Saturday, December 20, 2014

Feeding the Poop Log: A Catalan Christmas Tradition

It's Christmas Eve, which means children across Catalonia are gathering in their homes for the traditional whacking of the festive shit log.

Tió de Nadal (Christmas log), a hollow log with stick legs, a smiley face, and a floppy red hat, is a yule branch with a scatological spin. (Its other name is Caga Tió, or "shit log," for reasons that will shortly become apparent.)

On December 8 each year — the Feast of the Immaculate Conception — families bring out the happy log. Every night until December 24, children are tasked with "feeding" the log by offering him nuts, dried fruit, and water. Kids must also cover Tió de Nadal with a blanket to ensure he stays warm and comfortable.

On Christmas Eve, it is time for the little shit log to shine. Children gather around the red-hatted branch and beat him with sticks while singing the traditional Tió de Nadal song:

Shit log,
Shit nougats,
Hazelnuts and mató cheese,
If you don't shit well,
I'll hit you with a stick,
Shit log!

Then comes the miracle: the kids look under Tió de Nadal's blanket and discover that the dear log has pooped out a pile of candies and presents. (The end of the defecation session is signaled by the presence of a stinky herring.) When everyone has collected their gifts from Tió de Nadal, the family burns him for warmth.

The poop log is not Catalonia's only defecation-based festive tradition. Take a close look at any nativity scene in the area and you'll spot Caganer, a porcelain man copping a squat in the presence of Mary, Joseph, and the Three Wise Men. Caganer is not meant to be sacreligious — his fertilization of the holy ground heralds a prosperous harvest in the new year.

By Ella Morton

Atlas Obscura on Slate is a blog about the world's hidden wonders @atlasobscura.

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Friday, December 19, 2014

The Catalan State. The institutions. ‘Cort General’ and ‘Diputació del General’ (or Generalitat).

On this day, 1359 were held "les Corts" in Cervera, origin of the Catalan Government so called Generalitat.
The judicial pact between the King, the Cort and the traditional principals of law which ruled the political protests, were the origin of the political and institutional history of Catalonia. The Diputació del General was the representing organ of the medieval and modern Catalan state until its abolition in 1714.

The medieval and modern states were constituted from the governing institutions which configured a defined territorial unit. It is a concept of state which is different from the contemporary state and which was not born from a political wish expressed by a popular sovereignty.

All over Europe, throughout the lower Middle Ages, governing entities were instituted which regulated the relationships of the different social classes with the monarch. The Kings were the source of power par excellence, and their environment was principally formed by the directing elite, that is, by the nobility. Therefore, the institutions of the European society of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries answered to the need to articulate the relationship between the King and nobility, by configuring a stately system which was born from the slow evolution of the feudal structure of the states.

The origin of the Diputació del General goes back to 1283, when the Corts convened by Peter II the Great established the constitution ‘Volem, estatuïm’ [We want, we establish], which was the basis of the pact regime or the agreed sovereignty. According to Catalan constitutional law, the only valid laws were those agreed upon between the king and the world classes; the ‘constitutions’ were valid if they were realised under the government’s initiative, and the court chapters could only be valid if they came from the flanks. The three flanks which composed the courts were divided in accordance with class categories: the military flank, the ecclesiastical flank and the royal flank, which was integrated by representatives of the cities and villas that belonged to the monarch’s dominion. Most of the population, farmers, craftsmen and the ‘poble menut’, in accordance with the expression of the time, were excluded from representation. Therefore, it was far from a popular and universal sovereignty.

The Courts could only be convoked by the King, in any city of Catalonia, and he had to personally preside over them. At the same time, the dispositions that were promulgated by the King without the Courts, like privileges, pragmatics or other rules had to be sanctioned at the following meeting. The negotiations between the monarch and the class representatives of the society concluded with the passing of the new legislation by the land’s government and the reparation of the legislative offences which had been committed. Afterwards, the donation was conceded to the monarch as a compensation. This supposed a considerable limit to the royal power; later on it became a definitive break to absolutism and it determined the principality’s political destiny in modern times.

To collect the royal donation, which became increasingly more important, a commission had to be nominated which took charge. This commission was the origin of what later became the Diputació del General which, in the middle of the fourteenth century, during the rule of Peter the Ceremonious, became permanent, coinciding with the growing financial demand of the monarchy. Through the Courts’ different flanks, the Diputació del General was a necessary mechanism to avoid the royal fiscal being confused with the extraordinary, as happened in Castilla or France, where the sovereign’s power was not so limited. Later on it evolved in accordance with the region’s necessities, until becoming a superior governing organ.

After the death of Martin the Humane without a successor, during the period known as Interregnum (1410-1412), and until the Compromise of Caspe and the enthronization of Ferdinand I of Trastámara, the Diputació assumed responsibilities of a political nature which, together with the initial prudence of the king, allowed it to normatively reinforce the rights of Catalonia and publish a compilation of the Catalan Constitutions. In the following Courts of 1413, the King accepted the nomination of the members of parliament without royal intervention. Later, in 1455, the system of ‘insaculació’ was introduced, which consisted in a chance election of members of parliament amongst the nominated candidates.

However, this same increase in political functions, at a time of deep economical crisis during the reign of John II, led to a constant growing tension inside the dialectic between royal power and its limitations in accordance with privileges and constitutions, which ended in a civil war that confronted the Diputació and the King from 1462 until 1472. The triumph of the royal party of Ferdinand II translated into a reform, which made the most of the bad administration and the terrible state of the finances. In this way the monarch introduced control mechanisms, like the Inquisition and the Royal Audience, as well as initiating a reform of the Barcelonan Consell de Cent, in which he introduced the ‘insaculatori’ system, with the double objective of breaking the monopoly of posts, and having more control over the institution.

The Consell de Cent had registered few changes in its functioning since its origins. However, as had happened with the Diputació del General, the lower Middle Ages crisis supposed the confrontation between the monarchy and the radicalization of the agreement positions of the municipal oligarchies.

In the case of the Consell de Cent, a profound social fracture occurred, having a strong opposition to the oligarchic government of the more ennobled honoured citizens. The cities were divided into two parties: the ‘Biga’, which was the oligarchy, and the ‘Busca’, which was initially formed by craftsmen, some honoured citizens, merchants and artists. The monarchies and the ‘buscaires’ [those belonging to the ‘Busca’ party] allied against the urban oligarchy, accomplishing a change in municipal government and the rise to power of the ‘Busca’. The most important reforms of Ferdinand II were the access of honoured citizens and lesser nobility to municipal government, and the use of the method of ‘insaculació’ (election by draw) of the municipal posts, which lasted until its abolishment in 1714.

During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and especially after the reign of Philip II, there was a period of permanent institutional conflict, born from the absolutist position of the monarchs of the house of Habsburg and the strengthening of the defence of the agreement system by the Diputació del General. The Hispanic monarchy, which was imperial in nature, tended towards the exercise of absolute power and, therefore, to the standardization of the crown’s different states, in order to finance its external politics, which were based upon the constant war conflicts all over Europe.

The rupture between Catalan institutions and the monarchy can be seen with the outbreak of the ‘Guerra dels Segadors’ [Reaper’s War], when the unified Diputació del General and the Consell de Cent decided to confront Philip IV. Both institutions allied against the monarch’s policies, because he did not respect the region’s laws and he had brought the population to revolt and desperation by the abuses of the military lodgings of the army, which had sent the Count Duke of Olivares, to fight against France. Catalonia, led by Pau Claris, agreed to put itself under the sovereignty of France between 1640 and 1652. In contrast, King Louis XIII promised to respect all the liberties and constitutions of the region.

The Diputació del General lost importance for two decades after Philip IV had returned to sovereignty. Later on, in 1697, a new entity appeared, the ‘Conferència dels Tres Comuns’ [Conference of the Three Commons] which, until 1714, and during the War of Succession, gathered a representation of the Consell de Cent, the Diputació del General and the ‘Braç Militar’ [Military Flank] at the most critical moment before two monarchies, those of Spain and France, to the defence of the Constitutions in front of the absolutist push.

The role of the Diputació del General and the Consell de Cent during the War of Succession remained expectant during the first years of the reign of Philip V. In 1705 the Treaty of Geneva was signed, by which England promised to disembark an army in Catalonia, give military support and respect, and create the institutions. In exchange, the Catalans had to back the crowning of Charles III of Hapsburg. The Corts were held in Barcelona in 1705, during which the concessions previously made to Philip V were ratified and the Conference of the Three Commons was recognised. When, in July 1713, the English allies retreated and Catalonia remained alone in front of the Franco-Castilian troops, the Junta de Braços acted as a legitimate government, without a king, and agreed to maintain the resistance against the army of Philip V. After a long and bloody siege lasting thirteen months, the capitulation of Barcelona on September 11th 1714 signified the loss of all its institutions and the implantation of the Nueva Planta Decree.

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Forget flamenco – Catalonia’s all about the sardana

Picture the scene…

You’re on holiday in Catalonia, strolling down the street, soaking up the vibe and minding your own business. You round a corner and stumble across a group of people in a circle holding hands, tapping their heels and from time to time throwing their hands up in the air. Congratulations! You have chanced upon the traditional Catalan dance of the sardana.

Although it can seem a bit tame compared to the flamboyance of flamenco, you might be surprised to learn there’s a lot more to the sardana than meets the eye.
A custom close to Catalan hearts

The first thing you might notice is the serious looks on the faces of the dancers in the circle. This is partly because the dance is much more technically complicated than it looks, but it’s also because the sardana is quite a solemn affair that’s a vital symbol of Catalan cultural identity.

So where did it come from? The origins of the dance are hotly debated, but what is certain is that the sardana was around in 19th-century Catalonia. It developed out of the Renaixença (Renaissance) movement that took place around that time, as Catalans began to grow more confident in reviving their language and culture. The sardana became a symbol representing the feeling of regional pride and Catalonia’s distinct identity from Spain.

By the 20th century more and more people had begun to take an interest in celebrating the sardana, and its sedate little skips and hops were being danced all over Catalonia. As a vital and visceral symbol of Catalan patriotism, it was inevitably always going to be a target when the dark days of Franco arrived. The regime promptly banned people from dancing the sardana, but despite their best efforts, the dance has survived through to the 21st century.

In fact, overcoming this suppression has increased its symbolic significance for local people. In 2010 the Catalan government added the sardana to Catalonia´s festivities heritage catalogue and declared it a festivity of national interest.

You put your left leg in…

So, are you up for some street dancing action? Since it’s a circle dance, the sardana is a big social affair, and onlookers are welcome to join in. You’ll often see other members of the public setting down their handbags in the middle of the circle and taking up a place. And why not – we’re the first ones to recommend a bit of carpe diem holiday spirit in Barcelona. A word of warning, though – it’s a lot harder than it looks!

When the music pipes up, couples take to the floor (or plaça, in this case) and link arms to form a small circle. If you’re lucky enough to have a partner clued up on the moves, you’re all set. Make sure you choose your position carefully, as each pair should stay together. If you don’t have a partner, or just feel like showing off your solo skills, look for a circle made up of singletons. Some of the circles will be made up of performers from actual dance groups (called colles) – you can usually tell them apart from the general public as they’ll be wearing some sort of uniform.

When one particular circle gets too big, it splits off to form a splinter group, and little by little the entire plaça fills with dancers. There are only two step sequences, but these are very meticulous and the changes between them are quick and precise. One person in the circle leads the movements and timings and if someone falls out of step, it spells disaster for the whole dance. If you want to gen up on the proper terms, curts are the short steps, llargsare the long ones, while tiradas are the various sections of the dance.

If this all sounds too much like hard work, you might prefer just to enjoy the dance from the sidelines. Notice the band playing the typical sardana music – it’s called a cobla, and is made up of 11 musicians playing traditional folk instruments, including a three-holed pipe and Catalan clarinet. The music is quite evocative and just as the tune starts to fade away, it comes back with renewed enthusiasm.

Where to catch a sardana display

You’re virtually guaranteed to see the sardana being danced at the many festivals that take place throughout Catalonia. It’s very popular at the Sant Joan celebrations in June, or at La Mercé festival in September. If you have the time, we recommend you hop on a train and head outside of Barcelona to watch locals dance the sardana in a nearby town, to really capture the spirit of the dance in a more authentic setting.

In Barcelona itself, sardanes are danced outside the Cathedral every Sunday at noon, as well as on Saturday evenings around 6.30pm. Plaça de Sant Jaume in the Gothic quarter is another favourite spot on Sunday evenings. Throughout the summer keep an eye out for the various district festivals, where you’re bound to catch the locals dancing their hearts out on a local square till it gets dark. See you in the circle!

Source: Oh, Barcelona

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Old Catalan. The beginning of Catalan

After the fall of the Roman Empire and up to the tenth and eleventh centuries, classic Latin was the language of culture and writing, and Romance, the colloquial language. However, over time, archaic Catalan started to be introduced into writing until the appearance of the first texts basically written in this language: ‘Greuges de Guitard Isarn, senyor de Caboet’ [Grievances of Gitard Isarn, master of Caboet] (1080-1095) and ‘Jurament de pau i treva del comte Pere Ramon de Pallars Jussà al bisbe d’Urgell’ [Promise of peace and ceasefire of count Pere Ramon from Pallars Jussà to the Bishop of Urgell].

During the lower Roman Empire period and especially around the time of the fall of the western empire, common Latin began to evolve in a gradual way and to become distanced from the so called classic Latin until giving way to the Romance languages. However, it was not until later that there was an awareness of the fact that the written and spoken languages were two different realities. Classic Latin remained as the language of culture and, therefore, was used for writing. Romance was for the colloquial level.

It was mainly during the Carolingian period when awareness arose of the existence of two differentiated languages. During this stage a cultural renaissance occurred and they tried to recuperate the more cultured Latin level. This wish to recuperate a correct use of Latin and the impossibility of most of the population to use it, were some of the factors which assisted the realisation of these two realities.

Another factor which illustrates this situation of diglossia was the Church’s need to convey their doctrine to all the classes. Faced with the fact that the worshipers no longer understood the ecclesiastical language, in the Tours council of 813 it was established that the Latin homilies had to be translated into the Romance languages – ‘transferre in rusticam Romanam linguam’ –, so that everyone could understand what was being said. This is the first time that the existence of Romance languages was made explicit, although it was not until 842, with the translations of the Strasbourg promise, that we find documents written for the first time with samples of these languages.

Thus, Catalan was born, from the evolution of common Latin, between the end of the seventh and beginning of the eighth century. However, Catalan was not seen to be used in writing until a few centuries later and in a progressive way. The first documents with specific traits of archaic Catalan which have been conserved belong to the ninth and tenth centuries. These Catalan traits, which infiltrated in the texts written in Latin, already show, on the one hand, that a very distinct linguistic system existed and, on the other, that the knowledge of classic Latin had begun to become impoverished as the need to create new concepts born from the consolidation of feudalism arose.

In documents of the eleventh century the use of Catalan elements of a feudal nature, in texts, progressively widens, especially in promises and grievances. Soon after, the first texts appeared, written basically in Catalan, which we conserve: the ‘Grievances of Guitard Isarn, master of Caboet’ (1080-1095) and the ‘Promise of peace and ceasefire of count Pere Ramon from Pallars Jussà to the Bishop of Urgell’ (probably from 1098).

In the twelfth century, the texts written in Catalan are not only of a feudal nature: we find, for example, the first translations or adaptations of a judicial nature, and specifically the ‘Liber iudiciorum’ or ‘Llibre dels judicis’ [Book of judgements], which was a legislative code of Visigoth origin. From the beginning of the thirteenth century we find the ‘Homilies d’Organyà’ [Homilies of Organyà] that have erroneously been considered the oldest document in Catalan because priority was given to ‘literary’ texts – in spite of the relativity of this literary content – and texts from other ambits were not taken into account.

In the thirteenth century, the written use of Catalan started to spread. From the beginning of this century we must point out the oldest known translation to date of the ‘Usatges’ [Uses] of Barcelona.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The birth of Catalonia. The Feudal and Counts’ society.

The Carolingian monarchs re-conquered the region from the Muslims, organised it into counties and built defensive castles near the frontier. This process is known as the ‘Marca Hispanica’. At the head of these counties there was a count, who was appointed by the Carolingian royal family. The post was temporal and revocable and served as a political-administrative, judicial and mainly military role. However, in the tenth century, the Catalan counts started to seek independence from the Carolingian empire.

The Carolingian monarchs divided the region into counties, which corresponded with the well established human and physical realities of the area which, in turn, had their origin in old historical divisions. By the count’s delegation, a nobleman received administrative, military and judicial power over the area surrounding the castle, and, as a reward for these duties, he also received a part of the region’s public land which was known as a fief. This system of re-population gave way to the apparition of a social structure and economical links between various social groups. Furthermore, and during the first two thirds of the ninth century, these counties suffered the consequences of the internal battles of the Franc Kingdom which acted to the detriment of their good government and defences.

In the context of the assimilation policy of the Franc dominion on the north and south of the Pyrenees, and from the end of the eighth century, the Catalan bishops were under the jurisdiction of the archbishop of Narbonne, since Tarragona was in a Muslim occupied area. The limits of the dioceses, which generally coincided with those of the counties, increased with the newly conquered regions. The smallest territorial demarcation in each diocese was a parish. Later, some monasteries were added to the parish network: Sant Benet de Bages, Cuixà, Sant Pere de Roda, Tavèrnoles, Sant Cugat or Gerri, which were all under the rule of Saint Benet, and all maintained firm ties with their respective dioceses. So much is it so that, during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, in the Geronan demarcation, many of the bishops of the different dioceses had previously been abbots.

The count Guifré
These counties which were governed by a count, who was designated by the King, started to become independent from the ninth century onwards, that is, during the time of the Carolingian empire. The revocable nature of the count started to loose validity, becoming a hereditary title which gave way to the apparition of autochthonous county dynasties, which were the basis for the future independence of the region. This change is mainly due to the internal crisis of the Carolingian monarchy, which was incapable of controlling the counts who ruled the Marca Hispanica under the Pyrenean fringe, being the name given to the Franc territory in the Iberian Peninsula. However, on the other hand, the exercising of power meant that the counts became rich and confused the public land they were administering with private land and, as a consequence, the inheritance of their children. This phenomenon did not only happen in the Catalan county, because it was a general phenomenon in all the other counties of the Carolingian empire. In 877, a law normalised what was in fact already a frequent use: the authorization of the hereditary succession of the counties. This event encouraged the apparition of grand county families.

At the end of the ninth century, the future Catalonia was divided into ten counties which today still answer to the actual districts: Ribagorça, Pallars, Urgell, Cerdanya, Rosselló, Empúries, Besalú, Osona, Gerona and Barcelona. During his reign, the count Guifré el Pilós (who died in 897) managed to gather under his command the following counties: Osona, Urgell, Gerona, Barcelona and the Berguedà district, giving rise to what would be the central nuclei of Catalonia and the origin of a count and royal dynasty which would pass from father to son until the year 1410.

Borrell II
Another decisive moment in Catalan independence from the Carolingian empire occurred in 988, when the count of Barcelona, Borrell II, refused to be the vassal of the Franc King, by calling himself Iberian duke and marquis by the grace of God. This act of rebellion was in part a response to the lack of assistance from the Franc monarchy during the raid on the city of Barcelona in 985 by the troops commanded by the Arab chief Al-Mansur. With Borrell II’s incompliance to be a vassal, the ever increasing, more theoretical than practical ties which had united the counties of the Marca Hispanica to the Franc Kingdom, were undone.

Document from the chancellery of Ramon Berenguer I
The unification process of the various counties and the consequent apparition of a national awareness which surpassed the political plurality of the various counties, was born due to various factors: firstly, due to the intensification of the relationship between the different counties of the Old Catalonia; secondly, due to the strong family ties between the different county families; in third place, due to the existence of a central nuclei of power and, in fourth place, because we cannot preclude the importance of the progressive formation of a common language spoken all over the region, that is, Catalan, which was a daughter of Latin, like Spanish, Galician, French or Italian.

Ramon Berenger & Almodis
The unifying process consolidated in a definitive way during the rule of the count of Barcelona, Ramon Berenguer I (1035-1076). At that time, the counts of Besalú, Cerdanya, Empúries and Urgell, realised the supremacy of the count of Barcelona. Furthermore, we must also mention that the Catalan bishops belonged to the same ecclesiastical province, that of Narbonne, which also acted as a unifying element. Therefore, in the following century, during the reign of count Ramon Berenguer III (1096-1131), the terms ‘Catalan’ and ‘Catalonia’ had already been consolidated to refer to the region and the people who inhabited it.

At first, and until the middle of the tenth century, the re-population system followed by the Francs, which consisted in the handing over of land to the colonizers who went to live on the frontier lands, generated the existence of a free farming class. This condition of freedom did not last very long, because at the end of this period the lack of free farming land meant that the society became progressively feudalised. From the eleventh century onwards, a big sector of the population, due to ecclesiastical reasons – cession of part of their property to the Church in order to save their souls – or judicial reasons – confiscation of land due to debt – meant that most of the farmers were under the control of a few masters, to whom they had to serve and pledge fidelity. Part of this sector of settlers remained tied to the land, without the right to abandon it. These were the so called ‘remença’ farmers who, in order to free themselves from the land, found themselves forced to pay great sums of money.

Although the hegemony of the rural world was absolute, at the end of the tenth century there was a timid resurgence of the urban world, which coincided with the progress in agricultural production. The reappearance of concessions of markets, by the hand of the public authorities and the appearance of suburbs on the outskirts of some Catalan cities, were proof of this rebirth. This was the first nuclei which led to the appearance of a very dynamic social sector, the mercantile bourgeoisie, which gave rise to an enormous peninsular and Mediterranean commerce. This new sector, that is, the bourgeoisie, later occupied a relevant political role.

During the eleventh century, the basic characteristics of a national reality were configured. Summarising, the common origin, the territory, an economic life, a social structure, a cultural community which expressed itself in its own tongue, that is, Catalan, and a legislation which regulated the behaviour of the community, without forgetting the common awareness of belonging to this community.

Ramon Berenger IV & Peronella
Another important fact which marked the later history of Catalonia was the matrimonial tie of the count of Barcelona, Ramon Berenguer IV, in 1137, to Peronella, the heiress of the Kingdom of Aragon. This union was the beginning of what would be the Kingdom of Aragon: various independent kingdoms under the same sovereign.

In contemporary times, the sovereigns of Catalonia, that is, the counts of Barcelona of the eleventh and twelfth centuries commenced an ambitious policy of feudal dominion over a wide region of the south of what is actually France. The purchase in 1067 of the counties of Carcossone and Rasés and the acquisition of various rights over Narbonne, Toulouse and Besiers by count Ramon Berenguer I, was the first step. Ramon Berenguer III, a century later, in 1112, thanks to his marriage to Dolça of Provence, acquired the rights to Gavaldà, Millau, Carladès and Provence.

Catalonia, like other feudal states such as Asturias, Leon, Castilla, Galicia, Navarra and Aragon, became configured in its political, institutional and socio-economical aspects, with relation to the long reconquest which began with the arrival of the Arabs at the beginning of the eighth century and concluded when this group had been completely expelled at the end of the fifteenth century.

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Sunday, December 14, 2014

What is Catalan and where is it spoken?

Catalan belongs to the western branch of the Romance languages. There are two fundamental dialectal varieties, eastern and western, which contain lexical, phonetic and grammatical differences. The Catalan language in the Valencian Country is also called Valencian for reasons of historical tradition. The linguistic domain extends over 68,000 square kilometres in four European states: Andorra; Spain (Catalonia, Valencia, the Balearic Islands, the Western Strip, in Aragon, and El Carxe, in Murcia); France (Northern Catalonia); and Italy (the town of Alghero on the island of Sardinia).

These territories have over 13 million inhabitants – most of them in Spain – of which about 10 million speak Catalan.

Speakers and territory

Catalan is a medium-sized language of the European Union in terms of number of speakers, on a par with languages like Swedish, Greek or European Portuguese. 

In Spain, 41% of the inhabitants live in autonomous communities that have more than one official language (Catalan, Basque or Galician), and almost a third of the population (29%) live in territories where the other language is Catalan. In the Aran Valley, in north-western Catalonia, Occitan, or Aranese, is also official. 95% of the citizens of Catalonia, the Balearic Islands and Andorra understand Catalan. In the Valencian Country 80% of the citizens understand Catalan.

Catalan, a language of today

Catalan is a language of a medium-sized population that is actively used in the territories in which it is spoken:
  • It is the fourteenth most spoken language in the European Union.
  • It is official in one sovereign state (Andorra), and in three Spanish autonomous communities it is co-official together with Spanish (Catalonia, Valencia and Balearic Islands).
  • It is transmitted inter-generationally in a normal fashion and is present in all the media in the Catalan-speaking territories.
  • It has a literary tradition and vitality, besides a rich culture.
  • It is a language that is fully coded, normative and standardized with full academic consensus
  • It is the eighth language on internet

Legal framework

In Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearic Islands Catalan is stated by the respective charters of autonomy to be the language of the territory and is an official language there along with Spanish. Additionally, in Catalonia, in the Aran Valley it co-exists with Occitan, there called Aranese, which is also recognised as an official language.
Each autonomous parliament has adopted specific linguistic laws:
  • In Catalonia, Law 1/1998, of 7th January, on linguistic policy.
  • In the Valencian Community, Law 4/1983, of 23rd November, on the use and teaching of Valencian.
  • In the Balearic Islands, Law 3/1986, of29th April, on the linguistic normalization of the Balearic Islands.
  • In the Western Strip, Law 3/1999, of 10th March, on the Cultural Patrimony of Aragon.
  • In Northern Catalonia, the law relative to the use of the French language, Toubon Act (1994).
  • In Alghero, Norme in materia di tutela delle minoranze linguistiche storiche (1999).
  • In the Principality of Andorra, in accordance with the Constitution of 1993, Catalan is the sole official Language. 

As regards recognition in the European Union, agreements have been established by which any person may address the European Commission, the Council of Ministers or the Ombudsman in Catalan. Also, in 1990 the European Parliament passed a resolution to include a Catalan version of the fundamental texts and resolutions of the EU.

Catalan is a medium-sized language of the European Union in terms of number of speakers, on a par with languages like Swedish, Greek or European Portuguese. 
Map of where Catalan is spoken

Catalan is a medium-sized language of the European Union in terms of number of speakers, on a par with languages like Swedish, Greek or European Portuguese. 

Generalitat de Catalunya Infographics, July 2012


About Catalan language

What is Catalan? Catalan is the language of Catalonia. It had already evolved from common Latin by the 9th century and belongs to the western branch of the Romance languages. Also: What is Catalan? A language or a dialect of Spanish? Where is Catalan spoken? The linguistic domain extends over 68,000 km2 in four different...

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Battle of Kephissos: The Catalan Company Pays Back Stingy Employer

Today in Military History – March 15, 1311 The late 12th and early 13th centuries were times of constant warfare in the Mediterranean basin. After the sack of Constantinople in 1204 by the Western forces of the Fourth Crusade, the Byzantine Empire fragmented. There separate Byzantine successor states controlled western Greece, western and northwestern Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), and the northeastern coast of Asia Minor around the port of Trebizond. In addition, the Bulgarians, Serbians and Seljuk Turks were pressuring the borders of the old Byzantine Empire constantly. Further, several Crusaders states – similar to ones set up in the Holy Land after the success of the First Crusade – were established in Greece. The three major contenders were the Principality of Achaea (southernmost Greece), the Duchy of Athens, and the “Latin Empire,” which covered most of the Greek peninsula and the northwest coast of Asia Minor, including the former imperial capital of Constantinople. In 1308, the Duke of Athens died and the duchy was passed to his son, Walter V of Brienne, a French knight. In mid-1310, Duke Walter was looking to hire some mercenaries to help him in his fight with the Nicaeans and Epirotes, as well as the re-emerging Byzantines who were rattling their sabers to reclaim Greece for the empire. Duke Walter was approached by Roger Deslaur, commander of the Catalan Great Company. These men were a group of Catalan-Aragonese sellswords who had recently been “discharged” from the service of the Byzantine emperor Andronicus II Palaeologus. [don’t you just love these Greek names?] Duke Walter accepted their offer, which included paying their asking price for employment. The company had fought in a variety of conflicts from Sicily to Asia Minor, and had a knack for turning friends into enemies. After several years of service, the Company had become a greater liability to Emperor Andronicus than an asset. Within six months of their hire by the duke, the Catalan Company had recaptured 30 villages, towns and castles for Athens. However, Duke Walter had only paid the entire Company for two of the six months they had been in his service. He began to fear the consequences of their continued employment by him, knowing their past history. Consequently, the duke hit upon a unique plan. 
Late in 1310, Duke Walter selected a small portion (200 horsemen and 300 infantry) of the Company, paid them their full wages, gave them lands and titles, and retained them in his service. He then informed the rest of their comrades that he was discharging them – without so much as a silver penny! Obviously, this did not go down well with the Aragonese. Demanding their full pay, the Duke said he would instead give them the gallows. The Catalan Company vowed to take what was owed them. They fled the environs of Athens, setting themselves up in fortifications they had recently captured in Thessaly, and began making plans. [And now, this short historical footnote…] The Catalan Great Company, originally founded in 1281, was composed of men from Catalonia, mostly Catalan, Aragonese, Majorcan and Navarrese. They were principally spearmen called almogavars, carrying a short thrusting spear called an azcona, two heavy javelins, and a weapon called a colltell, a combination knife and butcher’s cleaver for close combat. They wore no armor save an iron helmet, dressed in a tunic and sleeveless sheepskin coat, and tough sandals that strapped up the ankles. At this battle, their strength stood at about 4000 infantrymen. By the time of this battle, the Company had acquired some cavalry, namely about 900 javelin-armed jinetes (Spanish-style light horsemen) and 1100 Turkish light cavalry and turcopoles. This last batch of recruits joined the Company during their time with the Byzantines. Turcopoles were lightly armored (leather jerkin and steel helmet) and lightly armed (bow and javelin) horsemen who served as mounted archers and scouts. They were either mixed Christian-Turkish individuals or, by this time period, simply locally recruited horsemen who were adept at riding and shooting a bow. There is also the possibility that a few heavy knights may have been in the Company’s force, but this is unconfirmed by the sources. [Now back to our regularly scheduled history lecture…] Duke Walter began to muster his forces, even sending to Naples to get reinforcements. By March of 1311, he had assembled a force which he intended to use to chastise the recalcitrant Aragonese. He had over 6400 cavalry, including 700 Frankish knights from various crusader lands, the remainder being Greek light or medium horsemen. The duke’s infantry contingent has been estimated at between 8000 and 24,000 light and medium infantrymen. Most were likely recruited from throughout the duchy, probably mostly spearmen. However, their quality was not even close to that of the Catalan Company (which was one of the reasons the mercenaries were hired in the first place). He also had the small force of former Catalan Company men, bought and paid for (or so he thought). The Catalan Company occupied a position near the river Kephissos. They lined up in a marsh with a large area of clear grass within it. They drew up in a dense line several ranks deep, with their Turkish-turcopole auxiliaries arrayed nearby in separate formations. (The Turks were convinced that this whole scene was a plot by the Company and Duke Walter to eliminate them.) As an additional precaution, the Aragonese diverted water from the river, making the area in front of their position a fearsome bog. On the eve of the battle, the former Company men retained by the duke had pangs of conscience; they confronted their paid employer, stating they were rejoining their fellows. The Duke of Athens was not concerned about the loss of 500 men from his force. According to one of the battle’s chroniclers, the Duke told the 500 men “to go, and bad luck go with them, that it was well that they should die with the others.” He still outnumbered them at least three to one, if not more. The next morning, March 15, 1311, when the two sides lined up, the Catalan Company was somewhat discomfited by the size of the Athenian force. They tried to parley with the duke, but he refused them. He was determined to personally eliminate the Company once and for all. Consequently, Duke Walter placed himself and his personal standard in the forward position of his force. To open the battle the Duke of Athens led a charge of 200 French knights – said to all be wearing golden spurs – straight at the enemy line, with his infantry following close behind. Very quickly the charge was disrupted by the morass surrounding the almogavars, which had escaped detection by the Athenians. The Company began raining javelins down on the enemy as they traversed the mire. As the Athenian forces came to grips with the Company’s line, the battle became a slugging match, a close quarters hack ‘em up. The almogavars had learned their fighting skills in over four centuries of combat with Muslim invaders in Spain, and against heavily armored horsemen in Sicily and in Asia Minor. As the fighting continued, it is likely that as the Catalan hacked down their tiring and disrupted foes, they shouted, “Aur! Aur! Desperta ferro!” (“Listen! Listen! Wake up, iron!”) One chronicler said the Catalan Company fought “like desperate men,” while another said, “the battle was very hard.” Finally, the almogavars began to seize the upper hand in the fight. Seeing the tide of battle beginning to turn against the Athenian forces, the Turkish/turcopole horsemen launched themselves at the enemy. The onslaught of the Turks caused panic in the Athenian army, routing it from the field. Casualty numbers for the Catalan Company and their fellows are unknown, though must have been heavy. For the Duke of Athens’ forces, it was a total annihilation. Nearly all of the 700 heavy knights were killed (though one chronicler says only two escaped; another historian said two others were later ransomed), as were all of the native horsemen. Amongst the duke’s infantry, 8000 to 20,000 were also dispatched. Duke Walter of Brienne was also killed in the fighting, possibly at first contact with the enemy. As a result, the Catalan Company became the new de facto rulers of the Duchy of Athens, recognizing the King of Aragon as their lord and master. They would remain in command of the duchy for the next 75 years. For the next several months, they consolidated their control of the duchy, but also raided and pillaged rebellious areas – after all, they were still owed four months wages!

by Siggurdsson
March 16th, 2010

first published at Burnpit legion

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Saturday, December 13, 2014

Catalans in the world

Throughout history, the Catalan language has been used outside the Catalan region. In fact, it has enjoyed a strong use and was the customary language used throughout the Mediterranean during the Middle Ages up to the Renaissance. From the twentieth century onwards, the associations dedicated to the study of the Catalan language and culture, which were gathered in the ‘Federació Internacional d’Associacions de Catalanística’ [International Federation of Associations Catalanism] (FIAC), and the network of lecturers of Catalan language, which is co-ordinated by the Ramon Llull Institute, have guaranteed and helped to increment the presence of Catalan within the international university world.


Roger de Flor
Throughout the Middle-Ages up to the Renaissance, the presence of the Catalan language was continuous throughout the Mediterranean and southern Europe. Catalan commerce was quite active in the Eastern Mediterranean and had an extensive network of corn exchanges and consulates. From the military aspect, in the time of James I, an expedition of Catalan crusaders was organised to re-conquer the Holy Land and, in spite of the fact that the squadron was destroyed by a storm, eleven of the vessels managed to reach Sant Joan d’Acre. The Catalan participation in the defence of Constantinople (1453), which is testified to by different literary stories, is also distinguishable. The commercial presence in this city can be traced back to the thirteenth century, and the Catalan consulate is already documented in 1268. This commercial presence was always quite important, especially during the reign of Emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus.

Emblem of the city of Alghero
In the Italian region, especially in the cities which belonged to the Catalan-Aragonese Confederation, the merchants and cultured people knew and used Catalan. This ‘Catalanization’ was especially intense on the island of Sardinia, where Catalan still lives on in the city of Alguer. The linguistic ‘Catalanization’ reached the whole island, as is testified in the old documentation, toponomy, antroponomy and the influence upon the Sardinian language, especially upon the Campidanese dialect on the south of the island.

In the fourteenth century, when Athens and Morea were Catalan possessions, the prestige of the language meant that its use also spread throughout the Aegean Sea. The Catalan Diaspora, after their expulsion, forced them to abandon the language because they became mixed with the large Sephardic community, as occurred with the Portuguese Jews, although they maintained their national identity and some variants of their language. The expansion and prestige of Catalan all over the Mediterranean has left its mark in numerous languages; Catalan words are especially important in the maritime vocabulary.

After the War of Succession, Austrian exiles had different destinations but mainly settled in Vienna, Italy (especially Naples, Milan and Rome) and Hungary. Between 1735 and 1738, some hundreds of exiles were moved to the Banat of Temeswar, where the colony known as New Barcelona was created, although it did not consolidate. More recently, we must point out the Catalan fishermen established on the Galician estuaries, where they encouraged the preservation industry, or the residents of Sitges who settled on Figuereta – nowadays Cristina Island –, in Andalusia. The Catalan gypsies have also spread the use of the language in communities settled in various Provencal populations. In the same way that many exiles and emigrants, from the nineteenth century onwards, who often gathered around cultural or recreational centres, spread the family use of Catalan all over the world.

Roger de Llúria
With regards to the knowledge of Catalan in other countries or by foreigners, the chronicler Ramon Muntaner explains how Italian personalities at the service of the Crown, like the great admiral Roger de Llúria or the rational master Corral Llança, had adopted Catalan as a habitual language. Ramon Llull and Muntaner himself, for example, continuously used it in their various Mediterranean journeys. From the fifteenth century onwards there are numerous testimonies to the popular enthusiasm awoken by the sermons in Catalan by Saint Vincent Ferrer, who was understood and acclaimed in France and Italy and, more surprisingly, also in England and Brittany.

Pope Alexander VI
During the pontificates of the Valencian popes from the Borgia family, that is, Calixtus III (1456-1458) and Alexander VI (1492-1503), in Rome, Catalan was learnt, spoken and written because it was the family language of the pontiffs. At the end of the fifteenth century, a considerable number of German and French printers learnt Catalan in order to set up businesses in various cities all over the Catalan region, where they introduced the press. In the same way, in eighteenth century Minorca, which was incorporated into the British Empire, many members of the British garrison on the island learnt and used Catalan.

The prestige of the language and literature during the Middle-Ages and Renaissance has left traces in various literatures. It was a well known language for the grand old Aragonese and Castilian writers, like Juan Manuel, the Archpriest of Talavera or the marquis of Santillana, and some even wrote in Catalan, like Enrique de Villena or Bartolomé de Torres Naharro. The works of Catalan authors were soon translated into other languages and influences have been found in authors such as Montaigne, Cervantes, Giordano Bruno, Leibniz, Bacon and the grand Scottish philosophers. Furthermore, throughout the twentieth century, the scientific and university studies in the Catalan language and its literature were developed, initially in a European ambit, which gave way to the actual promotion of international Catalanism.


Statue of Gaspar de Portolà in Monterrey
The reasonable suspicions about the Catalan origin of Christopher Columbus, who counted upon a notable Catalan surrounding on his American expeditions, are known. The serious limitations to trade with America, which the citizens of the Kingdom of Aragon suffered, extremely limited emigration up to the eighteenth century. However, this continent had nearly a thousand toponyms of Catalan origin. When California was colonised, during the eighteenth century, there was an important presence of Catalans and Majorcans, which was headed by Governor Gaspar de Portolà, Pere Fages and his company of ‘Voluntaris de Catalunya’ [Volunteers from Catalonia] and friar Juníper Serra, who was the head of the religious expedition. In 1768, on the other side of North America, close to Mosquito bay in the then British province of Eastern Florida, a group of Minorcan colonizers settled. This colony of New Smyrna failed, and in 1777 the survivors sought refuge in the old city of Saint Augustine, where some surnames remain, which have been more or less corrupted by English, as well as the odd toponym. We can even find the trace of the old people’s ‘Mahonese’ in the local tongue, next to the elaboration of ‘formatjades’ and the odd culinary recipe.

Fremont USA CA - Mission San Jose,

 Fra Juníper Serra

Throughout the nineteenth century, the island of Cuba was the principal receptor of Catalan emigration, to the point that it is calculated that one out of every five emigrants from the Spanish State and one out of every ten soldiers was Catalan. More than a quarter of the traders in Havana and over half of those of the area of Santiago were also Catalan. In 1840, in Havana, the ‘Societat de Beneficència dels Naturals de Catalunya’ [Beneficiary Society of the Natural citizens of Catalonia] was founded. This was the first Catalan recreational centre which, from then on, opened the way, first in America, and later all over the world, for others to be founded.

Some of these emigrants from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries managed to amass large fortunes and, when they returned to the region, sought the construction of luxurious residences and were known as ‘indianos’ or ‘americanos’. Furthermore, in various Ibero-American countries, there was an important Catalan missionary presence, especially by the Capuchins, but also by other religious orders. Towards the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century, Costa Rica welcomed a group of Catalan traders which became very influential and from where, for example, the progressive politician Josep Figueres Ferrer emerged who was the country’s president several times.

After the republican defeat during the Spanish Civil War, Mexico generously welcomed a large part of the Catalan Diaspora, but also other countries like Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Colombia and Venezuela, amongst others, did the same. This grand migratory wave strengthened the Catalan recreational centres of these countries, gave rise to the apparition of numerous and notable publications in Catalan and made the celebration of the ‘Jocs Florals’ [Floral Games] possible in exile.

The rest of the world

Anselm Abdala Turmeda
Abdallah al-Tarÿumán
Africa and Asia have only sporadically received Catalan exiles or emigrants. However, the contacts with these continents have existed since times of old. The Islamised Majorcan Franciscan Anselm Abdala Turmeda, for example, was a translator and head of customs in Tunisia at the end of the fourteenth century and beginning of the fifteenth. During the nineteenth century, after the French colonization of Algeria, amongst the colonisers who settled there, and who were, from disrespect, called ‘pierds-noirs’ (black feet), was an important colony formed by north-Catalan, Balearics and Valencians, who basically settled near Orà. At the beginning of the twentieth century, these colonizers started to produce periodical publications in Catalan – which were known there as ‘patuet’ – using French orthography. 
The global migratory wave received by the Catalan region at the end of the twentieth century means that nowadays there are many citizens who come from other continents, as well as from Hispano-America and eastern Europe which have made Catalan their own language in order to integrate into the welcoming society.

Sir Esteve Morell, Melbourne
Without being able to compare with the Catalan presence in Europe or America, more recently Oceania, and especially Australia, has been the destination of certain Catalan emigration. In 1847, the Benedictine Josep M. Benet Serra Julià was nominated bishop of Victoria and, in 1926, Esteve Morell, the son of a Catalan emigrant, was elected mayor of Melbourne, which is a city were, from 1989 onwards, the radio station Ethnic Public Radio broadcasts a programme in Catalan. Sydney has an active Catalan community.

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The study and learning of Catalan outside the region

With Franco’s victory, many intellectuals and scholars of Catalan went into exile and set-up centres aimed at maintaining the culture in many points of the world. It was a new impulse for the study and learning of Catalan which continues to this day. In 2000, the Ramon Llull Institute was created with the aim of promoting the Catalan...
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