Works of Gaudí as a Uniting Cultural and Political Symbol for Separatist Movement of Catalonia
Heritage Tourism and Separatism: Works of Gaudí as Diplomatic Tool and Uniting Cultural and Political Symbol for Separatist Political Movement of Catalonia
Architecture functioned as a cultural heritage asset that is constructed to communicate and represent a certain local culture. It is often romanticised, curated, and packaged under the blanket of “tourism” to broadcast the message of national pride and identity to a broader audience. The inscription of World Heritage List status to an architecturally remarkable building such as Works of Antoni Gaudí in 1984 is argued to be politically narrated to be a distinctive cultural work of the Catalan-born creative as part of a broader Catalan nation-building project. His inspiration from Catalonian landscape and culture along with hints of Catalan’s cultural identity in his design such as dragon, which put in reference to Saint George, patron of Catalonia, made him as a cultural symbol for Catalan people.  Moreover, tourism and Catalan nationalist movement have formed a mutual construction in the production of Catalan distinctiveness, which in return benefit in the interpretation of Catalan national identity among tourists.
Accordingly, this essay will start by examining the idea of romantic nationalism within the framework of the creation of culture and its effect to the construction of national identity within a particular social group. Architecture style, in particular, is a product and representation of a culture. In contrast, its distinctness also often borrowed by a political group as a symbol to promote their political agenda. Second, a very brief history of separatism in Catalonia and its relation to culture will be put into discourse to frame the foundation of this essay. Third, values of “Works of Gaudí” in the World Heritage List will be evaluated in relation to his political view which brought him to be the leading figure of Catalan modernisme. Fourth, the romanticisation of the works of Gaudí will be analysed with reference to his architecture being monumentalised as a symbol of pride for Catalan people. Moreover, the discussion will also touch upon the massive tourism effort of Gaudí’s architecture as one of Barcelona’s main selling point and how it is used as a political diplomatic tool.
Architecture within the Romantic Nationalism and Shared Identity
Romantic nationalist movement that emerged in the late eighteenth century has contributed significantly to the creation of cultural heritage, which in this case, rooted from the idea of shared identity and national myth. Folklore, as an idealised collection of tales, acts as a medium to develop self-determination that overcomes the absence of identity in the community. Hroch argued that the crisis of identity is originated from the need for self-expression through means of tangible representation.  Architecture as a tangible physical representation, therefore, could work to answer the need of shared romantics and national consciousness ideals, which in turn produced in the nationalisation of architecture.
Identity without a doubt is important to create the sense of identification that connects individual with a particular group which share the same belief. Through idealisation of the glorified past, a nation can find the sense of security and stability. Moreover, an individual would find the connection with the previous generation that resulted in creating the sense of collective identity and shared principles within a particular community by sharing a common heroic tale of national suffering in the distant past. This consequently has an effect towards heritage architecture that shares the similar heroic tale, which as an artefact and tangible mean, it is a product of the culturally expressive activity that able to reflect the society’s goals that are defined in their both cultural values and norms. Therefore, architecture as a shared symbolic experience is a product of culture that is able to maintain for itself as long as the people who maintain it conceive them as part of themselves. Overall, it may be said that the socio-psychological factor is important in the process of romanticising a heritage building which it connects to the feeling of people.
Shared identity and romanticisation of the past is important to create national consciousness. The creation of national myths is frequently utilised to reinforce national identity by incorporating history into the folklore narrative. Architecture from the past as a primary tangible proof within the historical dimension is often employed to fit certain national movement narrative and seen as an objective “existing institutional remnants of the past”. At the same time, architecture is also frequently included in the making of national myth as a representation of the collective memory. Architecture, as a semiotic, could also potentially be used to signify mutual language that reflects the culture of a community. The importance of language in unifying a heterogeneous community is evident in many countries. Forms of art that use language as their main primary constructing form, such as poetry, literature, national anthem, etc., when played together with people unknown to each other, give the sense of resonance and shared experience that could connect different individuals into a unified entity. Architecture, nevertheless, has functioned as a cultural heritage asset that is constructed to unify, communicate, and represent a local culture.
According to Hroch, there are three historical phases that explain the creation of national movements. The first phase was the period of Enlightenment when people started to crave to understand and learn their own culture, past, customs, etc. This phase formulated the basic understanding of a nation and social norms. In the nineteenth century, the emotional factor started to delve into the idea of a nation. This second phase signifies the entry of emotional relationship to the scholar thinking which happened to be one of the main drivers of the research. In the third phase, the idea of nationalism is taken by a group of actors that saw “national identity as the most natural response” to the crisis of identity. A nation is promised to provide basic security which turns into protection and stability, which in turn, national identity should be sought as a symbol of pride. The utopian vision of forming a nation shares a common goal between people that are suffering, and this insecurity is often sold as a rhetoric vision of a leading political actor of the national movement. However, the over romanticisation of architectural heritage and identity is being overridden by pragmatic agenda-led cultural narratives to promote certain political and ideological motives. Place is often used to manifest the creation of mutual belonging in the process of nation-building, and heritage is subsequently used as the medium to deliver this narrative story. It is in many times beautifully curated and packaged under the blanket of “tourism” to broadcast the message of national pride and identity which will be discussed later.
A Brief History of Catalan Separatism
The history of Catalonia can be briefly divided into three main periods: the Middle Ages, the Spanish domination, and the Modern Age. The Middle Age (thirteenth to fifteenth century) is argued to be the peak of Catalonia where through conquest and dynastic union, its dominance and advancement in cultural, court and constitutional system, military, and trading power established the fundamental chronicle of the modern-day Catalonian folklore of its glorified past. The demographic and economic decline of Catalonia, along with plague and civil war, brought the fall of Barcelona into Spain on 11 September 1714. Since then, the lost from the Spanish Succession War remains to be the landmark for Catalan nationalists and commemorated as the Catalan National Day, or La Diada. After the 11 September loss, under the Decree of Nueva Planta, all Catalan cultural and political rights were abolished and instead, absolute Castillan laws were imposed. In the eighteenth century, international trade restriction was abolished and it marked the beginning of Catalonia’s economic prosperity and the rise of Catalan’s bourgeoisie that was mainly based on industrialisation. This was followed by the Catalan Renaixença movement that began to idealise the Catalan former glory in the search and revitalisation of Catalan national identity. 
The glory of Catalan’s medieval heyday inspired Catalan people to romanticise it and thus shaped their endeavour in constructing a distinct Catalan identity. Barcelona’s branding of a medieval city is evident in their effort in preserving medievalist gimmicks through the creation of medieval experience, mainly in the main tourist hotspots such as Gothic Quarter. Through building constructions and restorations, architects were able to rebrand the face of Barcelona to fit the medieval narrative that they build. The pursuit of “the Catalan difference” was also motivated politically to obtain cultural independence and distinctiveness to claim legitimacy of the Regional Government. In addition, it is fascinating to learn that the process of preserving Catalan culture is being done collectively through the shared belief and identity and resulted in their ability to integrate their traditional norms and values as part of their popular culture. Finally, Guibernau argued that the realm of nationalism of the Catalan people yielded around five major clusters: language, culture, history, territory, and art. The romanticising of these clusters evokes emotions of Catalan people, which in turn, is effective to recount the shaping of Catalan national identity.
Works of Gaudí, World Heritage List, and the Catalan Identity
The seven buildings in Works of Gaudí that was inscribed in the UNESCO’s Cultural World Heritage List in 1984 are: Parque Güell; Palacio Güell; Casa Mila; Casa Vicens; Gaudí’s work on the Nativity façade and Crypt of La Sagrada Familia; Casa Batlló; and Crypt in Colonia Güell. It is interesting to observe that Antoni Gaudí’s political view is also considered in the Outstanding Universal Value, which states that “his work is rooted in the particular character of the period, drawing on the one hand from traditional Catalan patriotic sources and on the other from the technical and scientific progress of modern industry.” Works of Gaudí in the UNESCO listing, nevertheless, never mention in a literal way any political-historical narrative that would drive one’s opinion towards a particular political view. However, it is undeniably true to learn that most of Gaudí’s inspirations were taking reference from Catalonian landscape and culture. At the same time, extensive literature works from Catalan Romantic works had inspired Gaudí a lot in romanticising the greatness of Catalonia’s medieval as well.
Antoni Gaudí took special attention to medieval architecture as his source of inspiration. Hints of medieval architecture features are evident in most of his building. His phenomenal La Sagrada Familia, UNESCO’s World Heritage List and the most-visited tourist attraction in Barcelona, for instance, took inspiration from Catalan’s medieval past. The resemblance of Catalan medieval towers is present in the Façade of the Nativity and retranslated into the modern world which still contributes to the distinct creation of Catalan identity. He also purposefully put some hints of Catalan’s cultural identity in his design such as dragon, which put in reference to Saint George, patron of Catalonia, represented in various places of his design. The incorporation of medieval elements as part of inspirations is argued to be strategy to promote Catalan distinctiveness to both regionally and internationally. In addition, many of his works were also influenced by distinct regional tradition of Catalan Gothic. As Gaudí spent most of his childhood surrounded by the Romanesque and Catalan Gothic architecture, it is then inevitably affected his design style later in the future.
As one of the leading architects that gave birth to the Catalan modernisme movement, Gaudí has influenced a lot in giving birth a distinct and unique identity to Catalonian art and architecture. The use of colored tiles, the stained glass, and the pinnacle cross that highlights his works, for example, reflected “the growing self-confidence of the Catalans in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.” In the same way, Vivian affirmed that the Catalan modernisme was eventually an attempt to open up a new window to Europe after long years of Spanish monarch domination over Catalonia.
Romanticisation of Gaudí’s works
Since nation is conceptually an ‘imagined community’, it is therefore hard to physically measure the notion of nation. Map, accordingly, is a common tool that can transform the impalpable concept of a nation into something that can be physically touched and seen. Similarly, heritage status also allows for this imagination to be represented into a manageable form. The idea of homeland has a close relationship with attaching tangible structural material with culture and the sense of belonging. Up until the sixteenth century, people started to pay attention to this idea of correlating architecture and nation. Structure and territory, at the same time, involved in the engagement of memory of the ancestors and its past heroic tales which in turn, symbolically becomes the representation of meanings that sanctify the importance of national identity. The formation of architectural nationalism is often filled with imaginary folklore that incorporated characters and romanticised homeland from historical fictions. Nation-building process involve historic buildings, and the monumentalisation process can provoke a certain image and represent symbol that serves the nation’s aspirations and identity. The marketisation and commodification of heritage buildings turn the primary function and interpretation of preserving the tangible monument into selling the idea of nationalism and political agenda.  Therefore, politics and heritage are both inseparable components.
Works of Gaudí that contain an extensive amount of Catalan symbolism is undeniably romanticised and taken as symbol for Catalan’s achievement in writing their name to the world history of design and architecture. Symbol, in the cultural sense, share a mutual expression and semiotic importance in expressing various feelings and ideas that can facilitate social action. In a similar manner, Works of Gaudí is included in the building of place-identity to reinforce the spatial political entities that use the romanticisation of the past as an expression. Works of Gaudí is also considered to highlight Catalonia’s prosperous modern industrial era in which, through his Güell-commissioned projects, reflects Barcelona’s heyday of Spanish financial capital state. Moreover, the romanticisation is also evident in the Sagrada Familia which is argued to be infused with the construction of Middle Ages myth that recalls the concept of the “medieval cathedral and its construction over the centuries, to its power as the work of a people, to its organizational relationship with the body and the spirit of that constructing people.” Accordingly, commodification of Gaudí’s works is unavoidable as it takes inspiration from Catalan’s culture and shares the same cultural norms and ideas as Catalan people.
Communicating National Identity in Heritage Tourism through Works of Gaudí
Tourism and Catalan nationalist movement have formed a mutual construction in the production of Catalan distinctiveness, which in return benefit in the shaping of Catalan national identity interpretation among tourists. The resistance has been evidently apparent in their struggle in keeping their folklore and language as part of their key significant element in inheriting the idea of Catalan nationalism and patriotism. The El Born Cultural Centre, for instance, was further preserved and developed in 2006 which also commemorated to “facilitate the ‘recovery of the memory of the Catalans’” by policy makers within Catalonia in the eve of the referendum. Tourist can facilitate the diplomacy of Catalan independence struggle to a broader audience in their homelands.
Antoni Gaudí has been considered to be the leading figure in the Catalan high culture that stands alongside works of Salvador Dali, Antoni Tàpies, Joan Miró, and Pau Casals. Accordingly, the Generalitat de Catalunya (the Government of Catalonia) employed the local design, including Works of Gaudí, as Catalonia’s key promotional vehicle in their nation-building agenda as an expression of local identity and representation of their longstanding design and architectural excellence and this strategy has been broadly used as armour for separatist movements in Europe to gain support from the advantage of tourism to heritage places. Scotland and Catalonia have taken this cultural route to be in the ‘guerilla’ war and cultural diplomacy in the international tourism stage. Likewise Hong Kong, the massive tourism brought fortunes to the heritage conservation effort, which at the same time was a medium of communicating the unique identity of whom the heritage is owned. In response to that, packages such as Articket Museum Pass and Barcelona Walking Tours offer cultural experience and activity that is used as a tool to communicate Barcelona’s history and architecture. The glorified story of Catalan medieval past emerged in parallel with the skyrocketing tourist demand for the medieval experience of Barcelona. Nevertheless, it is also correspondingly linked with the comeback of Catalan Renaixença movement that romanticised the glorified medieval past. To sum up, the Works of Gaudí has been marketed as a pivotal cultural destination of Barcelona which at the same time functions as a display of Catalan’s unique identity and cultural achievement.
The story of Catalan as a unique and distinct culture to Spanish has brought up the memory of its glory medieval heroic days of the Catalonian people. The renaissance of bringing back the glory of the medieval era has influenced a lot in the emergence of modern Catalan traditional cultural products such as dance and architecture. Consequently, the Catalan medieval story is romanticised in the sense that it is been used to empower the idea of nationalism and cultural distinctiveness of Catalonia. World Heritage Listing of Works of Gaudí does help a lot in uniting Catalan people and promoting Catalan cultural achievement to a broader global audience. Thanks to modern tourism, Barcelona has been experiencing an unprecedented number of incoming international cultural tourist visitors. Through a neat display of historical narrative in tourist hotspots, the message of cultural identity of Catalan people is diplomatically communicated in a very subtle way, in which, the message of unique cultural identity is spread voluntarily by tourists through means of storytelling medium.
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Light, Duncan and Daniela Dumbraveanu-Andone. “Heritage and national identity: Exploring the relationship in Romania,” International Journal of Heritage Studies 3, no. 1 (1997): 28- 43, doi:10.1080/13527259708722185.
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Newby, P.T., “Tourism: Support or Threat to Heritage.” In Building a New Heritage: Tourism, Culture and Identity in New Europe, edited by G.J. Ashworths and P.J. Larkham, 206-228. London: Routledge, 1994.
Nogue, Joan and Joan Vicente. “Landscape and National Identity in Catalonia,” Political Geography 23, no. 2 (February 2004): 113-132, doi: doi:10.1016/j.polgeo.2003.09.005
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