Even visitors here a might notice that there are many versions of the Catalan flag. The official one – la senyera – has its origin in one of Europe’s oldest coats of arms and consists of four red pallets (quatre pals or quatre barres) on a yellow background. According to the legend, in 897 King Charles the Bald (Carles el Calb) wanted to honour the Wilfred the Hairy (Guifré el Pelós), Count of Barcelona, for his braveness during the siege of the city and therefore - with blood from the dying count’s wounds - used four fingers to paint lines on his golden shield.
Many people claim that this coat of arms stems from the counts of Barcelona, but its first undisputed appearance was in 1159, in the seal of Alfonso II of Aragon. It evolved into a symbol of the Kingdom of Aragon, and has since then been the base of the flags of the regions which formed part of it – Aragon, the Balearic Islands, Catalonia and Valencia.
Making a jump to the year 1918, in the peace negotiations after World War I, many countries were formally recognized as sovereign states - Finland and the Baltic countries - or even created – Czechoslovakia. Activists for an independent Catalonia felt a need for a battle symbol and, by definition, it could not be a flag accepted by the Spanish crown. Politician Vincenç-Albert Ballester is given the credit for having added a white star on a blue triangle to the senyera – l’estelada blava, inspired by the the flag of Cuba which had ceased to be a Spanish colony in 1898. However, an independence flag with a star – albeit in the middle - can be found in photos from 1908.
Ballester’s flag was adopted as a unifying symbol until 1968 when Catalan revolutionaries wanted an even stronger symbol and replaced the white star with a red one. This flag is called the estelada roja (as of roig for communist red) and is still the version preferred by movements like JERC (the youth organisation of Esquerra Republicana) and CUP. Over the time it has gained popularity also outside the political left.
The design of the blava as well as the roja has never been standardized so sometimes the top arm of the star points to the sky and sometimes to the flagpole. The reason for this can possibly be that it is only a transitory symbol. Ballesters himself foresaw that the original senyera, without a star, would again be the only flag of Catalonia as soon as a sovereign state had been created.
On September 11, Catalonia celebrates its national holiday and all town halls (ajuntament) hoist the Catalan flag. This year, a few of them (among them Vilafranca del Penedès) will use the estelada - to celebrate the 100th anniversary of one of the strongest symbols for an independent Catalonia.
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Main source of information: la Comissió de 100 anys de l’estelada
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Technorati tags: Barcelona, Catalonia, Independence, Spain