BBC – Catalonia profile

Proud of its own identity and language, Catalonia is Spain’s richest and most highly industrialised region, but also one of the most independent-minded.

With a distinct history stretching back to the early middle ages, many Catalans think of themselves as a separate nation from the rest of Spain.

This feeling is fed by memories of the Franco dictatorship, which attempted to suppress Catalan identity, and is nowhere more clearly expressed than in the fierce rivalry between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, Spain’s top football clubs.

A roughly triangular region into Spain’s far north-east corner, Catalonia is separated by the Pyrenean mountains from southern France, with which it has close historical ties.

Most of the region’s population lives in Barcelona, its vibrant political and economic hub and a popular European travel destination.

Holiday-makers also flock to the Mediterranean beaches of the Costa Brava and Costa Daurada/Dorada, and the Pyrenees are popular with hikers, making tourism an important part of Catalonia’s economy.

At a glance

  • Politics: Catalonia’s leader is pushing for a referendum on self-determination; polls show half of Catalans want to break away from Spain. Spain is divided into 17 autonomous communities, with separatist desires strongest in Catalonia and the Basque country
  • Culture: Catalonia’s laws require teachers, doctors and public sector workers to use Catalan, an official language along with Spanish
  • Economy: Catalonia is Spain’s wealthiest but most indebted region. Harsh austerity measures have boosted separatist sentiment

Read @ BBC News