Catalonia covers an area of 32,114 km² and has an official population of 7.2 million. It borders France and Andorra to the north, Aragon to the west, Spain to the south, and the Mediterranean to the east (580 km coastline). The official languages are Catalan, Spanish and Aranese (spoken in the Aran valley in the north-west of Catalunya).
The climate of Catalonia varies considerably. The populated areas lying by the coast in Tarragona,Barcelona and Gerona feature a Mediterranean climate, while the Pyreneean peaks have a mountain or even Alpine climate at the highest summits.
Catalonia was colonised by Ancient Greeks, who settled around the Roses area. Both Greeks and Carthaginians (who briefly ruled the territory) interacted with the main Iberian inhabitants. After the Carthaginian defeat, it became, along with the rest of Hispania, a part of the Roman Empire.
The Catalan culture started to develop in the middle ages stemming from a number of small kingdoms organised as small counties throughout the northernmost part of Catalonia. The counts of Barcelona were vassals - given their land by their feudal lord, the king of France (801–987).
In 987 the count of Barcelona did not recognize the French King Hugh Caspet and his new dynasty which put it effectively out of the Frankish rule. Two years later, in 989, Catalonia declared its independence. Then, in 1137,Ramon Berenequer IV, Count of Barcelone married Queen Petronila of Aragon establishing the dynastic union of the County of Barcelona with the Kingdom of Aragon which was to create the Crown of Aragon.
It was not until 1258, that the king of France formally relinquished his feudal lordship over the counties of the Pricipality of Catalonia. As part of the Crown of Aragon, Catalonia became a maritime power, helping expand the Crown by trade and conquest into the Kingdom of Valencia, the Balaeric islands, and even Sardinia and Sicily.
In the latter half of the 19th century, Catalonia became an industrial centre; to this day it remains one of the most industrialised parts of Spain. In the first third of the 20th century, Catalonia gained its first statute of autonomy in 1931. This period was marked by political unrest resulting in the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939). Catalonians were also active throughout the early 20th century, achieving the first eight-hour working day in the world in 1919. After the Civil War which brought General Franco to power, his regime suppressed any kind of public activities associated with Catalan nationalism, such as publishing books on the matter or simply discussing them in open meetings. As part of this suppression the use of the Catalan language in government-run institutions and in public events was banned.
After Franco's death (1975) and with the adoption of democratic Spanish Constitution (1978), Catalonia recovered political and cultural autonomy. Today, Catalonia is one of the most economically dynamic regions of Spain. The Catalan capital and largest city, Barcelona, is a major international cultural centre and a major tourist destination, playing host in 1992 to the World Olympics.