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The Catalan Flag Explained

The Catalan flag, known as the ‘senyera‘, is recognizable by its four red stripes on a yellow background. If you pay close attention during a walk in Barcelona, you will quickly notice that the senyera is omnipresent on the streets and hangs on many balconies. This is naturally related to the separatist movement that has been gaining momentum in recent years. But what does this flag symbolize and why is it so important to Catalans, I will tell you more about that here.

The Origin of the Catalan Flag

The senyera is the flag of the Crown of Aragon, and now that of the autonomous region of Catalonia. Naturally, there are various theories and stories about its origin. According to the most famous legend, this flag is attributed to Guifré el Pelós (‘Wilfred the Hairy’), Count of Barcelona in the 9th century and for many the founder of the Catalan nation.

This happened after a battle against the Moors, who launched an attack on Catalan territory. Guifré was mortally wounded in the process. The French King Charles the Bald, as a sign of gratitude, gave a dying Guifré a shield for his lineage and drew with Guifré’s blood on his fingers four stripes on the golden shield.

This became the coat of arms of Barcelona and the symbol of the new conquered sovereignty, which over the years would become the Catalan flag.

The four stripes of the blood of Guifré el Pelós
The four stripes of the blood of Guifré el Pelós

However, according to historians, this is actually a fictional story created by Pedro Antón Beuter in the 16th century, which was later romanticized and considered ‘real’ by many Catalans.

They date the origin of the Catalan flag to 1150, the year of the first documented evidence of the golden shield with four red stripes.

This was a seal depicting Ramón Berenguer IV (Count of Barcelona in the 12th century) on horseback with a shield in his left hand containing various heraldic stripes.

The vertical red stripes on gold became the emblem of all the Counts of Barcelona. Later, as the shield was transformed into the fabric of the flag, the vertical stripes became horizontal.

A Protest Flag

In 1880, Catalan nationalist voices adopted the senyera as a symbol of reclamation, but during the reign of Francisco Franco (1939-1975), the Catalan flag was banned.

When Catalonia regained autonomy in 1979, the senyera was re-adopted as the official flag of Catalonia.

However, according to historians, this is actually a fictional story created by Pedro Antón Beuter in the 16th century, which was later romanticized and considered ‘real’ by many Catalans.

They date the origin of the Catalan flag to 1150, the year of the first documented evidence of the golden shield with four red stripes.

This was a seal depicting Ramón Berenguer IV (Count of Barcelona in the 12th century) on horseback with a shield in his left hand containing various heraldic stripes.

The vertical red stripes on gold became the emblem of all the Counts of Barcelona. Later, as the shield was transformed into the fabric of the flag, the vertical stripes became horizontal.

In 1880, Catalan nationalist voices adopted the senyera as a symbol of reclamation, but during the reign of Francisco Franco (1939-1975), the Catalan flag was banned.

When Catalonia regained autonomy in 1979, the senyera was re-adopted as the official flag of Catalonia.

La senyera, the symbol of Catalan identity
La senyera, the symbol of Catalan identity

The Estelada, the Symbol of Catalan Independence

In recent years, a new version of the Catalan flag has been disseminated, featuring a white five-pointed star (‘estel’) in a blue triangle. This is the so-called ‘estelada’. Its origin dates back to the first half of the 20th century when Vicenç Albert Ballester designed the definitive version of the estelada with the star of independence.

Estelada - Catalan Independence Flag
Estelada – Catalan Independence Flag

The first public display of the estelada was in 1918. During the turbulent 1930s, it was flown in various municipalities.

During the Civil War, it was the symbol of the paramilitary militia Macià-Companys. Thus, the senyera consolidated itself as the most important symbol of the desire for independence and was claimed by various ultra-leftist separatist groups such as the ERC.

Today, there are also new versions of the estelada. The most commonly used is where the blue triangle is replaced by the same yellow as the rest of the flag, and the star is painted red.

This version is associated with the most leftist wing of the independence movement. In fact, you can distinguish the following three levels of Catalanismo by their flag: the senyera for those who love Catalonia (and often they are also for independence), the estelada with a blue triangle for those who are for independence, and the yellow triangle for the most leftist separatists.

The Catalan Flag Then and Now

Although until recently the presence of the Catalan flag in the streets was limited to holidays such as the National Day of Catalonia (September 11) and during Sant Jordi (April 23), nowadays, Catalans hang their senyera or estelada on their balconies to show that they stand for an independent Catalonia.

Interestingly, occasionally in the same building, another neighbor who chooses the other side proudly hangs their Spanish flag (which has three stripes, red-yellow-red).

You can imagine the atmosphere when they meet each other in the elevator!

Not surprisingly, the Catalan flag (especially the estelada) is often viewed with suspicion outside Catalonia and sometimes even banned.

A cultural and territorial struggle that seems unable to be resolved.

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Hello! My name is Marta, and I am a born and raised Barcelonian. I love introducing people to Barcelona, especially the Barcelona known to locals. In Barcelona, I am always looking for fun places and tips that I can then share with you, with the goal of helping you experience Barcelona like a local.

Marta Rubio

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