The memory of a country

Permanent exhibition

Our sea. From the 13th century to the 16th century

In the 13th century, the conquest of the Kingdoms of Majorca and Valencia by James I began a period of military and commercial expansion in the Mediterranean that continued until the 15th century. The growth of cities, the rise of trade and the consolidation of the groups of merchants and craftsmen are among the phenomena closely linked to the expansion process.

Gothic Art replaced Romanesque, and literary culture greatly developed in this period. In politics, the main government institutions of the country were shaped – the Corts or parliament; the Generalitat, providing government administration; and the municipal councils. However, the famine of 1333 and the Black Death undoubtedly marked the beginning of a profound demographic, economic and social crisis.

In the countryside, the peasants rose up in arms against their lords, while in the cities there was deep social unrest. In the second half of the 15th century, the country was riven by a prolonged civil war (1462-1472) pitting the Crown against the Generalitat. In 1479, the accession to the throne of Ferdinand II, married to Isabella of Castile, brought about the dynastic union of the two crowns.

Catalan hegemony in the Mediterranean

At the beginning of the 13th century, the Crown of Aragon focused its expansion policy on the Mediterranean. The conquests of Majorca and Valencia by James I were continued by Peter the Great, who annexed Sicily, and his successors. Catalan hegemony and the struggle to rule Sardinia and Naples caused conflicts with France, the Genoese Republic and the Papacy.

“Consulates of the Sea” were set up in the main Mediterranean ports to deal with maritime and commercial issues. In the eastern Mediterranean the Crown of Aragon did not manage to displace the Republic of Venice, despite taking control of the duchies of Athens and Neopatria. From the 14th and 15th centuries onwards, internal crises and social conflicts weakened the Crown and put an end to its hegemony.


Conquest of Majorca

James I conquered Majorca and destroyed the power of the Almohads. The island was repopulated by Christians and the Kingdom of Majorca was established. In 1235, the islands of Ibiza and Formentera were conquered.


Conquest of Valencia

Between 1229 and 1245, James I (the Conqueror) conquered the emirates of Balansiya and Mursiyya which had emerged from the decomposition of the Almohad Empire and, in 1238, he took the city of Valencia.


Treaty of Corbeil

Treaty between James I and Louis IX of France. The Catalan king gave up his rights to the Occitan territories in exchange for the French king giving up any claim over the Catalan counties as successor to Charlemagne. This treaty confirmed de iure independence.


Death of James I

James I divided the Crown’s domains between his sons. Peter the Great inherited the Kingdom of Aragon, the Kingdom of Valencia and the Principality of Catalonia. James II (the Prudent) inherited the Kingdom of Majorca, the County of Rosselló and Cerdanya and the lordship of Montpellier.


The Sicilian Vespers

The popular revolt known as the Sicilian Vespers against the rule of the French King Charles of Anjou led to the intervention and conquest of the island by Peter the Great, who was proclaimed King of Sicily.


Conquest of Minorca

As part of the military campaign to confiscate the Kingdom of Majorca, Alfonso the Liberal, son of Peter the Great, conquered the island of Minorca from the Muslims.


Almogaver expedition to Byzantium

Roger de Flor founded the Great Catalan Company, an expeditionary force of mercenaries serving the Byzantine Emperor against the Ottoman Turks. His betrayal and murder unleashed what was known as the Vengeance of the Catalans, who occupied the duchies of Athens and Neopatria.

1302 - 1311

Conquest of Sardinia

James II conquered Sardinia between 1323 and 1326 after he was feudally invested with it by the Pope in 1297. His rule was challenged by continuing Sardinian revolts and disputes with the Republic of Genoa.

1323 - 1324

Annexation of the kingdom of Majorca to the crown

Peter the Ceremonious finally annexed the Kingdom of Majorca to the Crown of Aragon and instituted the Privilege of Union, under which future monarchs had to promise never again to separate the territories of Aragon, Valencia, Majorca and Catalonia.

1343 - 1344

Conquest of Naples

Alfonso the Magnanimous conquered the Kingdom of Naples after a series of campaigns carried out between 1435 and 1443.

1435 - 1443

James I’s tent

James I’s tent

Pacts: the foundation of government

The growing complexity of Low Medieval society meant that, throughout the 13th and 14th centuries, Catalonia was provided with institutions of government: the Corts (parliament) and the Generalitat (administration). At a time when monarchies were becoming stronger and tending towards authoritarianism, in the Principality and other Crown territories the institutionalised practice of pacts and consensus as the basic foundation of royal government became predominant.

The Corts included the three main estates: the ecclesiastical branch, the nobility and the popular classes, representing the towns and cities within the royal jurisdiction. The peasants, who formed the largest part of the population, had no direct presence. Consensus took the form of drawing up constitutions or laws. Meanwhile, the Generalitat, the permanent representative of the estates, oversaw compliance with the agreements.

The Corts of James I

The Corts of James I

The emergence of the cities

From the 13th century onwards, the increase in agricultural production and the development of trade drove population and economic growth. The cities became manufacturing and trading centres and the kings encouraged them, finding that they provided reliable support against the upper ranks of the feudal nobility as they flourished.

The dynamism of the urban centres was shown in their desire to achieve greater self-government, as with the establishment of the Council of One Hundred in Barcelona and the construction of spectacular cathedrals, churches, markets and palaces. Gothic art, in all its splendour, spread through the cities of Barcelona, Majorca, Perpignan and Valencia.



Craftsman’s house

Craftsman’s house

Workshop and shop

A craftsmen’s home was both his workshop and his shop, which was really just a counter, as the products for sale were placed outside.


Craftsmen’s houses, with long floor plans and windows only on the front, were rarely more than five metres wide. They formed narrow spaces where families sometimes had to share accommodation with apprentices.

Streets by craft

In the 13th century, Barcelona grew so much it started to expand beyond the old Roman walls. Districts like La Ribera were buzzing with activity, as in other cities of the time, and the guilds of craftsmen were established in different places depending on their activity. This is why many streets in Barcelona today still bear the names of the trades that used to be plied there.

Science, culture and art

In the Low Middle Ages, Catalan became a fully developed written language. Literature was particularly outstanding, with figures like Ramon Llull, Jordi de Sant Jordi and Ausiàs March, and works like Tirant lo Blanch became universally known. The first universities were founded and advanced scientific and technical practices were developed locally.

Catalan medicine achieved great prestige and Arnaldus de Villa Nova became physician to three kings and three popes. The cartographers Abraham and Jehuda Cresques and their Atlas Català of 1375 were also important figures. Drawn with surprising precision, the most important mapamundi of its time included India and China and summarised the concerns of a rapidly expanding world.

Atlas Català

Atlas Català

Time of crisis

After the mid-14th century, Catalonia underwent strong political and social convulsions, as well as a considerable fall in population and economic recession. The crisis, beginning during the reign of Peter the Ceremonious, continued in the reigns of the first kings of the Trastamara dynasty. The Civil War of 1462-1472 pitted the Crown against the country’s institutions and afflicted a territory already been decimated by epidemics.

Feudal oppression led to the peasants’ revolt which went on during the second half of the 15th century and did not end until the Arbitral Decision of Guadalupe (1486), which abolished what it described as the lords’ “evil customs”. At the end of the 15th century, the population reached a historic low: 250,000 inhabitants. The Mediterranean became less important compared to the new ocean routes and Catalonia was left on the periphery of the new trade highways.

Reconstruction of the peasants’ revolt

Reconstruction of the peasants’ revolt

Danzas de la Muerte de Verges