Barcelona, Spain, a city in Catalonia region and the capital of Barcelona province. After Madrid it is the most populous city in Spain. Barcelona lies in the northeast on the Mediterranean coast, some 315 miles (505 km) east-northeast of Madrid. It has long been the chief city of the Catalan people and a major center of manufacturing and commerce. Its port is one of the busiest on the Mediterranean Sea. Barcelona is also important for finance, publishing, and fishing. A major trade fair is held here each year. The city has a subway and an international airport.
Barcelona is prominent culturally. Among its institutions are the University of Barcelona, founded in 1450; numerous museums; and the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona's famous opera house. Museums include the Museum of Catalonian Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Maritime Museum, and the Picasso and Miró museums. Most of the city's major historical and cultural attractions are in the old, formerly walled section called the Gothic Quarter, and in the adjacent area known as Montjuich. Here, too, is La Rambla, probably Barcelona's most famous and attractive street. Catalonia Plaza, near the Gothic Quarter, is the heart of the city.
According to tradition, Barcelona was founded by Hamilcar Barca of Carthage in the third century B.C. It was then ruled successively by Romans, Visigoths, and Moors before falling to the Franks under Charlemagne in 801 A.D. Gradually the independent, counts of Barcelona emerged as the chief lords of Catalonia. After the union of Catalonia and Aragon in 1137 the city served as capital for a time and flourished as a port and commercial and banking center, rivaling Genoa and Venice.
Barcelona began declining in the late 1400's, mainly because of the closing of eastern trade by the Ottoman Turks and Seville's rise as Spain's chief port. In the 19th century, when growth resumed, Barcelona became a center of radical social and political movements, including Catalan separatism. It was made the capital of an autonomous Catalonia after the Spanish monarchy's fall in 1931 and served as a stronghold and a capital of the Loyalists during the Civil War (1936-39). Disastrous flooding occurred in 1962. Barcelona was the site of the 1992 Summer Olympic Games.