here are the conquests of Valencia (1238) and the Balearic Isles (1229), won chiefly by Jaimé the Conqueror. The latter were peopled mostly with Catalans, as the island dialects prove, the Majorcan still preserving a base of archaic Catalan, while in the Valencian there is an influx of Aragonese. The Order of Mercy, for the redemption of captives, originally an order of knighthood, was founded on Catalan soil, in 1223, by St. Peter Nolasco and St., Raymund of Peñafort. In 1225, Philip the Bold, King of France, laid siege to Gerona and was defeated on the Coll de les Panises. An expedition of Catalan and Aragonese allies, summoned to the Levant by the Byzantine Emperor Andronicus Palæologus, and commanded by Roger de Flor, founded, in 1313, the Latin Duchies of Athens and Neo Patra. Lastly, it was with Catalan sailors and fleets that the kings of Aragon, intervening in the affairs of Italy, possessed themselves of the Kingdom of Sicily (1282) and Naples (1420).

Castilian influence began to make itself felt in Catalonia from the time when the Castilian dynasty, in the person of Fernando I, of Antequera, ascended the throne of Aragon. The first important collision between Catalonia and her Castilian rulers had its origin in the persecution which Juan II, the husband of Doña Juana Enriquez, carried on against his son, the Prince of Viana, who was generally beloved by the Catalans. From this resulted a war lasting twelve years. The marriage of Fernando (Ferdinand) II of Aragon with Isabel of Castile established Spanish unity and Castilian preponderance, to which, also, the discovery of America in the name of Castile, together with the diversion of commerce from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, and the consequently diminishing economic importance of Barcelona and other ports on that coast, largely contributed. Catalonia no doubt played an important part in the direction of Spanish policies in Italy, and the principality lived in a state of contentment under the first three Austrian monarchs. But the misgovernment of Philip IV provoked an uprising in Catalonia (Feast of Corpus Christi, 1640), and the insurgents named Louis XIII of France Count of Barcelona. This insurrection, however, was suppressed by the Castilians. In the War of the Succession Catalonia embraced the cause of the Archduke of Austria against Philip V, who punished the Catalans (1713) by abolishing their ancient fueros, or constitutional rights. Catalonia was the first region of Spain to rise against the Napoleonic tyranny, and overthrew the French in 1808.


What was anciently the Countship of Barcelona is now the Principality of Catalonia, divided into the four provinces of Barcelona, Tarragona, Lérida, and Gerona.

The Province of Barcelona, with an area of 2965 square miles, includes 327 municipalities. Its principal city, Barcelona (pop. 525,977), beautifully situated between the sea and a chain of verdant mountains, possesses a port which is considered one of the best on the Mediterranean, both by nature and by its recent improvements. The city combines the attractions of a great modern metropolis with the interesting associations of a long history, the presence of so many magnificent old buildings seeming to stimulate modern enterprise in the same direction. (See B ARCELONA .) Many smaller cities–e.g. Sabadell, Tarrasa, Manresa (see I GNATIUS L OYOLA, S AINT ), Reus–depend industrially on Barcelona, and the banks of the Llobregat and the Ter are bordered with paper-, spinning-, and other mills, which utilize the motive power of the numerous waterfalls.

The 184 municipalities of Tarragona aggregate 2503 square miles in area. The province produces wine, vinegar, and fruits in great abundance. Its capital, Tarragona (pop. 25,000), was selected by the Romans for its exceptionally fine situation upon a slight eminence, the sea on one side, and a very fertile fruit-producing district on the other; in spite of the excellence of its harbour, its importance has decreased through the transfer of industries to Reus and of commerce to Salou, a little farther south. Historically, Tarragona is one of the world's most interesting cities. Tortosa, an ancient episcopal see, is also commercially famous for its vinegar.

Lerida, the largest, but the least wealthy, province of Catalonia, has an area of 4685 square miles, divided into 324 municipal districts. Its resources are agricultural, chiefly fruits and timber. Besides Lérida, the capital (the ancient Ilerda ), the most important cities of this province are: Cervera, in ancient times the seat of a university celebrated for its theological faculty, Seo de Urgel, and Solsona.

The Province of Gerona (the ancient Marca Hispanica ), with an area of 2361 square miles, divided into 249 municipal districts, has a generally mountainous surface, which produces large quantities of cork of the best quality. Its long coastline, with numerous small harbours, is excellently adapted for both fishing and navigation. Its principal cities are: Gerona, the capital (pop. about 15,000), a city of great historical importance, famous for its remarkable variety of mineral waters; Figueras, with its once redoubtable fortress; Olot, situated in a volcanic region abounding in springs.

In the judiciary department of its government Catalonia is served by a single district court ( audiencia ), that of Barcelona, with criminal tribunals in the four provincial capitals, Barcelona having seventeen courts of first instance (five of them in the capital itself), Tarragona eight, Lérida eight, and Gerona six. In the military administration, the Captaincy-General of Catalonia is one of the fourteen military districts of Spain, and is divided into four military governments. It belongs to the naval department of Cartagena, and has stations at Barcelona, Tarragona, Tortosa, Mataró, and Palamós. It has only one university, that of Barcelona, with four provincial and two local institutes (Figueras and Reus).


The principality of Catalonia forms the ecclesiastical province of Tarragona, the archiepiscopal see of which is, according to tradition, one of the most ancient in Spain, dating from the first century of Christianity. The suffragan dioceses are Barcelona (a see claiming Apostolic origin), Gerona, Lérida, Solsona, Tortosa, Urgel, and Vich. The following table gives briefly the most complete statistics obtainable of religious communities in the Province of Tarragona :—

Dioceses Religious Communities   Men Women     Cloistered Not Cloistered       Colleges Houses Benevolent
Institutions Tarragona
Vich 2

… …

… …

5 2


(See also separate articles on T ARRAGONA , B ARCELONA , G ERONA , and the other dioceses.)

Join the Movement
When you sign up below, you don't just join an email list - you're joining an entire movement for Free world class Catholic education.

Saint of the Day logo
Prayer of the Day logo

Catholic Online Logo

Copyright 2024 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2024 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.

Catholic Online is a Project of Your Catholic Voice Foundation, a Not-for-Profit Corporation. Your Catholic Voice Foundation has been granted a recognition of tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Federal Tax Identification Number: 81-0596847. Your gift is tax-deductible as allowed by law.