On Wednesday 11th September Catalans celebrated the National Day of Catalonia, which marks the end of the siege of Barcelona in the War of the Spanish Succession on September 11th 1714. This year hundreds and thousands of Catalans held hands across their region, forming a 400 km long human chain to press the Spanish government to let them vote on breaking away and forming their own country. The streets of Barcelona, Catalonia’s capital, were filled with demonstrators in yellow T-shirts, draped in blue, red and yellow separatist banners. Catalans feel their region has been treated unfairly over taxes and cultural issues such as the Catalan language, despite having significant self-governing powers.
An important “Diada Nacional de Catalunya” tradition in the city of Barcelona is the laying of commemoration wreaths by Catalonia’s current and previous presidents and the Mayor of Barcelona at the Rafael Casanova monument. Many other events are traditionally held including concerts of traditional and modern music, parades and communal meals of paella cooked in huge pans up to 4 metres in diameter. There are free concerts on Plaza Catalunya and at the festival “Festa per la Llibertat” at the Arc de Triomf monument on Passeig Lluís Companys.
Several government buildings in Barcelona are open to the general public every 11th September, among them the Catalan parliament in the Parc de la Ciutadella and the “Palau de la Generalitat” in the city’s Gothic Quarter.
The Catalans are very enthusiastic about their festivals and parties and at other times of year there are also plenty of events where the visitor can enjoy local atmosphere and colour. These range from the full-on traditional knees-up, with giants, dwarfs and dragons wheeling through fireworks, to gentle street fairs selling artisanal honey and sausages. The array of religious events and old-fashioned pageants, all of which spotlight what makes Catalonia unique, are supplemented by a wide variety of more modern celebrations.
It’s well worth making the effort to see a display of the sardana, Catalonia’s folk dance. Sardanes were once banned as a vestige of pagan witchcraft. The dancing and the accompanying music are restrained; a reedy noise played by an 11-piece cobla band. Sardane are held regularly in front of the Cathedral and in the Plaça Sant Jaume and monthly displays also take place around the city.
When visiting Barcelona you can never really forget that first and foremost you are in Catalonia, and only secondly in Spain.