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Catalonia (Spain)

Catalunya, Cataluña

Last modified: 2000-01-14 by santiago dotor
Keywords: catalonia | catalunya | cataluña | spain | españa | senyera | star | estelada | puigcerdà | protocol |
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[Catalonia (Spain)]
by Jorge Candeias

See also:

Name and Origins

The Catalonian flag is called the Senyera (banner). Note also that the Catalonian hymn deals with the same thing.

Pascal Vagnat, 28 November 1995

It is sometimes incorrectly said that senyera ultimately comes from the Spanish words sangre y oro (blood and gold). This is wrong. Catalan is not Spanish (it is much more similar to a Portuguese-French mix, the phonetic and grammatical structures are clearly comparable to those of French and Italian, and the Latin origin is stronger than the Latin-Arabic influences in Spanish). The Catalan words for "blood and gold" in Catalan are sang i or. The translation of the word senyera into English is "indicative" (señalizador, in Spanish), since senyal can be translated as "sign". It is also related to seny; this word is hardly translatable into Spanish or English, but the most accepted meaning of it is "cocktail of common sense, wisdom and prudence" and comes from the expression Seny i Rauxa (rauxa could be explained somehow as "lack of seny") that describes the two opposed poles of Catalan personality. The confusion arises from the use of the same colours as in the Spanish flag, where they have been said to represent the so-said "prosperity" of Spain when the flag was first created, and the blood of those who fell defending it. The red colour of the Catalan Flag is also blood, Ramon Berenguer's blood, but on the gold color of the Catalan war board.

Jordi Pastalle

An illuminated manuscript is said to repose in the Biblioteca Nacional at Madrid. It is reputed to have been writen by an unmamed Franciscian frair (born in 1305) around 1350. It was edited by the Spanish scholar Marcos Jimenez de la España around 1877 with the aid of Don Francisco Coello, the eminent geographer. It was published in English, along with the flags by the Hakluyt Society before World War I. National Geographic 1917 quotes it thus:

There is a picturesque legend concerning the adoption of this device. Far back in history, an heiress of Aragón married the Count of Barcelona, and the gold shield of the latter was adopted by the kingdom. After a battle, however, Ramón Berenguer, Count of Barcelona, wiped his bloody fingers down the shield and thereafter it became "or with five pales gules" - gold with five red stripes.
The Flag Bulletin of Dr. Smith's Flag Research Center #xv111:5 of September-October 1979 shows 16th century flags of Aragón with the number of stripes varying from 3 to 8.

William M. Grimes-Wyatt, 15 December 1995

The stripes of gules (red) on gold are not five, as William M. Grimes-Wyatt says, but four, since the traditional Catalan salutation was four fingers spread (separated from each other) high, with the thumb folded on the palm.

Jordi Pastalle

Confusion arises from the use of the same colours as in the Spanish flag. Though I cannot document it, I was told in Spain that the Catalan flag (created in the tenth century AD) was the inspiration for the Spanish flag, which wasn't created until the 18th or 19th century. The reasoning was red and yellow could be easily seen when flying from the mast of a ship (until then there was no flag but a banner of the royal family). I believe National Geographic 1917 was in error. The gentleman who proudly wiped his blood across the yellow board was Guifre el Pilos, or in English, Wilfred the Hairy. He is considered in many ways the founder of Catalonia (or at least uniter of the provinces under one name) and also happens to be an ancestor of mine.

Chad Nielsen, 20 July 1998

Flag Variants

Strangely, while all of the Catalan flags that I saw [during a recent vacation in Barcelona] had horizontal stripes, I noticed that some of the bureaux de change had signs with a drawing of the Spanish flag next to Cambio, the French flag next to Change, the Union Jack next to Exchange, but with a drawing of the Roussillon flag [as the Catalan, with vertical stripes] next to Canvi. Others had the normal Catalan flag. I'd certainly be interested in hearing this anomaly explained...

Vincent Morley, 9 October 1999

This may have a partially heraldical explanation. The Catalan flag is more or less a banner-of-arms, "more or less" because the bars would have to be vertical (ie. pallets) for it to be a definite one. Maybe at a certain point in history the Catalan flag was displayed in a vertical manner, thus being a "correct" banner-of-arms. Perhaps later the method of display changed (but the flag itself didn't) and the pallets became bars. A later re-bannerisation (what a word!) of the arms would produce a flag with vertical pallets instead of horizontal bars. This also might have happened with Luzern and Ticino. In any case, this would be an explanation of the Catalan vs. Roussillon differences. If a bureaux de change uses a wrong flag, I wouldn't call that a vexillological anomaly but vexillological ignorance.

Santiago Dotor, 14 October 1999

History of the Catalan bars (pallets)

The coffins of the Counts Berenguer Ramon I (died 1035), Ramon Berenguer I el Vell (died 1076) and Berenguer Ramon II Cap d'Estopes (died 1082) are decorated with red and yellow vertical bars [pallets]. Also that of Princess Ermessenda of Carcasonne (died 1058). The date of pictures [showing pallets] are contested, but they are at least from 1150. According to Gabriel Alomar, the pallets seems to be of Carcasonne origin: the house of Barcelona's Counts has origin in Carcasonne through the grandfather of Count Guifré el Bellos (died c. 812) and probably became popular after the wedding of Count Ramon Berenguer I with Carcasonne's princess Ermessenda. I agree with this opinion because most documentation on the subject was written before the Carcasonnese origin of Guifré was known. Several details of the complicated history of the counts in the IX-X century (see Abadal, Els primers comtes [The first Counts]) can help to sustain this opinion.

The first uncontested appearance of the Catalan pallets (in stone) is dated c. 1112. This makes it one of the oldest symbols in flags -if not the most-, other old symbols being:

  • Occitany: the Toulouse Cross is dated 1088, but uncontested after 1241
  • Scotland: legendary dated 736, but uncontested after 1286
  • Portugal: 1133
  • Austria: 1191
  • Denmark: 1219
  • England: 1249
  • Britanny: before 1250
  • Mallorca: first written documented adoption of a flag 1312 Armand de Fluvia devoted his book Els quatre pals, l'escut dels comtes de Barcelona [The four pallets, Arms of the Counts of Barcelona] to demonstrate that the four pallets originated in Catalonia and were exported to Aragon. He quoted all the possible origins of the pallets. In the non-stone seals the pallets are first dated in the one of Ramon Berenguer IV (count from 1131) and also in his seal as Governor of Provence (1155-57). Count Ramon Berenguer IV became king of Aragon 1137. Before 1195 are constated at least 7 banners with yellow and red pallets. Any of the non-Catalan Aragonese "kings" before 1137 (when the counts of Barcelona acquired Aragon) had a known seal with pallets. Most opinions about an Aragonese origin of the pallets are modern (from the Franco era).

    Jaume Ollé, 14 February 1999

    The Kingdom of Aragon after 1137

    The County of Barcelona (Catalonia) had the 4-stripes on gold as coat-of-arms almost from the beginning of its history. Its flag is an adaptation of the coat-of-arms. Then Catalonia and Aragon "merged", or better, shared the same ruler for a long time. That ruler was King of Aragon, Count of Barcelona, then King of Mallorca, of Valencia, of Sicily and so on. I guess the flag appeared much later. Today in Spain the 4 stripes of the Catalan coat-of-arms, arranged horizontally on flags, appear alone on the Catalan Autonomous Community flag, and with additional objects on other 3 areas: Aragon (centered coat-of-arms), Balearic Islands (castle in the canton), Valencia (blue part on the hoist). The term "crown of Aragon" just groups the lands under that unique ruler.

    Joan-Francés Blanc, 11 February 1999

    Aragon was only one of the kingdoms of the Catalan crown, the one with the best-known name, but politically and economically insignifiant. The Count of Barcelona acquired the Kingdom of Aragon after he married the Aragonese crown princess in 1137. Thereafter the kings of Aragon never lived in Zaragoza, but in Barcelona. The archives of the crown were in Barcelona, the palace, the army, the treasure, etc. Only after 1516 the kings were out of Barcelona. King Ferdinand the Catholic lived his last years (1512-16) in Barcelona, married with Germana de Foix. The flag of Catalonia was "exported" to Aragon 1111.

    Jaume Ollé, 14 February 1999

    Generalitat de Catalunya

    Spanish Republic 1931-1939

    [Catalonia (1931-1939)]
    by Jorge Candeias

    I saw in an encyclopedia a flag where the blue triangle of the estelada was replaced by a blue rectangle with always a white star on it. It was said that this flag was the one of the Generalitat of Catalunya under the 1930s Spanish Republic.

    Pascal Vagnat, 6 December 1995

    Catalan UFE

    [Catalan UFE]
    by Jorge Candeias

    Thomas Robinson wrote, "On an internet site I visited, based in Spain, (...) Catalan [language was represented with] a vertically-divided tricolour white-yellow-red (...)".

    Jorge Candeias, 21 May 1999

    Other reported flags

    Puigcerdà town (Girona province) flag and coat-of-arms, with information (in Catalan). A bigger image of the flag here.

    Dov Gutterman, 14 June 1999