Catapulted into the world's consciousness by the 1992 Olympic Games, Barcelona enjoyed a decade of remarkable prosperity and progress in the nineties finally emerging from the Franco years to become a bustling hub of commerce and one of Europe's most fashionable tourist destinations. Barring an unlikely legend claiming Hercules founded the city in the time when hydras stilled slithered across the earth, Barcelona is thought to have been founded around 15BC by the Romans.
An town of relative unimportance, the Barcelona rose in prominence when Louis the Pious (Charlemagne's son) made the city a bastion of the Marca Hispanica, which was the southern buffer of his father's empire. Later the Counts of Barcelona made the city the capital of an independent state, and their line ruled until 1410 representing a golden age in Barcelona and Catalan history.
In the 1460s war, revolt and terrible famine decimated the capital's population to such an extent that it took four centuries to recover. Meanwhile Fernando of Aragon and Isabella of Castile married, uniting two separate Spanish kingdoms - and leading to the decline of an independent Catalonia. Despite the odd riot and even large scale rebellion, the region has remained politically subjugated ever since, but nonetheless the previous two centuries have been relatively kind. Urban renewal and industrialisation modernised the city in the 19th Century culminating in the 1888 Universal Exhibition.
The Catalans sense of national identity was growing and at the turn of the century progressive Barcelona amazed the world its own take on art nouveau - led by Gaudi and Montaner the Modernista movement has come to encapsulate the city's creative and colourful flair. Along with the rest of Spain, Barcelona sat out WWI but there was no hiding from the storm that followed - the Catalan capital found itself in the centre of Spain's grisly Civil War. When Franco emerged as the nation's fascist dictator things got worse for the whole of Catalonia with Catalan republicans and leftists executed in the thousands and Barcelona reduced to poverty.
When the General died in 1975 the city erupted in spontaneous celebration, and although their hangover was elongated by a painful transition to democracy things have rarely looked brighter for this forward-thinking city, which even if it doesn't have its own country is now the capital of its own autonomous state.
Population of Spain: 44.6 million
Major language: Spanish (Castilian), Catalan, Valencian, Gallego (Galician), Euskera (Basque)
Major religion: Christianity (Catholic) 94%
Life expectancy: 78 years (men), 84 years (women)
Monetary unit: 1 euro = 100 cents
Main industries: Textiles and apparel, transport equipment, agricultural products, pharmaceuticals, tourism
GNI per capita: US $29,450
Internet domain: .es (.cat for Catalonia)
International dialing code: +34