Guide to visit the museum

Second floor

From Prehistory to 1714

The first communities

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Showcases in the centre of the room (space 1)

All over Catalonia remains from different periods of prehistory have been found. The central showcases in the room contain some of those objects, which chart the evolution of human groups through the Palaeolithic and the Neolithic, a process that follows common patterns with the rest of Europe.

The first flint tools belong to nomadic communities that lived from hunting and gathering during the Palaeolithic. When we compare them we observe that the stone is more worked to produce more specialized tools. Next, there are objects for everyday use related to the practice of agriculture in the Neolithic, such as the stone mill for grinding grain and fragments of ceramic pieces.

Outstanding among the Neolithic objects in the third showcase is the variscite necklace. Variscite is a mineral frequently used for ornaments in the funerary trappings of the grave burials in Catalonia. It is extracted from mines such as Can Tintorer in Gavà, which are rare in Europe.

The last showcase contains objects that reveal a mastery of smelting of metals, such as the bracelet and the moulds for making bronze rods. 

The end of prehistory

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Bronze Age dwelling (space 2)

In the last periods of prehistory we find more complex societies, with some degree of specialization in trades, organized in settlements which by now are partly planned.

In this room there is a reconstruction of a Bronze Age hut from the 7th century BC, based on a study of the settlement in the Gàfols ravine, in Ginestar (Ribera d’Ebre). The house, which is narrow and elongated, was part of a small village with 17 precincts laid out along three streets. The adobe walls are raised on a stone base and on the inside they are plastered and decorated with ochre paintings. The roof, made of reeds and mud, rests on wooden beams.

Alongside the entrance to the house the store is raised on a platform that protects the food supplies from damp and animals. The fruit gathered in the wood and game complement a diet based on the harvest of cereals and pulses, which are then conserved in large ceramic containers. Beside the hearth we can observe the stone mills that produced flour after hours of hard labour. The discovery of clay weights to tense the threads of the loom has enabled us to deduce that each home made its own fabrics.

Footprints and peoples of the Mediterranean

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Greek ceramics (2d)

From the 7th century BC the native settlers come into contact with people from the Eastern Mediterranean. Greeks and Phoenicians are expanding their trade network and founding colonies throughout the Mediterranean, making contact with the native settlers.

In showcase 2D you can see samples of Greek ceramics decorated with red and black figures found in Empúries, one of the two Greek colonies documented in Catalonia. Ceramics of this kind, together with jewels, metal tools and fine fabrics, are sold in the colonies, where raw materials such as wheat, wood or wine are bought. The Greeks live apart from the local population and relate to them through trade. The purpose of the colonies, in fact, is to establish trading bases, as shown by the original name of this one, Emporion, which means “market”. 

The culture of the Iberians

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Model of Calafell (3c)

Between the 5th and 2nd centuries BC Iberian culture develops along a large part of the Mediterranean coast on the Iberian Peninsula, even though there is no cultural uniformity or political unity.

The model of the Iberian settlement of Calafell, in showcase 3C, shows us a fortified precinct on a hilltop designed to defend and control the surrounding countryside. A small mansion can be clearly distinguished, but the excavations have also identified places of worship, indicated by an altar. The houses, of one or more storeys, stand in a line along the street. They are family dwellings, but also spaces for work and storage.

The Iberians focused their activity on growing cereals and breeding animals, but archaeology has also documented the manufacture of linen fabrics in the houses themselves, as well as the production of a wide range of ceramic objects and metalwork. Part of that production of cereals and metal would be intended for trade with the other Mediterranean peoples.

Province of the Roman Empire

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Vase with indications of the distances between Rome and Cadiz (4c)

In 218 BC the Romans disembark in the Greek colony of Empúries with the intention of cutting off the rearguard of Hannibal’s army in the Second Punic War against the Carthaginians. That is the start of a gradual occupation of the territory, which is taken as complete in the 1st century BC.

Control of the empire is possible thanks to the development of a major land communications network. In showcase 4C we can see a replica of a votive vase dedicated to Apollo in gratitude for a good journey. On the outside there is an engraving of the route overland from Gades (Cadiz) to Rome, with indications of the mansio (stopping places) and the distances. Around the roads new cities spring up, usually inhabited by veterans, who are the key to the control of the territory and the process of Romanization.

Borderland

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Products of the trade route (6c)

In the early 8th century a new rising power, the caliphate of Damascus, occupies the Iberian Peninsula from North Africa. The present day Catalan territory is divided between a north controlled by the Frankish Empire and a south under the sway of Al-Andalus, which becomes independent in 929 and proclaims a new caliphate with the capital in Cordoba. The border is stabilized in the 9th century alongside Barcelona, while in the 10th century it is situated near Tarragona, to the south.

Because of this evolution on the frontier, Andalusian culture has a greater or lesser influence on the territory, and is strongest in the lands of Balaguer, Lleida, Tarragona and Tortosa. They are part of the Islamic world, integrated into an economic and religious community that stretches as far as India. That wide sphere of influence brings it new scientific, religious and cultural knowledge, as well as exotic products. In showcase 6C there is a selection of items that were highly prized at that time, such as spices from India or rice and paper from China, which reached Europe along the trade routes.

The legend of the four stripes

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Legend of the four stripes (scenography of space 7)

The legend of the four stripes is one of the most famous founding myths. Published for the first time in the 16th century, it tries to explain the origins of the emblem of the four red stripes on a golden background, which was first of all the emblem of the dynasty of the house of Barcelona and now identifies the territories that were under its dominion.

The two protagonists are Wilfred the Hairy, count of Barcelona, and Louis the Pious, king of the Franks. After a battle the king rewards the loyalty of his vassal by granting him an emblem for his family: dipping his fingers into Wilfred’s blood he leaves the mark of his four fingers on a gilded shield. So it becomes the emblem of Wilfred’s heirs. He is considered the founder of the dynasty, since his sons are the first to inherit the title without being directly appointed by the king. We should say, however, that emblems of this kind were not known until the late 11th century, two hundred years after the supposed events.

The shaping of the Catalan counties

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Map of the counties (7c)

Between the 9th and 10th centuries the strip of territory between the Pyrenees and the Llobregat river is conquered by the Frankish kings to stem the advance of the caliphate. The lands are divided into counties, at the head of which the king appoints a count to be in charge of defence and government.

Initially, the counts govern in the name of the king, but from the 10th century they cease to renew the pact of vassalage and begin to act with full sovereignty. Step by step the county of Barcelona becomes the new centre of power and receives the vassalage of other counts. At the same time, the counties begin their expansion by conquering territories of the caliphate of Cordoba, which they defend by means of a great network of castles.

The consolidation of a country

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The coat of arms with the four stripes (11b)

In the 12th century, the marriage of Ramon Berenguer IV, count of Barcelona, and Peronella, princess of the kingdom of Aragón, marks the dynastic union between the two territories. From that moment, Catalonia and Aragón share a sovereign, but each territory continues to be governed in accordance with its laws and institutions and keeps its language and traditions.

At the same time certain symbolic elements are consolidated. Ramon Berenguer IV fixes the use of the emblem of the stripes in gules on a field of gold on the seals and his descendents use it to bear witness to their patronage, for example through this escutcheon from the cloister of Santes Creus monastery.

With the new strength that comes from the union, the kingdom undertakes the conquest of new territories. They are incorporated into the jurisdiction of Aragón or of Catalonia. At that time, the term ‘Catalonia’ was already in use, as shown by documents concerning the government of Ramon Berenguer III, such as the oath of fidelity sworn by the men of Carcassonne or the Liber Maiolichinus, a Pisan chronicle from 1115.

Mediterranean expansion

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Map of the Mediterranean (13b)

With the annexation of the kingdoms of Mallorca and Valencia, conquered by James I in the 13th century, the Crown of Aragón grows, though losing influence over Occitania. Until the 15th century it continues to widen its domains in Sicily, Sardinia and Naples, which helps to foster trade.

Between the 13th and 15th centuries, Catalan merchants compete for control of trade in the Western Mediterranean and have bases in Syria, Egypt and Northern Europe, with the support of consulates in the main ports. That spurs the growth of the cities, which are hives of trading and craft activity. Those good times are reflected in the building of palaces and Gothic churches such as Santa Maria del Mar. Their economic importance goes hand in hand with a growing political influence.

But in the mid 14th century there are a series of social and political crises. They are aggravated by the loss of the economic boom and the fall in population owing to the plague and poor harvests.

On the fringes of the Empire

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Maps Philip II - Philip IV (18a)

In 1469 the marriage between Ferdinand II of Aragón and Isabel I of Castile marks the dynastic union between the two kingdoms. But despite sharing a sovereign, each territory continues to be governed in accordance with its laws and institutions.

The maps of the 16th to 18th centuries show that their heirs, of the Hapsburg dynasty, govern a vast empire in Europe and America, led from Castile. Catalonia, still weakened by uprisings and the loss of population from famine and plague, is a fringe territory with scant capacity for intervention in general affairs. Royal visits are fewer and farther between and the parliament does not meet to debate the problems of the country. That strengthens the role of the government, which emerges as interpreter and protector of the laws and the pacts in the face of royal authority. There will be constant confrontation between the monarchy and the Catalan institutions over the following centuries.

From the 16th century the population and the economy begin to grow again. New production and exchange networks arise all over the country, while the peasants experiment with new work systems. The prosperity of a sector of the peasantry is reflected in the building of the great country houses.

The anthem of Catalonia

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Scenography of the Reapers’ War (21)

The anthem of Catalonia, Els Segadors (the reapers), is based on a popular song that recounts the events of the reapers’ uprising on the Feast of Corpus Christi in 1640.

The billeting of thousands of soldiers sent to the French border, as part of the Thirty Years War, stirs up great discontent among the peasantry. An incident in Barcelona when a group of reapers clash with soldiers sparks a revolt all over Catalonia. The peasants’ uprising turns into a political revolution, led by the president of the Generalitat, in the face of a threat of invasion of the country by the royal troops.

At the end of the 19th century Els Segadors, now an anthem, becomes a symbol among Catalan nationalist sectors and under the Franco regime it is used as a protest song. In 1993 the parliament proclaims it the official anthem of Catalonia.

The War of the Spanish Succession: the loss of the institutions

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The Nueva Planta Decrees (22g)

The War of the Spanish Succession, 1701 to 1714, is one of the key episodes that have marked the history of Catalonia. After the death of Charles II, the succession to the Spanish throne is disputed between Philip of Anjou, with the support of France, and Archduke Charles of Austria, with the support of Austria, England and the Netherlands. Although they have initially acknowledged Philip as king, Catalonia and the territories of the kingdom of Aragon switch their allegiance to Charles of Austria, who holds his court in Barcelona.

For Catalonia the military victory of Philip V means the abolition of its political institutions, such as the Corts and the Generalitat, and of its own laws. The Nueva Planta Decrees (1716) impose an absolutist government with the figure of the captain general as the supreme civil and military authority. As soon as the institutions have disappeared, the taxes are confiscated and new ones introduced. All the universities are closed, except for Cervera, and the Catalan language is gradually banned in the public sphere.