Humans have been present in Catalan lands ever since the Lower Palaeolithic period, the most remote era in prehistory. The oldest remains of homo erectus, some 450,000 years old, have been found in Tautavel (Roussillon).
The spread of arable agriculture and husbandry, beginning in the Neolithic period in the last millennia before Christ, changed the shape of the land and led to the emergence of new cultures. The influx of eastern, Greek and Phoenician societies, starting in the 7th century BC, led into the development of Iberian culture, one of the most important civilisations of the western Mediterranean.
A long period of links with the Roman Empire began in 218 BC when the Roman army landed at Empúries. It was at this time that many of the basic features of our culture took shape – our language, law and religion. At the end of the 5th century, the defeat of the Western Roman Empire gave way to the Visigothic Kingdom, with its capital in Toledo.
The Birth of a Nation.
In 711, the Muslim army began its conquest of the Visigothic Kingdom and a new country - al-Andalus - came into being. For four centuries, the lands of Balaguer, Lleida, Tarragona and Tortosa were part of the Islamic world, an economic and religious community that stretched all the way to India.
Al-Andalus bordered the Catalan counties, which were part of the Hispanic March, the frontier territory of the Carolingian Empire. At the end of the 10th century, the Catalan counts became independent from the Franks, with the House of Barcelona as the dominant family of counts. During the 11th century, the establishment of feudalism created new social bonds based on the social and political control of the nobility and the Church, and the exploitation of the peasantry. This rural, feudal world provided the setting for the spread of Romanesque art, which sought to explain the world, its origins and its order. In the 12th century, the conquest of New Catalonia, the growing ties with Occitania and the dynastic union with Aragon strengthened the new state. The word Catalunya (Catalonia) emerged at virtually the same time as Catalan was first used in writing.
In the 13th century, Jaume I's conquest of Majorca and Valencia led to a period of military and trading expansion throughout the Mediterranean that continued until the 15th century. The growth of the cities, the dramatic rise in trade and the consolidation of merchants and craftsmen are just some of the phenomena closely associated with this expansion.
A new and largely urban style - the Gothic - dominated artistic work, including architecture, painting and sculpture. The main governing institutions - the Corts, Generalitat and municipal councils - also developed at this time. The famine of 1333 and the Black Death of 1348 signalled the beginning of a profound demographic, economic and social crisis.
In the countryside, peasants tied to the land raised an armed revolt against their overlords, calling for the abolition of feudal payments, while in the cities, there was serious social upheaval. In the end, the entire country was drawn into the long Civil War (1462-1472) that pitted the governing institutions against the Crown. In 1479, Fernando II brought about a dynastic union with Castile through his marriage to Isabel I.
On the Edge of the Empire.
Catalonia remained a state within the Habsburg Empire, which stretched across Europe and elsewhere in the world. A phase of economic growth began in Catalonia, though the struggle between the Hispanic monarchy and France led to constant border conflicts. The sea also became a border with other powerful enemies: the Barbary and Ottoman pirates. Social unrest in the country also resulted in the spread of banditry.
At a time when the modern state was being built, the increasing authoritarianism of the monarchs came into conflict with constitutionalist doctrines drawn up by the Catalan institutions.
This context provided the setting for the Reapers' War (1640–1659) and the War of the Spanish Succession (1705–1715). In 1716, at the end of this second war, Felipe V, the first king of the Spanish branch of the Bourbons, issued the Decree of the New Plan, abolishing the constitutions and institutions of Catalonia.
This period also witnessed the spread of the Baroque style, which was characterised by a language that was both pessimistic and exuberant, as well as by its determination to promote the dogma of the Counter-Reformation.
A Steam-powered Nation.
During the course of the 18th century, the foundations of the Industrial Revolution and of present-day Catalonia were laid. Specialisation in farming, particularly in wine and spirits in coastal areas, the construction of cotton and printed calico mills and the opening up of the American market launched a new period of growth.
Catalonia began to industrialise in 1830. Steam-powered mills and industrial villages shaped a new economic model based on the textile industry, bringing with it changes in the country's topography and society. The tremendous rise of the cities, which led to the construction of new suburban extensions, went hand in hand with the emergence of two new social groups: the industrial bourgeoisie and the working class. Meanwhile, the Spanish liberal state increased political centralisation. Carlism, federal republicanism and protectionist campaigns were led by various social groups and were responses to the new political model. The end of the century was a time of revitalisation in Catalan language and culture through the Renaixença and Modernisme.
The Electric Years.
During the first 30 years of the 20th century, Catalan industry went through a period of diversification, characterised by the spread of electricity and oil products. The labour movement consolidated its position with the founding of the CNT (1910) and achieved an eight-hour working day (1919). In the 1920s, the first great wave of immigration from the south-east of Spain began.
The political map began to be dominated by the Regionalist League and republican parties in 1901. The Mancomunitat de Catalunya (1914-1925), with Enric Prat de la Riba as its president, was a federation of the provincial councils. The declaration of the Second Republic in 1931 paved the way for the establishment of the Generalitat, with Francesc Macià and then Lluís Companys, from ERC (Republican Left of Catalonia), as its presidents. The military coup d'état of July 1936 was the start of a cruel civil war lasting three years. Franco's victory in 1939 signalled the beginning of a long dictatorship and the abolition of self-government.
Defeat and Recovery
General Franco's dictatorship (1939–1975) was characterised by repression of pro-democracy and left-wing organisations. In the early decades, the regime's policy of self-sufficiency and the consequences of the war led the country to economic collapse, rationing and poverty. The opening up of the economy, which started in 1959, led to major economic and social changes: foreign capital came into the country; industry diversified; tourism developed; waves of immigration from within Spain occurred; and the consumer society became established. Opposition to the regime, which had started back in 1939, re-organised and drew widespread support. A new generation, that had not lived through the war, joined the pro-democracy movement. Following the death of the dictator, the new democratic Constitution (1978) and the new Statute of Self-Government (1979) signalled the restoration of civil liberties.
Retrat de la Catalunya contemporània (1980-2007)
La societat catalana ha viscut, des del 1980, el període d’autogovern polític més llarg de la seva història contemporània. Al mateix temps, Catalunya ha crescut demogràficament, s’ha diversificat socialment i culturalment de manera extraordinària i el seu territori ha experimentat una profunda transformació, amb la millora de la xarxa d’infraestructures, la protecció del medi ambient i els serveis de l’estat del benestar. Avui som més, més vells i més diversos, amb més autonomia, amb una economia més competitiva, amb més equipaments públics... Però, gaudim dels mateixos drets? Tenim les mateixes oportunitats? Estem més satisfets?
L’àmbit mostra una projecció audiovisual de llarga durada que sota el títol “Catalunya.cat” presenta de manera sintètica la trajectòria històrica general de la societat catalana, des de la mort de Franco fins a l’actualitat, sense oblidar la seva estreta interrelació amb la dinàmica històrica del conjunt de l’Estat espanyol i de la resta del món.
El Museu convida finalment al visitant a participar en un qüestionari interactiu al voltant d’algunes preguntes clau sobre l’evolució de la societat catalana contemporània.