Recent headlines of violence in Barcelona may have emerged as a shock to many travelers. But the confrontation between voters and police was the result of decades of rising tensions.
Here’s everything you need to know about Barcelona, the Catalan vote, and travel to the area.
What’s happening in Barcelona?
An estimated 850 people were injured while protesting in the streets of Barcelona on October 1.
When Catalan voters showed up to vote in a referendum, they were greeted by national police. Riot police raided key regional buildings and polling stations, forcibly removed voters, seized ballot boxes, and fired rubber bullets into crowds in an effort to suppress the vote.
The Spanish government called Catalonia’s referendum vote illegal. The Spanish constitution states that Spain is indivisible and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy condemned the vote.
Barcelona practically shut down on Tuesday as thousands of people flooded the city center to protest Spain’s treatment of the vote. Universities and shops closed. Public transportation ran on limited service.
Catalonia's Fight for Independence
Although it possesses many similarities to the rest of Spain, there are a few things that make Catalonia unique — most notably for visitors, the language. But the region has a distinct history that can be traced back more than 1,000 years.
Before authoritarian leader General Francisco Franco ruled Spain (1939 to 1975), Catalonia existed with broad autonomy. And upon Franco’s death, Catalonia regained its autonomy in 1978.
The push for more freedom continued and, in 2006, Spain passed a statute that extended Catalonia’s independence, describing it as its own nation. Spain’s Constitutional Court, however, reversed that decision in 2010, much to the anger of separatists.
Catalonia is one of Spain’s most financially successful regions — although that success has been bogged down by recession in the rest of the nation.
In 2014, about half of the Catalan population participated in an unofficial vote. Officials announced that more than 80 percent of the vote supported seceding from Spain. On Sunday, October 1, regional officials announced that more than 90 percent of the vote was to secede.
Is it safe to travel to Barcelona?
Although no violence has been reported in Barcelona since Sunday, tensions remain high. The U.K. Foreign Office warns travelers that demonstrations can “occur with little or no warning and even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can escalate and turn confrontational. You should exercise caution if you’re in the vicinity.”
The U.S. State Department has yet to release a travel warning or alert for travel to Spain.
Protests are more likely to cause inconvenience than danger. Metro stations and shops were closed, but have since reopened. Stalls at tourist attractions, like the Boqueria market, were deserted. Flights to and from Barcelona airport were not affected.
Travelers wishing to avoid potential protest hotspots should stay away from Las Ramblas (specifically the Guardia Civil and City Hall buildings) and Montjuïc.
Does this affect anywhere else in Spain?
Barcelona, as the capital of Catalonia, remains the epicenter of the Separatist political movement. Anti-separatist protests, however, have also emerged in the capital city of Madrid. No violence has been reported from these protests.