16 September 2009

Fervent Catalonian Pride

Elsewhere in the world, the date 9/11 conjures up images of collapsing tall buildings and death. In Catalonia/Catalunya/Cataluña*, 11/9 is La Diada Nacional de Catalonia - the National Day of Catalonia, a public holiday and a memorial to another deadly September 11, almost 3 centuries ago.

In 1714 on this day, the Siege of Barcelona was lost by the home side during the War of the Spanish Succession. The laws and rights to the region held by the Crowns of Catalonia and Aragón were abolished by the Bourbon monarchy, and Catalonia was pulled kicking and screaming to be under Spanish rule. To this day, it's not to everyone's liking! Catalonia uses National Day to commemorate their history and fallen heroes - and to voice their dissent to the powerhouse based in Madrid.

I was excited, as it was to be the first national day that I will experience in this region. With J away in Berlin, I made my way to the Parc de la Ciutadella where the official ceremony was to take place. I was handed a progamme for the event, and at all the gates, there were large maps and the event programme printed on canvas for all to see.

Click on the images to enlarge them

Sign_BoardLarge maps and the event programme stationed at the gates

ProgrammeIf people arrived early enough, (like me!), they scored one of the official programmes

The ceremonial area filled up quickly as seats were grabbed by those who arrived earlier than those who had to stand. Although I could have grabbed a seat, I elected to stand, as I thought that this would give me the freedom to move around and grab photos from different locations. This notion was quickly scotched by the 100 deep crowd that formed behind my position on the barrier located behind the VIP seating, and which effectively fenced me in on all sides. Oh well, I have learned better for next year!

Just after 11:30am, the dignitaries and invited guests took their seats on stage, accompanied by 3 members of Mossos d'Esquadra (English equivalent would be Troopers, although literal translation would be "Squad Lads") who are standing at the rear in their full dress uniform.

VIPsVIPs and dignitaries onstage. At the front in the white hat is actress Montserrat Carulla, who compered the event

The Mossos d'Esquadra has a long history beginning in the 1700s. Today, they are a civilian force and have replaced Spain's Policia Nacional and Guardia Civil within Catalonia, as well as assuming full responsibility within Barcelona. (I think that I'll have to do a separate blog post on the Mossos, as it's an interesting story.) The official Mossos d'Esquadra ceremonial troop marched in, and stood under the bare flagpole.

Mossos_DEsquadraA representation of Mossos D'Esquadra

Their chief received the folded Catalonian flag from the President of the Catalonia Generalitat, José Montilla Aguilera.

Accepting_La_SenyeraThe Mossos chief carries the folded flag

The flag (La Senyera) was raised, and managed to flutter a couple of times in the small breeze which came through to cool us as we watched under the hot sun.

La_SenyeraLa Senyera - the 4 red stripes represent 4 Spanish autonomous communities: Catalonia, Aragón, the Balearic Islands and Valencia

The official ceremony was a mix of songs, dances, poems and readings performed by a variety of artists. Controversially, an Israeli singer, Noa (real name Achinoam Nini) was asked to sing. When she appeared on stage, accompanied by the Arab Orchestra of Barcelona, a large group of pro-Palestine demonstrators stood up, turned their backs to the stage and held up placards and keffiyehs.

ProtestorsThe protesters for Palestine with their backs to the stage

They received a very hostile reception from the rest of the crowd who stood to applaud Noa and the Arab Orchestra as they gave a powerful rendition of El Cant dels Ocells (Song of Birds). It appears that artists can find commonality in their craft which bridges any political differences that their countries might have.

Noa_ArabOrchestraBarcelonaNoa accompanied by the Arab Orchestra of Barcelona

The Arab Orchestra left the stage, and Noa, together with her partner and guitarist Gil Dor remained. She first spoke in Catalan and then sang a song, also translated into Catalan called Beautiful that Way - and she did sing it beautifully.

Noa_GilDorNoa sings in Catalan accompanied by guitarist and partner, Gil Dor

There was a large press contingent to record the proceedings.

Press_PhotographersA bit of money tied up in that photographic gear - there wasn't a lens under 200mm!

Other artists included guitarist Peret and Llibert Fortuny, a brass ensemble.

PeretPeret at front left

Llibert_FortunyLlibert Fortuny

Once the ceremony was over, I walked across to Arc de Triomp where there was a large family festival area set up in the square between the arch and the Ciutadella Park. There were lots of challenging puzzles and games for the kids to do, live music and stalls set up which were selling Catalonian clothing and flags, as well as a few booths asking people to support the cause for an independent Catalonia - separate from the rest of Spain.

Arc_de_TriompFiesta at Arc de Triomp

A lot of people and buildings sported La Senyera (the official flag of Catalonia) as well as La Senyera Estelada which is a protest flag calling for Catalonia to be a separate nation. I have assembled a slideshow of some of these photos:

Walking away from the Arc de Triomp, I wandered through the Born neighbourhood and headed for the Santa Maria del Mar cathedral. On the way, I saw many posters promoting events and polls for voting Catalonia to be independent.

Protest_PostersLong live the revolution!

On the seaward side of the cathedral lies Fossar de les Moreres - a memorial square which lies atop a burial ground where Siege of Barcelona defenders are buried. There were lots of floral wreaths laid at the base of the monument, whose steel arch bears an eternal flame burning at the top.

Memorial01The memorial at Fossar de les Moreres, and on the wall behind it is inscribed a poem (titled Fossar de les Moreres) by Frederic Soler

The inscription on the arch is dedicated to those who fell in the battle.

Memorial02"To those who died defending the rights and constitutions of Catalonia in the Siege of Barcelona 1713-1714"

At Plaça de Sant Jaume is the Palau de la Generalitat which is the seat of the Catalan presidency and government.

GeneralitatPalau de la Generalitat

I had obviously missed a demonstration outside the building, as there was a crowd of people just dispersing, but it appeared as if everything had been peaceful. The door to the palace was heavily guarded with members of the Mossos d'Esquadra - not in ceremonial dress, but dressed for trouble. I have no doubt that these guys had formidable back-up in the numerous squad vans which were parked in the alleyways. These guys take no prisoners!

Mossos_at_GeneralitatThe Mossos - the Lads!

By now I had been out and about for almost 7 hours. My feet were aching, as well as my neck from the weight of my camera. I walked back to the nearest metro station to catch the train home, pausing to chuckle at the pigeons resting anywhere that they could on the old Roman city walls and to gaze at the Pastis de la Diada (Cakes of the Day) in a bakery window.

PigeonsPigeons nestle in the old city wall - it's worth clicking on the photo to see how many there are!

Pastis_De_La_DiadaPastis de la Diada - adorned with the Catalonian flag

I was pretty happy with my first National Catalonia Day. Next year, I want to go to some of the ceremonial places that I didn't get to this year.

*For my sake, as well as for everyone else who reads this blog, I'm now only going to refer to this region as Catalonia which is the Catalan name for it.


Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

What a pleasure it must be to live in a place with history and art and music. And on-going political stirrings too, so take care! I once planned to go to Spain but it didn't happen.
PS Having trouble with my Olympus camera. An error - camera won't open card 64 megabytes and shops here don't have these old cards! Might have to try ebay, but first need to borrow an old card as it could be the camera is at fault as the card works on the reader and computer.

nzm said...

It sure is! We love the culture and tradition that we're experiencing. The political scene doesn't often erupt into violent demonstrations, but you can be sure that we'll stay out of the way if they do. Hope that you get your camera fixed.