Catalonia's National Day, known locally as La Diada Nacional de Catalunya, is a festa (festival) held in the region every year on September 11th. It has always been an occasion to celebrate Catalan culture and customs but the recent debate over Catalonia's right to vote on independence from Spain has transformed it into a politically charged event.
But why do Catalans celebrate la Diada? What happens during the festival? Read on to find out 6 things you need to know about the big day...
1. It commemorates a famous defeat
Very unusually for a massive holiday, la Diada marks the occasion of a military disaster. Catalan troops fighting the Bourbon King Philip V of Spain during the War of the Spanish Succession were finally defeated on September 11th 1714 after the 14-month Siege of Barcelona. The surrender marked the dissolution of autonomous Catalan institutions, the removal of Catalan as an official language and the imposition of new laws from the newly centralised Spain. The march starts at 17.14 to commemorate the date.
2. It was banned by General Franco
The first celebration of La Diada took place in 1886 but it was officially suppressed in 1939 and throughout the dictatorship of Francisco Franco. The Catalan regional government reinstated the fiesta in 1980, five years after Franco's death.
3. It is a tribute to lost Catalan lives
4,000 people died defending the city during the Siege of Barcelona and are buried in a cemetery near the Santa Maria del Mar church in the Gothic Quarter. A memorial plaza, the Fossar de les Moreres, now covers the cemetery and thousands of Catalans lay flowers there every year on La Diada.
4. It's a great day to be a flag seller
La Senyera, the Catalan flag of four red stripes on a yellow background, is everywhere on La Diada. Giant versions are hung across entire buildings while innumerable smaller versions flutter from balconies or are draped across cars. A high percentage of people walking the streets either wear or carry a version of the flag, although many versions on sale are now rather unpatriotically made in China. A slightly different flag, la estelada, has surged in popularity in recent years. It features a white star on a blue triangle (or sometimes a red star on a yellow triangle) over the senyera's red-and-yellow stripes and is the unofficial symbol of the Catalan independence movement.
5. It's getting more popular
La Diada has always been a magnet for supporters of Catalan separatism. For many people the day is a simple celebration of their Catalan identity but many others use the occasion to express their political feelings. The numbers of those joining peaceful protests have surged in recent years after the Spanish Constitutional Court rewrote the Catalan Statute of Autonomy to severely limit the region's power. The first mass demonstration was held in 2012 when between 600,000 and 2 million people (depending on whose estimates you believe) gathered in Barcelona to demand independence from Spain. The following year, approximately 1.6 million people joined hands to form an unbroken human chain across the whole region. Last year organizers claimed more that 1 million people joined the demos.
6. Mobilizing for the referendum
The 2017 march arrives at a key moment, coming only 20 days before the hugely controversial referendum planned for October 1st. With the Spanish government vowing to take action against the 'illegal vote', pro-independence groups see La Diada as an opportunity to mobilize voters.
"September 11 is the first phase of the October 1 vote,” said Jordi Sànchez, president of the pro-independence Catalan National Assembly (ANC). “If we're not able to mobilize a maximum number of people on September 11, October 1 will be weakened.”
This year, protesters will form a giant plus sign at the crossroads of Barcelona’s Passeig de Gràcia and Aragó streets. They will be wearing fluorescent yellow T-shirts printed with the word ‘yes’ in more than a dozen languages — a reference to the result they expect in the October 1st vote.