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[xiii] The visitor from France who enters Spain on the eastern side at Port-Bou and travels by train to Barcelona, will be able to observe some, at any rate, of the characteristic features of Catalonia, at one time the most important part of the medieval kingdom of Aragon.
Modern Catalonia includes the provinces of Gerona, Lérida, Barcelona and Tarragona, but the linguistic boundary is more widely extended and covers Roussillon on the north side of the Pyrenees, the little state of Andorra, some districts in the east of Aragon, the northern part of Valencia and the Balearic Islands.
The Iberian mountains and the valley of the Ebro isolate Catalonia from the central Castilian plateau; its climate and history have been strongly influenced by the Mediterranean which it faces.
The mountain-ranges on the north and west, the long coast-line and the fact that one of the few low Pyrenean passes allows easy communication with France, are considerations which will partially explain the political and commercial development of the country and the formation of the Catalan nationality.
Catalonia is a country of varied geographical character; the Pyrenean districts are a region of forest and pasture land, through which streams run down from the mountains to meet the sea or to join the Ebro; the most important of these, the Noguera Ribagorzana, forms the frontier between Catalonia and Aragon.
Then follows a series of plateaux continuing to the Sierra de Montsech, after which begin the undulating plain of Lérida and the Llanos de Urgel; the fertility of these is in strong contrast with that arid character of the plateaux which is sufficiently expressed in the name Mont-Sech (dry mountain).
The coastal district is also mountainous, but is green and fertile; within it such depressions as the Gulf of Rosas, and the plains of Gerona and of the Llobregat near Barcelona, produce a variety of trees and [xiv] fruits found only in warm climates, date palms, orange trees, agaves and cacti.
Catalonia is thus a rugged and mountainous region, the scenery of which is not remarkably picturesque, though certain summits, such as the famous Montserrat, the Montagut and the Montsant, attract attention by their isolated positions.
Catalonia has been inhabited by Iberians, Phenicians, Greeks, Carthaginian-Phenicians, Romans, Gauls, Goths and Arabs.
From this mixture of races emerges the modern Catalan, an energetic and business-like character, anxious to be up and doing; not content, as other Spaniards often are, to enjoy or tolerate things as he finds them, he is convinced that the present can be improved and is possessed by an activity impatient to achieve that object.
It seems that the restlessness which carried him to Sicily, Greece and the Levant in medieval times finds expression at the present day not merely in industrial and commercial enterprise, but also in republican and socialist tendencies which have made him notorious as the chief exponent of syndicalism in Spain.
In any case, the fact that Catalonia can produce almost every agricultural product in sufficient quantity, with the exception of corn, to supply her own needs, is due rather to the steady labour of the inhabitants than to any special fertility of the soil; wine, oil, rice, almonds, nuts and vegetables are good and abundant; the northern districts send down much serviceable timber; stock-breeding, sheep and poultry-farming flourish.
More than this, Catalonia is the most important industrial area in the peninsula; recent developments in hydraulic and electrical engineering have greatly accelerated industrial progress.
Textile industries absorb more labour than any other branch, but hardware, paper, soap and leather production also flourishes under the protection of tariffs. Barcelona is the best equipped port in Spain and about a third of the total of Spanish imports enter the peninsula at this point.
Much of these are in the form of raw material for Catalan industries.
Apart from wine, the export trade is not large; most of the manufactured product is consumed by the home market.
Barcelona is thus a collecting and distributing point for the numerous smaller industrial centres scattered throughout the province; it is the most cosmopolitan city in Spain and, [xv] in the eyes of its inhabitants, the most beautiful.
An antagonism to Castilian government has become traditional among Catalan patriots; there is a belief that their country has always paid more than its due share to the central government; an embittered recollection of the centralizing policy which strove to suppress their language and privileges; the possession of this language, which, unlike the Basque, has an important literature as old as that of Spain's proximity to France and a long connection with that country; the influences of climate and environment, added to the consciousness of these grievances and capacities, will help to explain the long continuance of a separatist or regionalist agitation.
But the typical Catalan is not to be regarded as either a sinister political intriguer nor as absorbed in the task of getting rich; he and his compatriots are a cheerful, kindly folk, with a feeling for art and music in every class of their society; to visit some local fiesta and to watch the dancing of the Sardana is to reach the real character of the people:
La Sardana és la dansa més bella
de totes les danses que es fan i es desfan;
és la mòbil magnífica anella
que amb pausa i amb vida va lenta oscil.lant.
Ja es decanta a l'esquerra i vacil.la;
ja volta altra volta a la dreta dubtant,
i s'en torna i retorna intranquil.la,
com mal orientada l'agulla d'imant.
Fixa's un punt i es detura com ella.
Del contra punt arrecant-se novella de nou va voltant.
La Sardana és la dansa més bella
de totes les danses que es fan i es desfan.
Very different in character is the old kingdom of Aragon, as may be observed even in the course of the railway journey from Barcelona to Zaragoza.
The luxuriant vegetation of the Catalan sea-board, the prosperous harbours and the busy energy of commerce are exchanged for dry and thirsty uplands, thinly populated, where towns and hamlets dependent upon a scanty water-supply are often isolated by distance from their neighbours, and wrest a living from the soil in poverty and exclusiveness.
Once again, geographical conditions have influenced local character.
Aragon descends gradually from the Pyrenees, the highest points of which [xvi] form her northern frontier, to the basin of the Ebro; in prehistoric times, this district was a great salt lake, confined by the coastal mountains and the central Spanish plateau, until the waters found a way to the sea near Tortosa.
This coastal range also screens the country from the moist eastern winds of the Mediterranean and increases the aridity of the soil. Where the salts have been washed out of the ground by the more important streams and rivers, vegetation flourishes; and almonds, olives, figs and vines are successfully cultivated; elsewhere is heath and waste land, for lack of irrigation.
Aragon was less affected than Catalonia by infiltrations of foreign blood and influence, and the Aragonese is more native to the soil than the Catalan. The inaccessible mountain district of Sobrarbe in the north of the kingdom claims for Aragon, as can the Asturias for Castile, the honour of being a starting-point from which the repulse of the Muslim invaders was begun.
The tenacity by which that process was accomplished is apparent in the Aragonese of modern times, who appears as a hard-working, obstinate character, not always easy to lead and difficult to drive.
"El aragonés clava un clavo con la cabeza," says the proverb suggested by these national characteristics, and never were they more apparent than when questions of personal liberty or of local privilege were at stake.
Yet the people were not absorbed in these matters to the exclusion of all else; Aragon developed a dialect of its own which is represented in literature, and the national dance-song, the Jota Aragonesa, has become known far beyond the frontiers of Spain.
Such are some of the impressions which a traveller in these countries may receive.
We proceed to consider the succession of historical events which may, in part, account for them.
This work was originally published by Methuan Publishing Ltd. in 1933.
Pagination of the original edition is indicated set off in brackets, as in .
If you want to extend your information on Aragon you can begin crossing another interesting route is the Mudejar, Patrimony of the Humanity, also you can extend your cultural knowledge on Aragon examining its municipal and institutional heraldry without forgetting, of course, some of its emblematics figures as Saint George Pattern of Aragon also book of Aragon.
The information will not be complete without a stroll by its three provinces: Zaragoza, Teruel and Huesca and his shines, with shutdown in some of its spectacular landscapes like Ordesa, the Moncayo or by opposition the Ebro.
A History of Aragon and Catalonia. Prologue. Books.
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