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Barcelona beyond the Seas. A Catalan Enclave in Colonial Venezuela

  • Nikita Harwich (a1)

Abstract

The town of Barcelona in Venezuela, with a present population of nearly half a million inhabitants, is – by far – the most important New World settlement bearing the name of Catalonia’s capital. It owes its name to its founder, Joan Orpí i del Pou, also known as Juan de Orpín or Urpín (Piera, 1593 – Barcelona, Venezuela, 1645), who managed to distinguish himself as one of the last conquistadors within the territory of present-day Venezuela. This was no easy task since a Catalan was, technically, not allowed to reside or even to travel to lands under the exclusive control of the Crown of Castille and León. However, since its foundation in 1638, Nueva Barcelona del Cerro Santo was soon to become a sort of Catalan enclave in eastern Venezuela, particularly due to the influence of the Catalan Capuchin missionaries who, since the end of the 17th century on, used it as a base for inland penetration. Similarly, Venezuela’s Barcelona was one of the important trading posts for the Compañía de Comercio de Barcelona, following the latter’s foundation in 1755. A sizeable community of Catalan merchants ensured the town’s growth and prosperity at the turn of the 19th century. This community also fuelled a strong resistance against the independence movement from 1810 onwards, as Barcelona was to become a savagely disputed prey between royalist and patriot armies: the episode of the Casa Fuerte massacre in 1817 is still today remembered as a landmark of royalist cruelty, even though the revenge later exerted by the patriot troops in no way fell behind in terms of mercilessness. The Catalans were particularly singled out and, with few exceptions, were all either killed or forced to leave.

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2. Barcelona (Rio Grande do Norte) (2015) Wikipedia (accessible via http://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barcelona (Rio_ Grande:do_Norte)) (accessed 13 June 2015).
3. Barcelona (Venezuela) (2015) Wikipedia (accessible via http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barcelona_(Venezuela)). See Guía de Barcelona y Puerto La Cruz (accessible via http://www.geocities.ws/anzoategui_ve/barcelona.htm) (accessed 13 June 2015).
4.See Otte, E. (1977) Las perlas del Caribe: Nueva Cadiz de Cubagua (Caracas: Fundación John Boulton).
5.See Armas Alonzo, A. (ed) (1971) Barcelona la nuestra, 2 vols (Caracas: Editorial Arte).
6. Vila, P. (1975) Gestas de Juan Orpín en su fundación de Barcelona y defensa de Oriente (Caracas: Universidad Central de Venezuela), pp. 5668.
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11. Cunill Grau, P. (1987) Geografía del poblamiento venezolano en el siglo XIX, vol. I (Caracas: Presidencia de la República), pp. 585586.
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13. de Urquinaona y Pardo, P. (1820) Relacion documentada del origen y progresos del trastorno de las provincias de Venezuela hasta la exoneración del capitán Domingo de Monteverde (Madrid: Imprenta Nueva), pp. 2728.
14. Dauxion-Lavaysse, J.-J. (1967) Viaje a las islas de Trinidad, Tobago, Margarita y a diversas partes de Venezuela en la America Meridional (Caracas: Universidad Central de Venezuela), p. 251.
15. ‘Extracto del parte oficial comunicado por la Suprema Junta Provincial de la Nueva Andalucía al Supremo Congreso de Venezuela’ 27 May 1811). El Argos Americano, I(35), pp. 157158.
16.See Landaeta Rosales, M. (1911) La Casa Fuerte de Barcelona (Caracas: Tipografía Universal).
17.Included as one of the episodes in the second edition of Eduardo Blanco’s Venezuela heroica (1883), the epic tale on Venezuela’s independence which every school child in the country would have read at one point of his (or her) elementary education, the fall of the Barcelona Casa Fuerte – its ruins officially declared a national shrine in 1960 – has been highlighted in recent years by the Chavista ideology, particularly during the yearly commemoration ceremonies of the event traditionally held on 7 April, as a prime example of popular resistance and supreme sacrifice when facing the double onslaught of colonialism and imperialism.
18.The present author is a direct descendant, on his mother’s side, of these Plancharts.
19. Vallenilla Lanz, L. (1908) Unpublished manuscripts, vol. XI (Vallenilla Lanz Archives, Saint-Germain-en-Laye), f. 97.

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