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Barcelona: from the Catalan Manchester with love

Por: | 09 de enero de 2014

Tucked away in a quietly fashionable part of Barcelona, there is a part of the Catalan capital that will remain forever Lancashire: unknown to many, the city’s Poblenou district has worn the title of the “Catalan Manchester” since the 19th Century thanks to its history of textile manufacture and industry.

Having lived for three happy, if rainy, years in Manchester and two years in a slightly sunnier Barcelona I was charmed to discover the historical link between the two cities, not the least because I had already decided that Barcelona and Manchester had a lot in common.

Of course, both cities’ textile industries have now largely departed and there’s not a great deal of likeness to be found in weather, geography or architecture. But there remains much to bind the two cities in Trans-European fraternity.

There’s the football, for a start. Both cities are obsessed with the beautiful game and no wonder, as they each host globe-straddling teams, whose success and stylish play are admired the world over.

Neither is a one-team city, of course, but, with due respect to Espanyol and Manchester City, Barcelona FC and Manchester United have historically grabbed the lion’s share of success, headlines and acclaim in their native cities. (In fact even the proudest of Manchester City fans would probably admit that their recent English and European success is something of an anomaly in a history dominated by heroic underachievement).

Music, too, unites the two cities. Both Barcelona and Manchester have strong musical identities and an ever-evolving array of live venues and nightclubs, which play host to up-and-coming musical talent.

And, while Manchester’s musical history of Joy Division, The Smiths, the Happy Mondays et al may prove unmatched by Barcelona on the global stage, the success of acts such as Manu Chao, Ojos de Brujo and, more recently, John Talabot prove that Barcelona can draw on its own well of musical talent.

There are even two Manchester Bars in Barcelona, described rather brilliantly on Foursquare as offering a “soundtrack Manchesteriano”, for Catalans who want to drink in the Manchester spirit.

More importantly, perhaps, the two cities have histories of radical politics, from the role of socialists and anarchists in Revolutionary Catalonia during the Civil War, to Manchester’s position as birthplace to influential works from Marx and Engels.

These influences continue to be felt today: Barcelona remains one of the last strongholds of anarchism in Western Europe, while Manchester is a heartland of left-wing politics, dominated by the Labour party in defiance to the more Conservative south.

Underlying this and yet bringing it all together is the independent spirit – one that defies comparison with the national capital – running through the blood of both towns.

In England, London’s influence as a world city is so large that it can throw a shadow over regional capitals. However, Manchester – with due respect to Birmingham, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield etc – is the English city that seems to defy the influence of London the most. From music to politics, Manchester is frequently a pole apart from London, wielding its own sphere of influence that envies nothing of the capital.

Barcelona, meanwhile, is fiercely independent of Madrid and proud of its own historical role as a global city of trade, which has seen foreigners flock to the city for business and pleasure for hundreds of years. Barcelona, people will tell you, is not the second city in Spain. It is the first city in Catalonia. That’s a sentiment most Mancunians will understand.

In 1845 Richard Ford wrote in his highly influential travel book A Handbook for Travellers in Spain that “Catalonia is the Lancashire of Spain and Barcelona is its Manchester”. 

His reasons – “Besides being wholesale manufacturers, the Catalans are amongst the best retail tradesmen, innkeepers, and carriers of the Peninsula” - may no longer apply in 2014 (although the bars of Barcelona remain worthy of esteem). But, for me at least, Barcelona and Manchester will forever lie twinned, their similarities written into the fabric of these great European cities, never to be unstitched by time.

Picture: Antigua fábrica Alier (Can Ricart), on the calle Pere IV in Poblenou. By Carmen Secanella


Hay 1 Comentarios

Mmmmmm, good comparison. But Barcelona has some more distinctive lines that the columnist perhaps has not perceived during his sojourn here. I advise you to read the interesting opuscle "The Spirit of Catalonia", available freely from the internet, written by Doctor Josep Trueta.

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Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check:

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