AH/HS 251 - Barcelona: The Cosmopolitan City

Today, Barcelona is a cosmopolitan city and a global leader, boasting such labels as the "coolest city in Europe," the "Paris of the Mediterranean," or the "City of Marvels." Its architectural landscape features one of the best preserved "Gothic Centres" in Europe, gems from the fin-de-siècle modernist movement, and the recent creations of international star architects, including Frank Geary, Jean Nouevel, and Arata Izozaki. It has hosted two world fairs, the 1992 Summer Olympics, and the 2004 Forum of World Cultures. It is now home to the largest conference on the planet, the Mobile World Congress, which currently generates 500 million dollars of annual income and attracts distinguished guests such as Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg. The Sagrada Familia of Antoni Gaudí, the primary-color paintings and sculptures of Joan Miró, and the canvasses of Pablo Picasso remain the iconic images associated with the city around the globe. 


All the same, the history of Barcelona does not consist of a triumphal march toward contemporary success. Behind this glossy façade is a gritty city that experienced periods of rise and decline, beginning with rather humble origins as a small Roman village in 10 BC. During the medieval period, it grew into a political and ceremonial capital of a powerful empire extending throughout the western Mediterranean. It later became absorbed into Imperial Spain and entered a prolonged period of population stagnation and socio-economic reorientation. The resurgence of the city began in the industrial period when the coming of modern factories turned it into one of the most dynamic cities in the Mediterranean. The coming of working-class violence and anarchism -- paired with police and army repression -- earned it the reputation of the "city of bombs." Repression returned under the dictatorship of Francisco Franco (1939-1975) who prohibited residents from speaking their native language, Catalan, in public. Its population changed dramatically in the twentieth and twenty-first century with the arrival of Spanish-speaking immigrants from Spain and Latin America, and most recently from Asian and African countries, particularly China, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Morocco. Today, Barcelona consists of a complex human, linguistic and physical map of peoples, languages, and buildings representative of distinct periods and places.   As a result of the financial crisis of 2008, the secessionist movement in Catalonia, the pandemic and the current global recession Barcelona is experiencing unprecedented challenges that we will discuss in class.


This course provides an introduction to Barcelona by studying its past and analysing its present. It will focus on how seminal historical events have transformed the urban plan, the built environment, and its international image, and discuss how Catalan and Mediterranean identities become expressed and embedded in art, architecture, and tradition. It will employ an interdisciplinary methodology by complementing readings in history and art history with those of literature, urban geography, and film and cultural studies. 

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Art History

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