Catalonia is one of the most industrialized parts of Spain with a historic nationality, language and cultural heritage that has stood the test of time and a succession of foreign occupiers. It was colonized first by the Ancient Greeks, followed by the Carthaginians, the Romans, the Visigoths, the Moors and finally, the Franks. In 987 when the Count of Barcelona rejected the rule of King Hugh Capet, he set Catalonia beyond the reach of France till it finally became a part of the Crown of Aragon.
After the Spanish War of Succession in 1714, Catalonia along with all the territories under the Crown of Aragon, became a part of the Crown of Castille under the first unified Spanish administration. Catalonia gained and lost its autonomy several times since, possibly facing its greatest suppression under General Franco‘s rule that ended with his death in 1975.
Catalonia today is an autonomous community recognized as a “nationality” within the greater Kingdom of Spain. It comprises the provinces of Barcelona, Girona, Lleida and Tarragona. Famous Catalan traditions include the gegants i capgrossos (giants and big heads) seen at many Spanish festivals, world-famous Castellers who build up to nine-level human towers or the four-person moving pillar and the popular correfoc or firerun dance at neighbourhood fiestas.
Famous Catalans you may know are the surrealist painter Salvadore Dali, renowned cellist and conductor Pablo Casals and the storied modernist architect Antoni Gaudi (see my earlier blog, “My client is not in a hurry”).
But the national character of the Catalan people is best summed up by author Walter Starkie in The Road to Santiago by the local term seny, meaning common sense or a pragmatic attitude towards life. Take the Catalan-style Nativity scene where Joseph, Mary and the shepherds are gathered around baby Jesus with the additional figure of the caganer, or the defecator, squatting under a tree with his trousers down.
The caganer has been a part of Catalan Nativity scenes for at least two centuries. A symbol of fertility and good fortune, legend goes that “if a countryside man did not put a caganer in the nativity scene, he would have a very bad year collecting vegetables,” explains Joan Lliteras who owns 600 caganers. A Catalan shopowner has a different theory – he believes the caganer is a reminder that we are all equal and defecation is the great leveller.
Or is the caganer just another sign of how the Catalans love to be different!