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  • Writer's pictureSonia Cuesta Maniar, PhD

A Brief History of the Museu d'Història de Catalunya

What is the Museu d'Història de Catalunya?

Museu d'Història de Catalunya, or The Museum of Catalan History in English, is a museum documenting the history and culture of Catalonia that is housed in a late 19th-century brick warehouse that originally stored goods arriving in the city.

Museu d'Història de Catalunya

Enfo, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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Museu d'Història de Catalunya History

The Museum of Catalan History is located within the enormous Palau de Mar, a late 19th-century port warehouse. In the early 1990s, the building was remodelled to house government offices, restaurants, and this museum (which opened in 1996). During the Francoist dictatorship of the mid-20th century, the Catalan language and regional identity were suppressed. The Museu d’Història de Catalunya was founded with the express aim of making Catalan history and culture more accessible to both national and international visitors. The museum aims to honour the region's past which has, for far too long, been forgotten. Since 1997, the Palau de Mar has also housed Catalonia's Centre of Contemporary History, which is dedicated to the full-time study, recovery and dissemination of 20th-century Catalan history.

The museum’s rooms give a chronological account of life in Catalonia from prehistoric times to the present day. They tell stories of Ancient Roman settlement, the era of great mercantile triumph in the Early Modern period, the 19th-century industrialisation of Catalonia, and the region’s painful decline after the Spanish Civil War. Notably, the 20th-century sections entitled ‘The Electric Years’ and ‘Defeat and Recovery’ are filled with educational exhibits supported by well-chosen collections of images and objects from the time. These are displayed to recreate scenes from daily life during the Civil War and Franco’s dictatorship. Given the wealth of the collection, a walk through the museum is a real journey through time.

The museum’s restaurant will also contribute to your immersion in Catalan culture and society. The 1881 Restaurant (named after the year in which the building was designed) is located on the 4th floor, and honours the region's link with the sea. For many years, it has maintained a contract with the Barcelona Fishermen’s Association, guaranteeing a daily supply of fresh fish, just as the region’s restaurants have done for centuries.

There’s no better way to end a tour of Catalonia's past and present than by heading to the 4th-floor roof terrace overlooking Port Vell, with Montjuïc Hill in the distance. These views, loved by locals and tourists alike, are the best way to take in this historic Catalan city.

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