Historical Notes – Barcelona

The Spanish Civil War

Wall of Plaza San Felip Neri which was bombed by Hitler with Franco´s approval. A school and an orphanage were in the plaza.

Wall of Plaza San Felip Neri which was bombed by Hitler with Franco´s approval. A school and an orphanage were in the plaza.

Neither of us knew anything about the Spanish Civil War, but learned that it had a huge influence on Spain´s history and people even to this day. We were told that in the early 1900’s there was lots of poverty and famine in Spain. The Church and the Army ran everything. Then in 1931 a very liberal government was elected. Then there was a coup, as the army overthrew the elected government, but some regions, including Catalonia, continued to resist the military government. Franco had been a Spanish military leader in Morocco. He came North, with his Moroccan troups, to lead the government. The resistance asked other governments to assist them in overthrowing Franco´s miltary government. Only Mexico and the USSR agreed to support the resistance. Also, an organization called the International Brigade sprang up to support the resistance. It was simply a collection of idealistic individuals including George Orwell and Hemingway (who wrote The Sun Also Rises, about his experiences fighting in Spain.) Franco was friends with Hitler, and permitted Hitler to use the resistance areas of Spain to test and refine some of his military techniques and technologies.

Interestingly, Spain remained neutral during WWII. Franco remained dictator of Spain until 1975 when he died.

Franco had evidently always thought that the royalty system of government was a good model. When he grew old he looked at the geneological records to determine who was of royal descent and found Juan Carlos I. They met, and Juan Carlos agreed to maintain Franco´s policies after he passed away. But as soon as Franco died, Juan Carlos organized free and open elections to select an elected government – this is one of the only instances in history where someone with complete and absolute power has freely relinquished it.

We learned all this history on a walking tour in a square called Plaza St. Felip Neri, where some major bombings occurred in the Spanish Civil War. This square has been the sight of the filming of Woody Allen’s film Vicky Christina Barcelona and a video of the song My Immortal by Evanescence.

Shrine to the young girl who became a martyr

Shrine to the young girl who became a martyr

We heard several interesting stories during our Barcelona walking tour.

Santa Eulalia

There is a tiny shrine in a tight little corner street. It’s a shrine devoted to Santa Eulalia, a 13 year old girl in the year 290 AD. She was a Christian who stood by her beliefs. The Romans were in power, and the government was trying to squelch the Christian faith. The soldier ordered Eulalia to renounce her faith but she refused, so they put her into a barrel with lots of sharp objects and rolled her down a hill. She emerged unharmed, which the watching crowd interpretted as a miracle. The Soldiers tortured her 11 more times, and each time she was unharmed, and undetered in declaring her faith. Finally they devised a torture which caused her death, and she became a martyr.

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Wilfred the Hairy, Count of Catalonia

Wilbur fighting the dragon

Wilfred fighting the dragon

Wilfred the hairy grew hair where no man should. He was born about 850 AD. He is credited as the “father” of Catalonia. There are various stories about him; here is one we heard from our guide. At the time the Moors had controlled Spain since 711 and Catalonia was the border between France and Spain. The Moors intended to push northward into France, and Catalonia was right in the middle. (So far the story seems true). The Moors had a dragon, which many brave men had tried unsuccessfully to kill with swords. Evidently Wilfred bopped the dragon on the head with a wooden club, which killed him. It is believed that the organic nature of the wooden club was an anathema to the dragon. Wilfred was made count of Catalonia as result, and the rest is history! The Catalonia flag with its 4 red stripes was inspired by the fact that after a successful battle, Count Wilfred dragged four bloody fingers across a shield.

Statue of Columbus in Barcelona

Statue of Columbus in Barcelona

A Brief note about Columbus

He was sponsored by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella because they were hoping to gain gold, silver, and spices. He lost 2 boats. All he brought back were 6 “Indians”, all young girls. He actually started East across the Atlantic with 30 Indians but all but 6 died in transit. Columbus did bring back the potato, tomato, chilis, tobacco and coffee to Barcelona.

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