The memory of a country

Permanent exhibition

Steam and the nation

Throughout the 18th century, once the defeat of 1714 had been overcome, Catalonia began a period of economic growth during which the basis was laid for the Industrial Revolution. Agricultural specialisation, the appearance of manufactured cotton cloth and the opening up of trade with America were among the keys to this process.

Industrialisation began from 1830, based on the textile sector. Steam-powered factories and industrial colonies formed a new economic model, transforming the geography and society of Catalonia. The growth of cities ran in parallel with the expansion of two new social classes: the industrial bourgeoisie and the working class.

The construction of the liberal Spanish State met a response, in Catalonia, from Carlism, federal republicanism and protectionist campaigns. At the same time, the Renaixença began, a movement to revitalise the Catalan language and culture which was vitally important in the formation of national consciousness.

Continuity and New Ideas

An attempt was made by the Spanish Monarchy to rationalise the structures of the State during the crisis of the Old Regime. Enlightened reforms were implemented to make politics, trade, industry and infrastructures more efficient. The system was known as “enlightened despotism” and, as in other parts of Europe, its maximum ideology was “everything for the people, nothing by the people”.

Bourbon absolutism in Catalonia was known as the Royal Decree. It was a twofold centralist system of government represented by the Captain General and the Royal Audience, although lacking in internal unity because of discrepancies between the militarism of the former and the civic nature of the latter.

Enlightened ideas and a concern for modernisation had been present in Catalan society since the end of the 18th century in the form of utilitarianism and practicality, based on the study of experimental sciences and the technical training of workers. Antonio de Capmany, the representative in Madrid from the Barcelona City Council and Board of Trade of the Principality of Catalonia, promoted this new reformist ideology despite defending the appropriateness of guilds.

Junta de Comerç de Barcelona

Junta de Comerç de Barcelona

The Great Transformation: A Profound Economic Shift

Catalonia became firmly committed to wine specialisation according to the Rabassa Morta (dead strain) contract in the 18th century and this became a key factor in the economic growth of the Principality. The export of wine and liquor from the port of Salou, first to northern Europe and then in smaller quantities to the Americas (never more than 37% of the total), led to the accumulation of capital and the import of raw materials such as cotton and flax, which were vital for the emergence of a new local textile industry. New proto-factories in Barcelona were experiencing one of the most dynamic moments in the production of indianas and pintados (printed cotton or flax fabrics) across Europe.

Various manufacturing industries coexisted with agricultural work in the countryside and were preparing the rural population to work in the future Industrial Revolution. The goal of applying market policies (growing exports and protecting local production) encouraged the employment of large sectors of the population within a context of rising populations.

Wine press

Wine press

Industrias del siglo XVIII

Society and Daily Life

Although Catalan society during the crisis of the Old Regime was still class-based, economic growth encouraged greater social complexity. These changes affected daily life in general and the new mental and social paradigms altered aspects of work, food, forms of leisure and relationships between men and women.

The main leisure activities in Catalonia were theatre; music, works by Haydn were widely distributed; public or private balls, especially masked balls; exhibitions of artisanal products, such as wax figures, animals and people with special physical features; puppet shows; shadow plays, and the launching of hot-air balloons. The authorities made efforts to manage this leisure because of its “danger” in order to ensure social order and obtain revenue through ticket sales.

La xocolatada

La xocolatada

Revolts, revolutions and reforms

In the 19th century, Catalonia suffered great political instability. Between 1793 and 1833 the country experienced the final crisis of the Ancien Regime, and the introduction of liberalism prefigured a new model of society which, however, met strong resistance from Carlism. This traditionalist, conservative movement was strongly established in several areas, leading to a long armed conflict.

The struggles between liberals and absolutists during the reign of Ferdinand VII and between moderates and progressives during the reign of Isabella II demonstrate the difficulties for consolidating a modern, liberal State in Spain as a whole. In the second half of the century, democratic ideas and the appearance of the workers’ movement played a fundamental role in political mobilisation and the transformation of the country.


At war with France

The outbreak of the French Revolution led to a series of wars between the European absolutist powers and revolutionary France. The Catalans suffered the consequences of these conflicts at first hand.


Beginning of the Peninsular War

Napoleon occupied the Iberian Peninsula and crowned his brother, Joseph Bonaparte, as King of Spain. Different regions rose up and resisted the invading army. In 1809, after a long siege, the French occupied Girona.


Annexation of Catalonia to the French empire

In an attempt to win favour in the country, Napoleon separated Catalonia from the Kingdom of Spain and annexed it to the French Empire. These closer links won approval from part of the bourgeoisie, but did not achieve the expected results.


Constitution of Cadiz

The Cortes of Cadiz proclaimed the first Spanish liberal Constitution. Known as La Pepa, it established a monarchy based on parliamentarianism, national sovereignty and the separation of powers. It also included a broad declaration of rights.


Re-establishment of absolutism

The end of the Peninsular War brought the return of Ferdinand VII as King of Spain. He abolished the Constitution of Cadiz and re-established absolutism.


Liberal triennial

The pronouncement of Colonel Riego forced Ferdinand VII to swear the Constitution of Cadiz. However, the European Holy Alliance sent an army to do away with the liberals. During this period, a good part of Spain’s American colonies were finally lost.

1820 - 1823

First Carlist War

After the death of Ferdinand VII, Isabella II came to the throne, supported by the liberals. Ferdinand’s brother, Carlos María Isidro, began an armed revolt with the support of the more conservative sectors. The conflict was experienced intensely in Catalonia and broke out twice more during the century.

1833 - 1840

La Gloriosa

The September revolution led to the removal of Isabella II and the beginning of what was known as the Democratic Sexennial. The lower classes, republicans and progressive liberals led the revolt known as La Gloriosa. General Prim became the most important politician of the new regime.


First Republic

The assassination of General Prim and the failure of the attempt to consolidate a democratic monarchy around the figure of Amadeus of Savoy, led to the proclamation of the First Spanish Republic. However, the Republican period was a tumultuous one and turned out to be a mere prelude to the Bourbon restoration.


Cuban War

The Second Cuban War, beginning in 1895, became the Spanish-American War in 1898 when the United States became involved, defeating the Spanish fleet. As a result of losing the war, Spain also lost Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines, its last overseas territories.


Industrialisation with steam

After the economic impulse of the 18th century, during the 19th century Catalonia underwent economic and social transformations deriving from industrialisation. Once the first Carlist War (1833-1840) was over, industrial growth, which had begun in the previous decade, speeded up, with the widespread introduction of the steam engine.

Industrialisation, based above all on the textile sector, established its own particular geography which transformed the territory. In the traditional manufacturing areas like Barcelona, Terrassa and Sabadell, what were known as vapors were installed – steam-powered factories attracting thousands of workers from rural areas. At the same time, industrial colonies were set up in the river basins to use hydraulic energy.

Textile factory

Textile factory

Industrial society

With industrialisation, Catalonia discovered the progress and the conflicts resulting from a capitalist society. The Catalan bourgeoisie became aware and organised itself politically to protect its interests in the Spanish parliament. Campaigns in favour of protectionism for industry clashed with the interests of a good part of the State, where a traditional economic structure still predominated.

Meanwhile, the working class was also organising in the face of the lamentable living conditions suffered by many workers. Workers’ groups grew and, from the second half of the century onwards, the emergence of political parties and trade unions connected with the international worker’s movement played a key role in the social mobilisations and political conflicts in the country.

The industrial bourgeoisie

The industrial bourgeoisie

Women in the factory

Women in the factory

Coros de Clavé

Josep Anselm Clavé és el fundador del movimento coral de Catalunya. 

Renaixença, the civic movement and nationalism

The influence of Romanticism and the European cultural trends of the time generated the Renaixença, a movement to revitalise the Catalan language and culture that affected all areas of creation and all social classes. The people behind the Renaixença connected Catalan society with its cultural tradition and were vitally important in forming a national consciousness.

Throughout the 19th century, the various conflicts with the State and the dynamism of Catalan society, with all its complexity, wealth and contradictions, laid the basis for future political Catalan nationalism. The first Catalan Nationalist Congress was held in 1880 and, two years later, the Catalan Centre was established. Among its first actions was the presentation of a petition of grievances to King Alfonso XII.

The conservative Renaixença and the people’s Renaixença

The conservative Renaixença and the people’s Renaixença

Oda a la Patria

Publicado en el año 1833 en el periódico El Vapor, este poema se considera el principio de la Renaixença literaria.

Urban transformation

Social changes and population growth meant urban areas had to be adapted to new requirements. The demolition of the walls enclosing the cities and the construction of new rationally planned districts were a first step. In the case of Barcelona, the walls were demolished in 1854 and the Cerdà Plan was implemented, with the building of the Eixample.

Cities were provided with a variety of facilities. Sewerage and water supply to homes became widespread and represented a great leap forward in improving living conditions. Gas supply contributed to street lighting and transport was modernised with horse-drawn trams.

Reform and expansion of Barcelona

Reform and expansion of Barcelona

Catalan Art Nouveau (Modernisme)

Art Nouveau was the dominant artistic and cultural trend in the Western world at the beginning of the 20th century. In Catalonia, it drew on a historical moment that gave it a very particular character. The cities grew, taking up the new architecture, and the need to modernise society and culture in the context of successive political crises became a priority for local intellectuals.

Important figures like Antoni Gaudí, Joan Maragall, Ramon Casas and Santiago Rusiñol expressed their spirit of transformation based on different sensitivities and they placed Catalan culture in the front line. Architecture, music, theatre, literature, as well as political essays, were imbued with the spirit of what was known as Modernisme, with a great impact on the society of the time.

Sant Pau hospital

Sant Pau hospital