The Counts of Barcelona became increasingly independent and expanded their territory to include much of modern Catalonia, although in 985, Barcelona was sacked by the army of Almanzor. The sack was so traumatic that most of Barcelona's population was either killed or enslaved. In 1137, Aragon and the County of Barcelona merged in dynastic union by the marriage of Ramon Berenguer IV and Petronilla of Aragon, their titles finally borne by only one person when their son Alfonso II of Aragon ascended to the throne in 1162. His territories were later to be known as the Crown of Aragon, which conquered many overseas possessions and ruled the western Mediterranean Sea with outlying territories in Naples and Sicily and as far as Athens in the 13th century.
The Bank or Taula de canvi de Barcelona, often viewed as the oldest public bank in Europe, was established by the city magistrates in 1401. It originated from necessities of the state, as did the Bank of Venice (1402) and the Bank of Genoa (1407).
Barcelona has a well-developed higher education system of public universities. Most prominent among these are the University of Barcelona (established in 1450) and the more modern Pompeu Fabra University. Barcelona is also home to the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, and in the private sector the EADA Business School (founded in 1957), which became the first Barcelona institution to run manager training programmes for the business community. IESE Business School, as well as the largest private educational institution, the Ramon Llull University, which encompasses schools and institutes such as the ESADE Business School. The Autonomous University of Barcelona, another public university, is located in Bellaterra, a town in the Metropolitan Area. Toulouse Business School and the Open University of Catalonia (a private Internet-centred open university) are also based in Barcelona.
The marriage of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile in 1469 united the two royal lines. Madrid became the centre of political power whilst the colonisation of the Americas reduced the financial importance (at least in relative terms) of Mediterranean trade. Barcelona was a centre of Catalan separatism, including the Catalan Revolt (1640–52) against Philip IV of Spain. The great plague of 1650–1654 halved the city's population.
Founded as a Roman city, in the Middle Ages Barcelona became the capital of the County of Barcelona. After joining with the Kingdom of Aragon to form the confederation of the Crown of Aragon, Barcelona, which continued to be the capital of the Principality of Catalonia, became the most important city in the Crown of Aragon and the main economic and administrative centre of the Crown, only to be overtaken by Valencia, wrested from Moorish control by the Catalans, shortly before the dynastic union between the Crown of Castile and the Crown of Aragon in 1492. Barcelona became the centre of Catalan separatism, briefly becoming part of France during the 17th century Reapers' War. It was the capital of Revolutionary Catalonia during the Spanish Revolution of 1936, and the seat of government of the Second Spanish Republic later in the Spanish Civil War, until its capture by the fascists in 1939. After the Spanish transition to democracy in the 1970s, Barcelona once again became the capital of an autonomous Catalonia.
In the 18th century, a fortress was built at Montjuïc that overlooked the harbour. In 1794, this fortress was used by the French astronomer Pierre François André Méchain for observations relating to a survey stretching to Dunkirk that provided the official basis of the measurement of a metre. The definitive metre bar, manufactured from platinum, was presented to the French legislative assembly on 22 June 1799. Much of Barcelona was negatively affected by the Napoleonic wars, but the start of industrialisation saw the fortunes of the province improve.
Barcelona has a long-standing mercantile tradition. Less well known is that the city industrialised early, taking off in 1833, when Catalonia's already sophisticated textile industry began to use steam power. It became the first and most important industrial city in the Mediterranean basin. Since then, manufacturing has played a large role in its history.
The Museum of Natural Sciences of Barcelona was founded in 1882 under the name of "Museo Martorell de Arqueología y Ciencias Naturales" (Spanish for "Martorell Museum of Archaeology and Natural Sciences"). In 2011 the Museum of Natural Sciences ended up with a merge of five institutions: the Museum of Natural Sciences of Barcelona (the main site, at the Forum Building), the Martorell Museum (the historical seat of the Museum, opened to the public from 1924 to 2010 as a geology museum), the Laboratori de Natura, at the Castle of the Three Dragons (from 1920 to 2010: the Zoology Museum), the Historical Botanical Garden of Barcelona, founded 1930, and the Botanical garden of Barcelona, founded 1999. Those two gardens are a part of the Botanical Institute of Barcelona too.
In 1900, Barcelona had a population of 533,000, which grew steadily but slowly until 1950, when it started absorbing a high number of people from other less-industrialised parts of Spain. Barcelona's population peaked in 1979 at 1,906,998, and fell throughout the 1980s and 1990s as more people sought a higher quality of life in outlying cities in the Barcelona Metropolitan Area. After bottoming out in 2000 with 1,496,266 residents, the city's population began to rise again as younger people started to return, causing a great increase in housing prices.
In 1900, almost a third (28.9 percent) of the population were children (aged younger than 14 years). In 2017, this age group constituted only 12.7% of the population. In 2017, people aged between 15 and 24 years made up 9 percent of the population; those aged between 25 and 44 years made up 30.6 percent of the population; while those aged between 45 and 64 years formed 56.9% of all Barcelonans. In 1900, people aged 65 and older made up just 6.5 percent of the population. In 2017, this age group made up 21.5 percent of the population.
Barcelona was also home to Mies van der Rohe's Barcelona Pavilion. Designed in 1929 for the International Exposition for Germany, it was an iconic building that came to symbolise modern architecture as the embodiment of van der Rohe's aphorisms "less is more" and "God is in the details". The Barcelona pavilion was intended as a temporary structure and was torn down in 1930 less than a year after it was constructed. A modern re-creation by Spanish architects now stands in Barcelona, however, constructed in 1986.
During the Spanish Civil War, the city, and Catalonia in general, were resolutely Republican. Many enterprises and public services were collectivised by the CNT and UGT unions. As the power of the Republican government and the Generalitat diminished, much of the city was under the effective control of anarchist groups. The anarchists lost control of the city to their own allies, the Communists and official government troops, after the street fighting of the Barcelona May Days. The fall of the city on 26 January 1939, caused a mass exodus of civilians who fled to the French border. The resistance of Barcelona to Franco's coup d'état was to have lasting effects after the defeat of the Republican government. The autonomous institutions of Catalonia were abolished, and the use of the Catalan language in public life was suppressed. Barcelona remained the second largest city in Spain, at the heart of a region which was relatively industrialised and prosperous, despite the devastation of the civil war. The result was a large-scale immigration from poorer regions of Spain (particularly Andalusia, Murcia and Galicia), which in turn led to rapid urbanisation.
Barcelona is governed by a city council formed by 41 city councillors, elected for a four-year term by universal suffrage. As one of the two biggest cities in Spain, Barcelona is subject to a special law articulated through the Carta Municipal (Municipal Law). A first version of this law was passed in 1960 and amended later, but the current version was approved in March 2006. According to this law, Barcelona's city council is organised in two levels: a political one, with elected city councillors, and one executive, which administers the programs and executes the decisions taken on the political level. This law also gives the local government a special relationship with the central government and it also gives the mayor wider prerogatives by the means of municipal executive commissions. It expands the powers of the city council in areas like telecommunications, city traffic, road safety and public safety. It also gives a special economic regime to the city's treasury and it gives the council a veto in matters that will be decided by the central government, but that will need a favourable report from the council.
The death of Franco in 1975 brought on a period of democratisation throughout Spain. Pressure for change was particularly strong in Barcelona, which considered that it had been punished during nearly forty years of Francoism for its support of the Republican government. Massive, but peaceful, demonstrations on 11 September 1977 assembled over a million people in the streets of Barcelona to call for the restoration of Catalan autonomy. It was granted less than a month later.
The development of Barcelona was promoted by two events in 1986: Spanish accession to the European Community, and particularly Barcelona's designation as host city of the 1992 Summer Olympics. The process of urban regeneration has been rapid, and accompanied by a greatly increased international reputation of the city as a tourist destination. The increased cost of housing has led to a slight decline (−16.6%) in the population over the last two decades of the 20th century as many families move out into the suburbs. This decline has been reversed since 2001, as a new wave of immigration (particularly from Latin America and from Morocco) has gathered pace.
In 1987, an ETA car bombing at Hipercor killed 21 people. On 17 August 2017, a van was driven into pedestrians on La Rambla, killing 14 and injuring at least 100, one of whom later died. Other attacks took place elsewhere in Catalonia. The Prime Minister of Spain, Mariano Rajoy, called the attack in Barcelona a jihadist attack. Amaq News Agency attributed indirect responsibility for the attack to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). During the 2010s, Barcelona became the focus city for the ongoing Catalan independence movement, its consequent standoff between the regional and national government and later protests.
While tourism produces economic benefits, according to one report, the city is "overrun [by] hordes of tourists". In early 2017, over 150,000 protesters warned that tourism is destabilizing the city. Slogans included "Tourists go home", "Barcelona is not for sale" and "We will not be driven out". By then, the number of visitors had increased from 1.7 million in 1990 to 32 million in a city with a population of 1.62 million, increasing the cost of rental housing for residents and overcrowding the public places. While tourists spent an estimated €30 billion in 2017, they are viewed by some as a threat to Barcelona's identity.
In 1992, Barcelona hosted the Summer Olympics. The after-effects of this are credited with driving major changes in what had, up until then, been a largely industrial city. As part of the preparation for the games, industrial buildings along the sea-front were demolished and 3 km (2 mi) of beach were created. New construction increased the road capacity of the city by 17%, the sewage handling capacity by 27% and the amount of new green areas and beaches by 78%. Between 1990 and 2004, the number of hotel rooms in the city doubled. Perhaps more importantly, the outside perception of the city was changed making, by 2012, Barcelona the 12th most popular city destination in the world and the 5th amongst European cities.
Barcelona has many venues for live music and theatre, including the world-renowned Gran Teatre del Liceu opera house, the Teatre Nacional de Catalunya, the Teatre Lliure and the Palau de la Música Catalana concert hall. Barcelona also is home to the Barcelona Symphony and Catalonia National Orchestra (Orquestra Simfònica de Barcelona i Nacional de Catalunya, usually known as OBC), the largest symphonic orchestra in Catalonia. In 1999, the OBC inaugurated its new venue in the brand-new Auditorium (L'Auditori). It performs around 75 concerts per season and its current director is Eiji Oue. It is home to the Barcelona Guitar Orchestra, directed by Sergi Vicente. The major thoroughfare of La Rambla is home to mime artists and street performers. Yearly, two major pop music festivals take place in the city, the Sónar Festival and the Primavera Sound Festival. The city also has a thriving alternative music scene, with groups such as The Pinker Tones receiving international attention. Barcelona is an international hub of highly active and diverse nightlife with bars, dance bars and nightclubs staying open well past midnight.
Of Barcelona's parks, Montjuïc is the largest, with 203 ha located on the mountain of the same name. It is followed by Parc de la Ciutadella (which occupies the site of the old military citadel and which houses the Parliament building, the Barcelona Zoo, and several museums); 31 ha or 76.6 acres including the zoo), the Guinardó Park (19 ha or 47.0 acres), Park Güell (designed by Antoni Gaudí; 17.2 ha or 42.5 acres), Oreneta Castle Park (also 17.2 ha or 42.5 acres), Diagonal Mar Park (13.3 ha or 32.9 acres, inaugurated in 2002), Nou Barris Central Park (13.2 ha or 32.6 acres), Can Dragó Sports Park and Poblenou Park (both 11.9 ha or 29.4 acres), the Labyrinth Park (9.10 ha or 22.5 acres), named after the garden maze it contains. There are also several smaller parks, for example, the Parc de Les Aigües (2 ha or 4.9 acres). A part of the Collserola Park is also within the city limits. PortAventura World, one of the largest resort in Europe, with 5,837,509 visitors per year, is located one hour's drive from Barcelona. Also, within the city lies Tibidabo Amusement Park, a smaller amusement park in Plaza del Tibidabo, with the Muntanya Russa amusement ride.
The Barcelona metropolitan area comprises over 66% of the people of Catalonia, one of the richer regions in Europe and the fourth richest region per capita in Spain, with a GDP per capita amounting to €28,400 (16% more than the EU average). The greater Barcelona metropolitan area had a GDP amounting to $177 billion (equivalent to $34,821 in per capita terms, 44% more than the EU average), making it the 4th most economically powerful city by gross GDP in the European Union, and 35th in the world in 2009. Barcelona city had a very high GDP of €80,894 per head in 2004, according to Eurostat. Furthermore, Barcelona was Europe's fourth best business city and fastest improving European city, with growth improved by 17% per year as of 2009 .
Barcelona has a great number of museums, which cover different areas and eras. The National Museum of Art of Catalonia possesses a well-known collection of Romanesque art, while the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art focuses on post-1945 Catalan and Spanish art. The Fundació Joan Miró, Picasso Museum, and Fundació Antoni Tàpies hold important collections of these world-renowned artists, as well as the Can Framis Museum, focused on post-1960 Catalan Art owned by Fundació Vila Casas. Several museums cover the fields of history and archaeology, like the Barcelona City History Museum (MUHBA), the Museum of the History of Catalonia, the Archeology Museum of Catalonia, the Maritime Museum of Barcelona, the Music Museum of Barcelona and the privately owned Egyptian Museum. The Erotic museum of Barcelona is among the most peculiar ones, while CosmoCaixa is a science museum that received the European Museum of the Year Award in 2006.
In 2007 most of the inhabitants stated they are Roman Catholic (208 churches). In a 2011 survey conducted by InfoCatólica, 49.5% of Barcelona residents of all ages identified themselves as Catholic. This was the first time that more than half of respondents did not identify themselves as Catholic Christians. The numbers reflect a broader trend in Spain whereby the numbers of self-identified Catholics have declined. In 2019, a survey by Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas showed that 53.2% of residents in Barcelona identified themselves as Catholic (9.9% practising Catholics, 43.3% non-practising Catholics).
On 22 March 2007, Barcelona's City Council started the Bicing service, a bicycle service understood as a public transport. Once the user has their user card, they can take a bicycle from any of the more than 400 stations spread around the city and use it anywhere the urban area of the city, and then leave it at another station. The service has been a success, with 50,000 subscribed users in three months.
The seat of the city council is on the Plaça de Sant Jaume, opposite the seat of Generalitat de Catalunya. Since the coming of the Spanish democracy, Barcelona had been governed by the PSC, first with an absolute majority and later in coalition with ERC and ICV. After the May 2007 election, the ERC did not renew the coalition agreement and the PSC governed in a minority coalition with ICV as the junior partner.
RENFE's AVE high-speed rail system, which is designed for speeds of 310 km/h (193 mph), was extended from Madrid to Barcelona in 2008 in the form of the Madrid–Barcelona high-speed rail line. A shared RENFE-SNCF high-speed rail connecting Barcelona and France (Paris, Marseilles and Toulouse, through Perpignan–Barcelona high-speed rail line) was launched in 2013. Both these lines serve Barcelona Sants terminal station.
Barcelona has a long sporting tradition and hosted the highly successful 1992 Summer Olympics as well as several matches during the 1982 FIFA World Cup (at the two stadiums). It has hosted about 30 sports events of international significance. FC Barcelona is a sports club best known worldwide for its football team, one of the largest and the wealthiest in the world. It has 74 national trophies (while finishing 46 times as runners-up) and 17 continental prizes (with being runners-up 11 times), including five UEFA Champions League trophies out of eight finals and three FIFA Club World Cup wins out of four finals. The club won six trophies in a calendar year in 2009, becoming one of only 2 male football teams in the world to win the coveted sextuple, apart from FC Bayern Munich in 2020. FC Barcelona also has professional teams in other sports like FC Barcelona Regal (basketball), FC Barcelona Handbol (handball), FC Barcelona Hoquei (roller hockey), FC Barcelona Ice Hockey (ice hockey), FC Barcelona Futsal (futsal) and FC Barcelona Rugby (rugby union), all at one point winners of the highest national and/or European competitions. The club's museum is the second most visited in Catalonia. The matches against cross-town rivals RCD Espanyol are of particular interest, but there are other Barcelonan football clubs in lower categories, like CE Europa and UE Sant Andreu. FC Barcelona's basketball team has a noted rivalry in the Liga ACB with nearby Joventut Badalona.
Barcelona is served by Barcelona-El Prat Airport, about 17 km (11 mi) south-west of the centre of Barcelona. It is the second-largest airport in Spain, and the largest on the Mediterranean coast, which handled more than 50.17 million passengers in 2018, showing an annual upward trend. It is a main hub for Vueling Airlines and Ryanair, and also a focus for Iberia and Air Europa. The airport mainly serves domestic and European destinations, although some airlines offer destinations in Latin America, Asia and the United States. The airport is connected to the city by highway, metro (Airport T1 and Airport T2 stations), commuter train (Barcelona Airport railway station) and scheduled bus service. A new terminal (T1) has been built, and entered service on 17 June 2009.
Several road running competitions are organised year-round in Barcelona: the Barcelona Marathon every March with over 10,000 participants in 2010, the Cursa de Bombers in April, the Cursa de El Corte Inglés in May (with about 60,000 participants each year), the Cursa de la Mercè, the Cursa Jean Bouin, the Milla Sagrada Família and the San Silvestre. There is also the Ultratrail Collserola which passes 85 km (53 mi) through the Collserola forest. The Open Seat Godó, a 50-year-old ATP World Tour 500 Series tennis tournament, is held annually in the facilities of the Real Club de Tenis Barcelona. Each year on Christmas Day, a 200-meter swimming race across the Old Port of Barcelona takes place. Near Barcelona, in Montmeló, the 107,000 capacity Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya racetrack hosts the Formula One Spanish Grand Prix, the Catalan motorcycle Grand Prix, the Spanish GT Championship and races in the GP2 Series. Skateboarding and cycling are also very popular in Barcelona; in and around the city there are dozens of kilometers of bicycle paths.
Barcelona was the 20th-most-visited city in the world by international visitors and the fifth most visited city in Europe after London, Paris, Istanbul and Rome, with 5.5 million international visitors in 2011. By 2015, both Prague and Milan had more international visitors. With its popular tree-lined pedestrian street, Les Rambles (Las Ramblas), Barcelona is ranked the most popular city to visit in Spain.
After 32 years, on 22 May 2011, CiU gained a plurality of seats at the municipal election, gaining 15 seats to the PSC's 11. The PP hold 8 seats, ICV 5 and ERC 2.
Spanish is the most spoken language in Barcelona (according to the linguistic census held by the Government of Catalonia in 2013) and it is understood almost universally. Catalan is also very commonly spoken in the city: it is understood by 95% of the population, while 72.3% can speak it, 79% can read it, and 53% can write it. Knowledge of Catalan has increased significantly in recent decades thanks to a language immersion educational system.
The Barcelona harbour is the leading European cruiser port and a very important Mediterranean turnaround base. In 2013, 3.6 million pleasure cruise passengers used the Port of Barcelona.
The FC Barcelona Museum is the third most popular tourist attraction in Catalonia, with 1,51 million visitors in 2013.
The Port of Barcelona has a 2000-year-old history and a great contemporary commercial importance. It is Europe's ninth largest container port, with a trade volume of 1.72 million TEU's in 2013. The port is managed by the Port Authority of Barcelona. Its 10 km (4 sq mi) are divided into three zones: Port Vell (the old port), the commercial port and the logistics port (Barcelona Free Port). The port is undergoing an enlargement that will double its size thanks to diverting the mouth of the Llobregat river 2 km (1 mi) to the south.
The province has the largest Muslim community in Spain, 322,698 people in Barcelona province are of Muslim religion. A considerable number of Muslims live in Barcelona due to immigration (169 locations, mostly professed by Moroccans in Spain). In 2014, 322,698 out of 5.5 million people in the province of Barcelona identified themselves as Muslim, which makes 5.6% of the total population.
Barcelona was the 24th most "livable city" in the world in 2015 according to lifestyle magazine Monocle. Similarly, according to Innovation Analysts 2thinknow, Barcelona occupies 13th place in the world on Innovation Cities™ Global Index. At the same time it is according to the Global Wealth and Lifestyle Report 2020 one of the most affordable cities in the world for a luxury lifestyle.
From 2009, The Brandery, an urban fashion show, was held in Barcelona twice a year until 2012. According to the Global Language Monitor's annual ranking of the world's top fifty fashion capitals Barcelona was named as the seventh most important fashion capital of the world right after Milan and before Berlin in 2015.
Due to its large influx of tourists each year, Barcelona, like many other tourism capitals, has to deal with pickpockets, with wallets and passports being commonly stolen items. Despite its moderate pickpocket rate, Barcelona is considered one of the safest cities in terms of security and personal safety, mainly because of a sophisticated policing strategy that has dropped crime by 32% in just over three years and has led it to be considered the 15th safest city in the world by Business Insider in 2016.
In 2016, about 59% of the inhabitants of the city were born in Catalonia and 18.5% coming from the rest of the country. In addition to that, 22.5% of the population was born outside of Spain, a proportion which has more than doubled since 2001 and more than quintupled since 1996 when it was 8.6% respectively 3.9%.
A May 2017 article in the British online daily The Independent included Barcelona among the "Eight Places That Hate Tourists the Most" and included a comment from Mayor Ada Colau, "We don't want the city to become a cheap souvenir shop", citing Venice as an example. To moderate the problem, the city has stopped issuing licenses for new hotels and holiday apartments; it also fined AirBnb €30,000. The mayor has suggested introducing a new tourist tax and setting a limit on the number of visitors. One industry insider, Justin Francis, founder of the Responsible Travel agency, stated that steps must be taken to limit the number of visitors that are causing an "overtourism crisis" in several major European cities. "Ultimately, residents must be prioritised over tourists for housing, infrastructure and access to services because they have a long-term stake in the city's success", he said. "Managing tourism more responsibly can help", Francis later told a journalist, "but some destinations may just have too many tourists, and Barcelona may be a case of that".
In July 2023, Barcelona was announced as the UNESCO-UIA World Capital of Architecture for the 2024–2026 term. This means it will be the hub for discussion around global challenges including culture, heritage, urban planning and architecture. In addition to being the capital through 2026, it will also host the UIA World Congress of Architects for that year. The honor is befitting of Barcelona, as its history is peppered with architectural achievement and various iconic styles and influences. From its ancient Roman roots, to the Gothic and Modernisme movements, Barcelona has thrived through the way it ties together architecture and culture.