The spirit behind the country
The architecture of the ‘Modernisme’ period, between 1889 and 1916, is one of Catalonia’s main cultural attractions. Antoni Gaudí, Josep Puig i Cadafalch and Lluís Domènech i Montaner are the most significant architects of this period. Visitors from all around the world come to admire their works.
Catalonia is also home for the works of many notable contemporary Catalan and non-Catalan architects, such as Josep Lluís Sert, José Antonio Coderch de Sentmenat, Richard Meier, Jean Nouvel, Norman Foster, Enric Miralles/Benedetta Tagliabue, Ricardo Bofill and Rafael Moneo.
Catalan architectural heritage is rich and diverse: it shows the centuries-old history of the country. UNESCO has declared six different places as World Heritage Sites: paintings from the final period of Tarragona’s pre-history; buildings, sculptures, and roadways of Tarraco (Roman name for Tarragona) and the whole Roman legacy in Catalonia; Romanesque art in the Boí Valley; the twelfth-century Santa Maria de Poblet monastery; architect Antoni Gaudí’s Modernist works; and two of the most interesting buildings designed by architect Domènech i Montaner: the Palau de la Música Catalana and the Hospital de la Santa Creu i de Sant Pau.
Ferran Adrià, repeatedly rated as best chef in the world, made Catalan cuisine famous the world over with his restaurant ‘El Bulli’. His legacy continues at his brother’s restaurant ‘Tickets’ in Barcelona. In 2013, ‘El Celler de Can Roca’ in Girona was named the best restaurant in the world by the British magazine Restaurant. It has three Michelin stars, as does chef Carme Ruscalleda’s ‘Sant Pau’ restaurant in Sant Pol de Mar. Six other Catalan restaurants were distinguished in 2013 with two Michelin stars and forty-five others hold one star. All this success is the result of a revolution in the traditional dishes of the Mediterranean diet (a diet designated as UNESCO Cultural Heritage in 2010). Of course, products like olive oil, wine and fresh vegetables have always been, and will always be, present in our cooking. Eleven different Catalan wines and one cava have received the official “designation of origin” (DO) quality certificate.
There is a long list of deep-rooted Catalan traditions. Several of them have been listed as Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO such as the ‘Patum de Berga’ and the construction of human towers by ‘castellers’. Each Catalan village has its own special celebration day and traditions, some linked to religious events. Some of the most common ones are the traditional national dance called the ‘Sardana’, the street parades with fire-breathing “beasts” and fireworks (‘correfocs’), and the ‘gegants’ and ‘capgrossos’ figures.
Ramon Llull is the most renowned author from the prolific Medieval period which also saw important works such as Joanot Martorell’s Tirant lo Blanc and Ausiàs March’s poetry.
In the 19th century, the ‘Renaixença’ literary movement represented a rebirth of Catalan literature. Its most significant authors were Jacint Verdaguer, Àngel Guimerà and Narcís Oller. During the 20th century and up to the present day, many authors have achieved international recognition. Some of the most well-known ones are: Josep Pla, Josep Carner, Manuel de Pedrolo, Pere Calders, Jesús Moncada, Baltasar Porcel, Quim Monzó, Miquel de Palol, Miquel Martí i Pol and Jaume Cabré.
The Western Canon, by Harold Bloom, includes works by Catalan authors such as Carles Riba, J.V. Foix, Mercè Rodoreda, Salvador Espriu and Pere Gimferrer. Catalan was the guest language at the 2007 Frankfurt Book Fair and Barcelona was the guest city at the 2013 Paris Book Festival.
The most important Catalan painters are the surrealists Salvador Dalí and Joan Miró, the informalist Antoni Tàpies and the expressionist Joan Hernández Pijoan. Catalonia has also been a home and inspiration for geniuses such as Pablo Ruiz Picasso. Portraitist Ramon Casas and modernist Isidre Nonell contributed to the international pictorial avant-garde. Before this period, Marià Fortuny was the most prominent painter of the late 19th Century.
Barcelona has the most complete Romanesque art collection in the world, in the National Art Museum of Catalonia (MNAC), which owns numerous frescos, church and hermitage retables and works of art from the Pyrenees. The most well known Catalan sculptors are Josep Llimona and Jaume Plensa, who is still active nowadays.
Cellist and conductor Pau Casals (1876 – 1973), tenor Josep Carreras (1946), soprano Montserrat Caballé (1933), pianist Alícia de Larrocha (1923-2009), singers Joan Manuel Serrat (1943) and Lluís Llach (1948), viol player, conductor and composer Jordi Savall (1942), composer and pianist Frederic Mompou (1893-1987) and flamenco singer and dancer Carmen Amaya (1913-1963) are some of the most famous names in Catalan music history.
After Franco’s dictatorship, musicians – mainly folk groups and singers – started using Catalan in their lyrics. During the 1980s rock was the most popular style, while pop and indie are currently more popular. Love of Lesbian, Manel, Txarango and Els Amics de les Arts are just a few names of the bands currently enjoying success. Over the last year, Barcelona has hosted several important music festivals such as Sònar and Primavera Sound.
At the end of the 19th century, the plays of author Àngel Guimerà attracted international recognition for Catalan theatre. Josep Maria de Sagarra and Santiago Rusiñol were also important playwrights.
After Franco’s dictatorship many artistic creation groups emerged, the majority of which are still performing today: Els Joglars, Comediants, Dagoll Dagom, La Fura dels Baus, La Cubana and El Tricicle.
The National Theatre of Catalonia was opened in 1997, joining other historical cultural venues such as the Liceu, one of the most important opera venues in Europe, and the Palau de la Música.
Did you know?
- The summer solstice is one of the biggest celebrations in the Catalan year. On the 23rd of June (Saint John’s day) Catalans light bonfires in streets and town squares. Many of these are lit using the flame which is carried down from the Mount Canigó peak in the Pyrenees the night before.
- Catalonia’s Books and Roses Day is celebrated on Saint George’s Day, on 23rd April. Friends, family and lovers exchange books and roses as gifts and symbols of love.