Catalonia is a small country straddling the eastern end of the Pyrenees and stretching down the Mediterranean coast from around Perpinyà (Perpignan in French) to just below the Ebro delta. By force of arms, slightly less than nine tenths of it belongs to Spain and the rest to France. Because of this state of permanent occupation it's euphemistically referred to as a stateless nation. Thousands of people visit it every year without even realising it exists.
Like the Basque Country at the other end of the Pyrenees, it has to carry on a constant struggle to keep its head above the rising waters of globalisation, while the modern-day states of France and Spain do their best to push it under.
It began life as the Marca Hispanica, or Spanish March, established at the end of the eighth century by Charlemagne as a buffer zone, dotted with castles (hence, probably, the name), to protect Christendom from the Moors. At that time, the rule of Islam spanned three continents and stretched all the way from Baghdad to Barcelona. Later on, this sort of human shield took on an identity of its own and, like Frankenstein's monstrous creation, it got up and began to look around it.
Catalonia is shaped roughly like an equilateral triangle. One side is formed by the Pyrenees, running across the top, and another by the Mediterranean coast, running diagonally from top right to bottom left. The third side forms the border with Aragon, a border which is blurred by the overlapping of languages and by a shared past as the Crown of Catalonia and Aragon. Most of Catalonia's built-up areas, population and wealth are concentrated on or near the Mediterranean coast, largely in a strip little more than a mile wide. This strip includes the capital, Barcelona, which is well-known for its football club, the Picasso museum and other cultural offerings (hen and stag parties, in particular), not necessarily in that order.
After Barcelona fell to Spanish forces under Philip V on 11 September 1714 and Catalonia lost its independence, the only way the city could be kept subdued was by building an enormous fortress and maintaining a constant military alert. General Moragues, who had led the defence of the city, was executed and his head hung at the city gate for twelve years as a warning to others. In response to losing their independence, and to spite the Bourbon king and his descendants for ever more, the Catalans have made 11 September their national holiday.
In recent years, talk of independence has been on everybody's lips. Some people are in favour for patriotic reasons; others are against it for patriotic reasons. Some are in favour for economic reasons; some are against it for economic reasons. There are rational and irrational arguments for and against Catalan independence, but most of them are irrelevant. The fact is that Catalonia needs to become independent, as otherwise it will cease to exist.