Language has been a cornerstone in defining Catalan culture and identity since its origins in the Middle Ages. Whether during the cultural recovery of the 19th century or the return of democracy beginning in 1977, vindication of the use and respect for the Catalan language has always been a constant in the country’s civic movements.
The Catalan language was born between the 8th and 10th centuries as a Romance language independent from Latin. The first written texts did not appear until the 12th century and it was not until the end of the 13th century that it became known as a literary language, thanks to Ramon Llull.
After its Medieval splendour, the predominance of Castilian Spanish as the cultured language relegated Catalan to the domestic environment. The process of reclaiming the home culture promoted by the Renaixença in the 19th century, and particularly the linguistic work undertaken by Pompeu Fabra, consolidated Catalan language rules once again in the early 20th century (official grammar from 1916).
As enshrined in the Estatut d’Autonomia (the Catalan statutes of autonomy), Catalan the native language of Catalonia and holds the status of official language together with Castilian Spanish, which is the official language throughout the Spanish State.
In the Val d’Aran area, the two languages share official status with Aranese, regarded as the region´s native language.
The community of Catalan speakers extends beyond the limits of autonomous Catalonia, reaching the Balearic Islands, the Valencian Community, the extreme east of Aragon (Franja de Ponent), Andorra, Northern Catalonia in the south of France and the city of Alghero on the island of Sardinia. In total, it covers an area of 68,000 square kilometres which is home to thirteen million people, an estimated nine million of whom are able to speak it.
The Catalan language has various geographic variants or dialects, divided into two large blocks: the east (northeast and Valencia) and the west (central, Balearics, Roussillon and in Alghero).
The Institut d’Estudis Catalans is the maximum academic authority for the Catalan language, and the Institut Ramon Llull is responsible for external promotion.
With authors such as Ramon Llull, Ausiàs March, Joanot Martorell and Ramon Muntaner, Catalan Medieval literature can be compared to any other high quality European literature.
After this moment of glory there followed a period of decadence lasting until the late 19th century, when Catalan once again became the language of choice for literature. This is illustrated by poets such as Jacint Verdaguer and Joan Maragall, novelists such as Narcís Oller and playwrights such as Frederic Soler and Àngel Guimerà.
With the arrival of the 20th century, Catalan literature diversified into a number of trends (modernism, noucentisme) and authors, with figures such as Josep Carner, Eugeni d’Ors, Joan Salvat-Papasseit, Josep Maria de Sagarra, Carles Riba, J. V. Foix and Josep Pla. The Civil War and the Franco regime cut short this second golden era, although the work of authors such as Mercè Rodoreda and Salvador Espriu are a few exceptions.
Nowadays, there are outstanding literary figures such as Quim Monzó, Sergi Pàmies, Ferran Torrent, Baltasar Porcel, Albert Sánchez Piñol and Terenci Moix. Catalan authors writing in Castilian Spanish include Eduardo Mendoza, Manuel Vázquez Montalbán and Carlos Ruiz Zafón.
Two artistic styles have given Catalan architecture its most famous features: Romanesque and Modernism. The Catalan Pyrenees boast various examples of the best European Romanesque art, with priceless works such as the collection of churches in La Vall de Boí and the Santa Maria de Ripoll monastery. Further to the south, the monasteries along the Ruta dels Reials Monestirs de Catalunya (Royal Monasteries of Catalonia Route) are worth mentioning: Santes Creus, Poblet and Vallbona de les Monges.
Between the 13th and 15th centuries, large Gothic cathedrals were built, such as the ones in Barcelona, Tortosa and Girona. Gothic art spread throughout the continent due to the flow of communication made possible by the Santiago Way, which enters Catalonia in the Empordà (Sant Pere de Rodes) and crosses the country to Alcarràs.
In the late 19th century, modernism coincided with a period of great economic prosperity in Catalonia and, thanks to bourgeois patronage, it flourished under the hand of architects like Lluís Domènech i Montaner, Josep Puig i Cadafalch and, most especially, Antoni Gaudí. Work such as the Sagrada Família, the Park Güell, Casa Milà, the Palau de la Música and the Hospital de Sant Pau have made Catalonia, and Barcelona in particular, a key place for modernism.
International architectural trends derived from rationalism were introduced by the GATCPAC group (Group of Catalan Artists and Technicians for the Progress of Contemporary Architecture) founded in 1929. A key figure of this movement was Josep Lluís Sert, a disciple of Le Corbusier and author of the Miró Foundation. Other leading Catalan contemporary architects include Josep Antoni Coderch, Ricard Bofill, Òscar Tusquets and Enric Miralles.
Over the last two decades, the city of Barcelona has also been the scene of buildings designed by highly reputed international architects, such as the Palau Sant Jordi, by Arata Isozaki; the Torre de Collserola, by Norman Foster; the Fòrum Building, by Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, and the Torre Agbar, by Jean Nouvel.
The earliest examples of painting are Romanesque murals, such as the famous Pantocràtor in the church Sant Climent de Taüll. The arrival of the Gothic style had an impact on the expression and realism of murals and altarpieces, with artists such as Ferrer Bassa, Lluís Borrassà and Jaume Huguet. Up to the period known as Romanticism no more significant native painters emerged, until the landscape artist Lluís Rigalt.
In the mid 19th century the predominant trend was realism, with painters such as Ramon Martí i Alsina and Marià Fortuny. Modernism burst on the art scene with names such as Ramon Casas and Santiago Rusiñol, whose art featured natural themes partly influenced by French impressionism. A new Post-modernist generation took over, led by artists like Joaquim Mir and Hermenegild Anglada Camarasa, as well as a young man from Malaga who was trained in Catalonia, Pablo Picasso.
Surrealism is the movement which includes two of the most celebrated Catalan painters: Salvador Dalí (more figurative, recreating a crazy personal world that evolved over time into a more realist style of art) and Joan Miró (shaper of an unreal and dreamlike universe of small figures).
Following the impact of the Civil War, the Dau al Set group (comprising artists such as Antoni Tàpies, Modest Cuixart, Joan Brossa and Joan Josep Tharrats) represented the links with European movements. The second half of the 20th century saw outstanding painters of the stature of Josep Guinovart, Albert Ràfols Casamada and Joan Hernàndez Pijuan, whilst from the 1980s, Miquel Barceló and Joan Pere Viladecans were particularly significant.
Music is one of Catalonia´s liveliest cultural activities. The list of prestigious composers includes world-renowned artists such as Pau Casals, Isaac Albéniz, Enric Granados, Xavier Cugat, Tete Montoliu and Pascal Comelade. As for musicians, famous figures include the pianist Alícia de Larrocha, the sopranos Montserrat Caballé and Victòria dels Àngels and the tenors Josep Carreras and Jaume Aragall.
Since the 1960s there has been a thriving tradition of singer-songwriters, closely linked to the movement known as the Nova Cançó, with groups such as Setze Jutges and successful solo artists such as Joan Manuel Serrat, Lluís Llach, Jaume Sisa and Quico Pi de la Serra.
Pop and rock music are also well represented. During the 1980s, Spanish popular music enjoyed great success thanks to bands like Los Rebeldes, Loquillo y los Trogloditas and El Último de la Fila. The 1990s saw the Catalan rock movement burst on the scene, led by names such as Els Pets, Sopa de Cabra and Sau, who have passed the baton to current bands like Gossos, Antònia Font from Mallorca and singer-songwriter Roger Mas. In Castilian Spanish, Catalan groups play more diverse styles, such as the rumba rock of Estopa, the melodic pop of Elefantes and Pastora , as well as the elegant sound of Sidonie.