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The Catalans (Catalan, French and Occitan: catalans; Spanish: catalanes) are a Latin ethnic group formed by the people from, or with origins in, Catalonia or the Catalan countries, who also form a nationality[a][6] in northeastern Spain. The inhabitants of the adjacent portion of southern France (known in Catalonia proper as Catalunya del Nord and in France as the Pays Catalan) are included in this definition.[7][8]

Total population
c. 5.4 million
Regions with significant populations
         (people born in Catalonia; excludes Catalans born in other regions in Spain)
         (estimates vary)
 France 110,000
 Mexico 63,000
 Germany 48,000
 Peru 39,000
 Andorra 29,000
         (Algherese Catalans in Alghero, Sardinia)
 Chile 16,000
 Venezuela 6,200
 Cuba 3,600
 United States of America
         (estimates vary)
 Ecuador 850[3]
Catalan (native) and Spanish; French (as a result of immigration or language shift)
Christianity (Catholicism)[4]
Related ethnic groups
Other Spaniards (Andorrans, Balearics, Valencians, and Aragonese), Other Latin Europeans


Extended conceptEdit

In addition to the people of Catalonia proper, other Catalan-speaking people, namely those from Andorra, Valencia, the Balearic islands, eastern Aragon, Roussillon and the city of Alghero in Sardinia, are also often identified as being part of a wider Catalan ethnic group, inhabiting a territory referred to by Catalan nationalists as the Països Catalans or "Catalan Countries".[9]

Historical backgroundEdit

The area that is now known primarily as Catalonia was, along with the rest of the Iberian Peninsula, in 1500 BCE Proto-Celtic Urnfield people who brought the rite of burning the dead. These Indo-European people were absorbed by the Iberians beginning in 600 BCE in a process that would not be complete until the fourth century BCE. These groups came under the rule of various invading groups starting with the Phoenicians and Carthaginians, who set up colonies along the coast, including Barcino (present-day Barcelona) itself. Following the Punic Wars, the Romans replaced the Carthaginians as the dominant power in the Iberian eastern coast, including parts of Catalonia, by 206 BCE. Rome established Latin as the official language and imparted a distinctly Roman culture upon the local population, which merged with Roman colonists from the Italian peninsula. An early precursor to the Catalan language began to develop from a local form of popular Latin before and during the collapse of the Roman Empire. Various Germanic tribes arrived following nearly six centuries of Roman rule, which had completely transformed the area into the Roman province of Tarraconensis. The Visigoths established themselves in the fifth century and would rule the area until 718 when Muslim Arabs and Berbers conquered the region and held it for close to a century. The Franks held back small Muslim raiding parties, which had penetrated virtually unchallenged as far as central France; Frankish suzerainty extended over much of present-day Catalonia. Larger wars with the Muslims began with the Spanish March which led to the beginnings of the Reconquista (Reconquest) by Catalan forces over most of Catalonia by the year 801. Barcelona became an important center for Christian forces in the Iberian Peninsula.

Battle of the Puig by Andreu Marçal de Sax depicting the Christian victory with the aid of Saint George.

Catalonia emerged from the conflicts in Muslim Spain as a regional power, as Christian rulers entrenched themselves in the region during the Carolingian period. Rulers such as Wilfred the Hairy became masters of a larger territory encompassing Catalonia. The Crown of Aragón included Catalonia, Aragón, Valencia, and the Balearic Islands. The marriage of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragón and the conquest of the last Muslim kingdom of Granada in 1492 tied Catalonia politically to the fate of the new Spanish kingdom. Even so, a regional culture continued to survive and thrive.

Some sporadic regional unrest led to conflicts such as the Revolt of the Germanies in Valencia and Majorca, and the 1640 revolt in Catalonia known as the Reapers' War. This latter conflict embroiled Spain in a larger war with France as many Catalan nobles allied themselves with Louis XIII. The war continued until 1659 and ended with the Peace of the Pyrenees, which effectively partitioned Catalonia as the northern strip of the March came under French rule, while the rest remained under Spanish hegemony. The Catalan government took sides with the Habsburg pretender against the Bourbon one during the War of the Spanish Succession that started in 1705 and ended in 1714. The Catalan failure to defend the continuation of Habsburg rule in Spain culminated in the surrender of Barcelona on 11 September 1714 which came to be commemorated as Catalonia's national day.

After the Catalan defeat during the War of Spanish Succession, Philip V of Spain ordered the burning of all the Catalan flags and banners.

During the Napoleonic Wars, much of Catalonia was seized by French forces by 1808, as France ruled the entire country of Spain briefly until Napoleon's surrender to Allied Armies. In France, strong assimilationist policies integrated many Catalans into French society, while in Spain a Catalan identity was increasingly suppressed in favor of a national identity. The Catalans regained autonomy during the Spanish Second Republic from 1932 until Francisco Franco's nationalist forces retook Catalonia by 1939. It was not until 1975 and the death of Franco that the Catalans as well as other Spaniards began to regain their right to cultural expression, which was restarted by the Spanish Constitution of 1978. Since this period, a balance between a sense of local identity versus the broader Spanish one has emerged as the dominant political force in Catalonia. The former tends to advocate for even greater autonomy and independence; the latter tends to argue for maintaining either a status quo or removal of autonomy and cultural identity, depending on the leanings of the current government. As a result, there tends to be much fluctuation depending on regional and national politics during a given election cycle. Given the stronger centralist tendencies in France, however, French Catalans display a much less dynamic sense of uniqueness, having been integrated more consistently into the unitary French national identity.


The vast majority of Catalans reside in the autonomous community of Catalonia, in the northeast part of Spain. At least 100,000 Catalan speakers live in the Pays Catalan in France. An indeterminate number of Catalans emigrated to the Americas during the Spanish colonial period and to France in the years following the Spanish Civil War.

The castells, human towers, are part of the Catalan culture since 1712 and were declared by UNESCO to be amongst the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.[10]

Culture and societyEdit

Described by author Walter Starkie in The Road to Santiago as a subtle people, he sums up their national character with a local term seny meaning "common sense" or a pragmatic attitude toward life. The masia or mas is a defining characteristic of the Catalan countryside and includes a large house, land, cattle, and an extended family, but this tradition is in decline as the nuclear family has largely replaced the extended family, as in the rest of western Europe. Catalans in Spain are recognised as a "nationality" and enjoy a high degree of political autonomy,[6] leading to reinforcement of a Catalan identity.


The Catalan language is a Romance language. It is the language closest to Occitan, and it also shares many features with other Romance languages such as Spanish, French, Portuguese, Aragonese, and Italian. There are a number of linguistic varieties that are considered dialects of Catalan, among them, the dialect group with the most speakers, Central Catalan.

The total number of Catalan speakers is over 9.8 million (2011), with 5.9 million residing in Catalonia. More than half of them speak Catalan as a second language, with native speakers being about 4.4 million of those (more than 2.8 in Catalonia).[11] Very few Catalan monoglots exist; basically, virtually all of the Catalan speakers in Spain are bilingual speakers of Catalan and Spanish, with a sizeable population of Spanish-only speakers of immigrant origin (typically born outside Catalonia or with both parents born outside Catalonia)[citation needed] existing in the major Catalan urban areas as well. In Roussillon, only a minority of French Catalans speak Catalan nowadays, with French being the majority language for the inhabitants after a continued process of language shift.

The inhabitants of the Aran valley count Aranese–an Occitan dialect–rather than Catalan as their own language. These Catalans are also bilingual in Spanish.

In September 2005, the .cat TLD, the first Internet language-based top-level domain, was approved for all web pages intending to serve the needs of the Catalan linguistic and cultural community on the Internet. This community is made up of those who use the Catalan language for their online communication or promote the different aspects of Catalan culture online.

Traditional clothesEdit

The traditional dress (now practically only used in folkloric celebrations) included the barretina (a sort of woollen, long cap usually red or purple in colour) and the faixa (a sort of wide belt) among men, and ret (a fine net bag to contain hair) among women. The traditional footwear was the espardenya or espadrille.

Catalan children wearing the traditional outfit, including the barretina.


Traditional dietEdit

The Catalan diet is part of the Mediterranean diet and includes the use of olive oil. Catalan people like to eat veal (vedella) and lamb (xai).

There are three main daily meals:

  • In the morning: a very light breakfast, consisting of fruit or fruit juice, milk, coffee, or pa amb tomàquet "bread with tomato". Catalans tend to divide their breakfast into two parts: one early in the morning before going to work or study (first breakfast), and the other one between 10:00 and 12:00 (second breakfast)
  • In the afternoon (roughly from 13:00 to 14:30): the main meal of the day, usually comprising three dishes. The first consists of pasta or vegetables, the second of meat or fish, and the third of fruit or yogurt
  • In the evening (roughly from 20:00 to 22:30): more food than in the morning, but less than at lunch; very often only a single main dish and fruit; it is common to drink moderate quantities of wine.

In Catalan gastronomy, embotits (a wide variety of Catalan sausages and cold meats) are very important; these are pork sausages such as botifarra or fuet. In the past, bread (similar to French bread) figured heavily in the Catalan diet; now it is used mainly in the morning (second breakfast, especially among young students and some workers) and supplements the noon meal, at home and in restaurants. Bread is still popular among Catalans; some Catalan fast-food restaurants don't serve hamburgers, but offer a wide variety of sandwiches.

In the past, the poor ate soup every day and rice on Thursday and Sunday.

Catalans have a rich cuisine, including traditional desserts like the xuixo. Also, Catalan chefs like Ferran Adrià i Acosta or Jordi Roca i Fontané are widely renowned.

The discipline of abstinence, not eating meat during Lent, once was very strong, but today it is only practiced in the rural areas.

Spicy food is rare in the Catalan diet but there are quite garlicky sauces such as allioli or romesco.

Traditional dishesEdit

One type of Catalan dish is escudella, a soup which contains chick peas, potatoes, and vegetables such as green cabbage, celery, carrots, turnips, and meats such as botifarra (a Catalan sausage), pork feet, salted ham, chicken, and veal. In Northern Catalonia, it is sometimes called ollada.

Other Catalan dishes are calçots (similar to leeks and often eaten with a romesco sauce) and escalivada.


Catalan music has one of the oldest documented musical traditions in Europe.[citation needed]

Catalans, traditionally devoted Catholics, during its recent history had become less religious. Even so, the presence of religion is maintained through the traditions, values and monuments, like the Church of Sant Cristòfol de Beget.


The traditional religion in Catalonia is Roman Catholicism. However, in the course of recent history, Catalonia has undergone several waves of secularization.

The first wave of secularization happened during the eighteenth century as a result of the enlightenment influence to the bourgeoisie. The second one happened during the nineteenth century, that had a huge impact on the lower and middle class, but was interrupted by the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939).[12]

After the Francoist regime, the population, dissatisfied with the dictatorship, accused the Catholic Church of being a supporter of the regime and this led to another wave of secularization that extends since the 1980s. During the 1990s most of the population of Catalonia was non-practising Catholic.[13] Nowadays 52.4% of Catalans are Catholic, practising or not, 30.2% of Catalans are agnostic or atheist, and there is also a considerable amount of other religions: 7.3% Muslim, 2.5% Evangelical, 1.3% Buddhism, and 1.2% Orthodox Christians.[14]

Social conditionsEdit

Catalonia is one of the richest and most well developed regions in Southern Europe.[15] Barcelona is among the most industrialized metropolises and a both regional capital and a magnet for various migrants from other regions in Spain, as well as from foreign countries.[citation needed]

Identity and nationalismEdit

Due to the continued identification with a distinct identity, many Catalans support Catalan nationalism or Catalan independentism in Spain. This is only seen to a much lesser extent in France.


Fire is the element used in most important traditional festivals, which are derived from pagan roots. These celebrations have a high acceptance of fire between the Catalans, like the Flame of Canigó to the Bonfires of Saint John.

La Diada de Sant Jordi, held on 23 April, is an old Catalan celebration in which men give women roses, and women give men a book.

Historical memory is the second axis of celebrations in Catalonia, where the Catalan people reunite with their date of birth as a people. This explains the many parties associated with the Reconquest, especially Moors and Christians, like in Lleida.

Finally, the religious celebrations are the last pillar. Amongst them are St. George's Day and the celebrations of Saint Vincent Martyr and Saint Anthony Abbot. The maximum expressions of this element are the Easter processions and performances of the Passion. Some festivals have a complicated relationship with religion, such as Carnival and Dance of Death, or specific aspects such as the Tió de Nadal (Christmas piñata) and the "Caganer".

Other key elements of a Catalan celebration are: food, central to every party and especially to the pig slaughter and harvest festivals; contests such as human towers, choice of major and festive floats; music, songs and bands; processions; dances; and animals, especially bulls and representations of mythological creatures. The Patum of Berga has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.


Because of their intertwining history, much of the traditional symbols of Catalonia coincide with Aragon, Valencia and the Balearic Islands. The oldest Catalan symbol is the shield of Catalonia, or bars of Aragon, one of Europe's oldest heraldic emblems. A popular legend dates it back to the ninth century: it is said that the four red lines are the result of Charles the Bald's four fingers which smeared blood on the gold shield of Wilfred the Hairy (Guifré el Pelós) as a reward for having fought valiantly against the Saracens.

The royal flag, inspired by the shield, is perhaps the most representative symbol of Catalan culture.

As for hymns, the Reapers (Els Segadors) represents principatins; the Balanguera represents the people from the islands, and in the case of Valencia, the official anthem of the exhibition (Himne de l'Exposició) alongside Muixeranga as symbols of the country.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Catalonia and the Catalan people were defined as a nation by the original 2006 Statute of Autonomy prior to being rejected and modified by the Constitutional Court of Spain.[5]


  1. ^ a b "Idescat. Statistical Yearbook of Catalonia. Population. By place of birth. Counties, areas and provinces". Retrieved 29 March 2015. 
  2. ^ Ancestry and Ethnic Origin, US Census
  3. ^ El vicepresident del Govern es reuneix amb el Casal català de Quito Archived 25 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine., Generalitat de Catalunya
  4. ^ Estadísticas Enseñanzas no Universitarias – Resultados Detallados – Curso 2007–2008, Ministry of Education, – Compiled by Fernando Bravo. FP: Formación Profesional (Vocational training).
  5. ^ "Court to reject 'nation' in Catalonia statute". 
  6. ^ a b "First article of the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia. "''Catalonia, as a nationality, exercises its self-government constituted as an autonomous community..."''". Archived from the original on 28 May 2008. Retrieved 13 September 2013. 
  7. ^ "[1] Présentation Perpinyà 2008" (in French) (in Catalan)
  8. ^ Culture et catalanité Conseil Général des Pyrénées-Orientales (in French) (in Catalan)
  9. ^ rsonas-manifiestan-bruselas-favor-independencia-territorios-habla-catalana-20090307151148.html Miles de personas se manifiestan en Bruselas a favor de la independencia de los territorios de habla catalana Thousands of people demonstrate in Brussels for Catalan-speaking territories independence. News report by Europa press on 7 March 2009 (in Spanish) "And the banners gathered slogans like [...] "Valencians are Catalan people too""
  10. ^ BBC, Close-Up: Catalonia's human towers
  11. ^ Informe sobre la situació de la llengua catalana (2011) Archived 23 January 2013 at the Wayback Machine. Report on the situation of the Catalan language (2011) (in Catalan)
  12. ^ Capdevila 2013, p. 9.
  13. ^ Capdevila 2013, p. 10.
  14. ^ "El 45% dels catalans afirma que no té creences religioses" [45% of the Catalans claims to have no beliefs]. Ara (in Catalan). Barcelona. 8 April 2015. Retrieved 5 July 2015. 
  15. ^ "L'execonomista en cap de l'FMI: "Catalunya, aïllada, seria un dels països més rics del món"". Retrieved 29 March 2015. 


  • Balcells, Albert et al. Catalan Nationalism : Past and Present (Palgrave Macmillan, 1995).
  • Capdevila, Alexandra (2013). "Entre el catolicisme, l'agnosticisme i l'ateisme. Una aproximació al perfil religiós dels catalans" [Between catholicism, agnosticism and atheism. An approach to the Catalan religious profile.] (PDF) (in Catalan). Centre d'Estudis d'Opinió (CEO): 86. B.17768-2013. Retrieved 5 July 2015. 
  • Collier, Basil. Catalan France (J.M. Dent and Sons Ltd., 1939).
  • Conversi, Daniele. The Basques, the Catalans and Spain: Alternative Routes to Nationalist Mobilization (University of Nevada Press, 1997). ISBN 1-85065-268-6.
  • Guibernau, Montserrat. Catalan Nationalism: Francoism, Transition and Democracy (Routledge, 2004).
  • Hargreaves, John. Freedom for Catalonia?: Catalan Nationalism, Spanish Identity and the Barcelona Olympic Games (Cambridge University Press, 2000).
  • Simonis, Damien. Lonely Planet Catalunya & the Costa Brava (Lonely Planet Publications, 2003).
  • Starkie, Walter. The Road to Santiago (John Murray, 2003).
  • Michelin THE GREEN GUIDE France (Michelin Travel Publications, 2000).

External linksEdit