Frankish counts subsequently ruled Catalonia and made it an independent domain. In 1137 it was united with the kingdom of Aragón and later was included in the Kingdom of Spain. The French held it as a possession for three periods of time between 1640 and 1813. French influence in Catalonia contributed to the development of a distinct Catalan culture.
Nowadays Catalonia is an autonomous comSortty within Spain with a government of its own.
Catalonia's own language is Catalan, a Romance language which has co-official status alongside Castillian (Spanish).
Catalonia is one of the most prosperous regions of Spain. Corn, wheat, rye, flax and licorice are cultivated; pigs, goats, cows and sheep are raised, and almonds, chestnuts, walnuts, figs, grapes and lots of other fruit are grown in Catalonia. Among the main industries are fishing, wine making, the manufacture of cotton textiles and chalk mining.
Catalonia is a land of rich and varied scenery and has preserved a rich architectural heritage.
The Catalan Pyrenees, with peaks rising to 3 000m, run along the northern side of the country and are ideal for skiing, hiking, hunting and fishing, while perfect conditions for nautical sports are offered by the 580km of Mediterranean coastline, where the tall cliffs and secluded coves of the Costa Brava and Costa de Garraf alternate with the long sandy beaches of the Costa del Maresme and Costa Daurada and the unique natural environment of the Ebro Delta.
Inland lie many fine cities steeped in character, with magnificent historic building, among them Lleida, Girona, Tarragona, Tortosa, Vic and several others.
Barcelona, Catalonia's cosmopolitan capital is one of the most fascinating cities on the Mediterranean, offering a lively cultural life, good shopping, and many sporting events and facilities.
All these factors, together with an established tradition for fine eating, plentiful accommodation and excellent services and facilities, make Catalonia one of Europe's leading tourist regions.
The Catalonian Pyrenees
Beautiful clusters of lakes and the headwater valleys of Catalonia's chief rivers nestle between towering peaks. Attractions include: a rich heritage of Romanesque art, natural parks and reserves and highly picturesque towns.
Is a region with a great cultural and landscape wealth, marked by its geographic location in the most northeastern area of the Iberian Peninsula, has converted it into an area of passage (persons, goods, etc.).
Its natural boundaries are the Pyrenees, the Mediterranean Sea, and the plains of the Empordà that joins it with the Baix Empordà and the area of Alta Garrotxa. All of these aspects make the landscape of Alt Empordà a unique place that joins the sea and the mountains that along with the north-wind, have marked the culture, gastronomy, traditional trades and the mood of the towns that has been established for thousands of years.
The dolmens and menhirs of the area of Albera and Cap de Creus stand out as the most notable places of our history, as well as the Greco-Roman remains of Empúries and the Citadel of Roses. From this medieval era, we find Romanesque churches, the monastery of Vilabertran and of Sant Pere de Rodes. Of later era, we have the gothic style Cathedral of Castelló d’Empúries, and some modernist buildings, until reaching our times with the genius of Salvador Dalí and his Theater Museum of Figueres and house in Portlligat.
But all of these elements cannot be understood without the Emporda landscape, a good part of which is protected: the Natural Park of Aiguamolls del Empordà, Cap de Creus, the Natural Spot of Albera and the area of Basecoat. Another important component of the Alt Empordà is the gastronomy
Is one of the most esteemed wine-growing regions. Many of the wineries here are open for tastings. Places well worth visiting are Cantallops and Perelada, dominated by a mighty fortress (14-19th century).
The Parc Natural dels Aiguamolls de l'Empordà was declared a protected area after a long and intense defence campaign, intended to avoid the development of the area.
The flora in this protected area is found to be associated mainly with the semi-flood or flood plains, and therefore it is possible to see the presence of plants typical in this type of environment.
Finally, one must not leave out the considerable representation of fauna which can be found in the area, for example the otter, flamingos and the White Stork, species which were successfully reintroduced some years ago.
The Volcanic region of La Garrotxa
The greatest example of volcanic landscape in the Iberian Peninsula. It has around forty volcanic cones and over 20 basalt lava flows. The relief, sun and climate provide varied, often exuberant, vegetation: beech, holm oak and oak woods of exceptional landscape value. Discover the great variety of mountain villages, medieval castles, abbeys and churches steeped in history.
The Alta Garrotxa
This area is without doubt the most important area in the eastern pre-Pyrenees because of its diversity and exceptional surroundings. Its extremely abrupt relief has shaped the landscape, vegetation, fauna and human settlements throughout history and has allowed the continuation of a relatively isolated natural space that preserves an important biological richness. So much so, that it has been declared a Space of Natural Interest.
The relief of the Alta Garrotxa, marked by deep valleys enclosed by long cliffs and walls of rock, is what gives the area its name: les garrotxes are "rough lands of bad tracks". The landscape of the Alta Garrotxa is truly spectacular, not just for the magnificence of its topography but also for it forestry, dominated by holm and common oaks.
What's more, this extensive territory is richly endowed with regard to its cultural heritage: archaeological sites, farmhouses, hamlets, hermitages and charcoal-making sites.
The Costa Brava
This ¨wild coast¨ perfectly characterizes the rocky, rugged, windswept Mediterranean coastline of Northern Spain, which stretches from Portbou near France as far as Blanes, measuring almost 200km in length. At the end of the 19th century it was artists who discovered the unique quality of light, mild climate and rugged beauty of this coastline. By 1930´s the Costa Brava had become a destination for the intellectual avant-garde. The increase in wealth due to the rebuilding of the economy after the second world war attracted northern and mid-europeans to the Costa Brava. That is when the centers of mass tourism appeared, like Lloret de Mar and Platje d´Aro. But thankfully there are many original and characteristic villages with nice beaches left to visit (for example Tossa de Mar, L´escala, Begur, St Feliu de Quixols and Palafrugell).
Cap de Creus
The Creus cape peninsula is one of the largest, protected, natural reserves in Catalonia, with a total area of 13,886 hectares, The spectacular geological outcrops are one of most significant features of the Parc Natural, with its complicated and beautiful forms which often cause the visitor's imagination to get carried away. This bizarre, lunar-like landscape sculpted by wind, weather and waves, and more recently by savage fires has appeared in quite a few of Dalí´s paintings.
For nature lovers, the territory of the Creus cape has great floral diversity, notable for its endemic species.
Places well worth a visit include: Monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes and the lovely fishing villages of Port de la Selva and Cadaqués.
With 40 000 inhabitants Figueres is the capital of Alt Emporda county and acts as the economic, commercial, social and cultural centre of the county. Enjoy a stroll along the Rambla right in the centre and do not miss the most visited sight in Spain: the Dali museum. This museum was inaugurated in 1974 and contains a broad spectrum of works covering the artistic career of Salvador Dali (1904-1989). Dali transformed the former theater building into a veritable temple of his own art.
Girona is a university town with some 90 000 inhabitants and was founded in the 5th century by the Iberians, before it fell into the hands of the counts from Barcelona. In the 9th century Romans, Arabs and Franks had settled here due to its strategically advantageous location on a military road, the Via Augusta. The river Onyar separates the bustling new town from the historic old town. The old town (built on a hill) offers a great amount of historical architecture. Here you can find the former Jewish quarter, where the significant but segregated minority resided between the 9th and 15th centuries.
The imposing Cathedral, the church of Sant Feliu, the beautifully preserved Banys Arabs (Arab baths) built in the 12th century and an outstanding example of Moorish and Romanesque design and the numerous museums are worth visiting.
A leisurely walk along the medieval walls which encircle the old city provide wonderful views of the city and surrounding countryside.
Barcelona is the historic capital (1.6 million inhabitants), industrial centre and a major port of the Catalonia region and Spain's second leading city in both size and importance.
The city has a long artistic heritage and is famous for its varied architectural styles, especially Gothic and the modernist art nouveaux style exemplified by Antonio Gaudi. There are many fine restaurants and large shops and the seafront promenades are perfect for a relaxing stroll and watching the world go by.
The city extends north of the mouth of the Llobregat river, surrounded by hills of granite and slate. The historical centre lies at the foot of the slate mountain Montjuïc (191m) on which a fortress was built.
Located on the Mediterranean coast and in terms of charm, Barcelona yields first place to no one, with its rich history, Mediterranean vistas and unique culture making it an especially rich and rewarding city to experience.
The Barri Gòtic ("Gothic Quarter" in Catalan) is the centre of the old city of Barcelona. Many of the buildings date from medieval times, some from as far back as the Roman settlement of Barcelona. Catalan modernisme architecture (often known as Art Nouveau in the rest of Europe), developed between 1885 and 1950 and left an important legacy in Barcelona. A great number of these buildings are World Heritage Sites.
Especially remarkable is the work of architect Antonio Gaudí, which can be seen throughout the city. His best known work is Parc Guell and the immense but yet unfinished church of the Sagrada Família, which has been under construction since 1882, and is still financed by private donations. As of 2007, completion is planned for 2026.
In contrast to the Gothic Quarter, the recently renovated waterfront has an aquarium, beaches, and other attractions.
Barcelona houses a great number of museums, which cover different areas and eras. The National Museum of Art of Catalonia possesses a well-known collection of Romanesque art while the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art focuses on post-1945 Catalan and Spanish art. The Fundació Joan Miró, Picasso Museum and Fundació Antoni Tàpies hold important collections of these world-renowned artists.
Several museums cover the fields of history and archeology, like the City History Museum, the Museum of the History of Catalonia, the Archaeology Museum of Catalonia and the Barcelona Maritime Museum.