Barcelona became the seventeenth UNESCO City of Literature in December 2015, on the same day as Ulyanovsk (Russia), Baghdad (Iraq), Tartu (Estonia), L’viv (Ukraine), Ljubljana (Slovenia), Nottingham (UK), Óbidos (Portugal) and Montevideo (Uruguay) joined the Creative Cities Network.
These all join the eleven existing UNESCO Cities of Literature – Edinburgh (UK), Melbourne (Australia), Iowa City (USA), Dublin (Ireland), Reykjavik (Iceland), Norwich (UK), Krakow (Poland), Dunedin (New Zealand), Prague (Czech Republic), Heidelberg (Germany) and Granada (Spain) – to bring the total amount of Cities of Literature in the UNESCO Creative Cities Network to twenty.
The cosmopolitan capital of Spain’s Catalonia region, Barcelona is home to two languages, four city-wide literary festivals and a strong publishing history, making it a literary capital with medieval roots and the contemporary setting for many famous novels including The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón and The Cathedral of the Sea by Ildefonso Falcones.
To receive a permanent UNESCO City of Literature designation cities must apply to UNESCO and meet exacting criteria. They must show that they have outstanding literary heritage, a vibrant contemporary scene, and importantly, that they are a city where their sector works collaboratively to grow and develop through their chosen artform, via capital development and cultural engagement programmes.
10 Things to Know About Barcelona
- 1. City of Two Tongues
- Barcelona is the literary hub of not one but two languages: it is the world’s largest centre of publishing in the Spanish language, and the capital of the Catalan language.
Barcelona is home to the headquarters of both large international publishing groups including Penguin Random House and Planeta, and dynamic independent houses like Anagrama and Acantilado. In the 1960s, it was in Barcelona that the Latin American boom was born, publishing such Nobel Prize winners as Gabriel García Márquez and Mario Vargas Llosa.
- 2. A Founding International City of Refuge
- Barcelona was a Founding Member of ICORN in 2006, having already been one of the oldest members of the previous City of Asylum Network (dissolved in 2005). Barcelona has continued to be safe haven for persecuted writers, providing them with security and a cultural environment to stimulate their creative and literary activity.
- 3. The Day of Books and Roses
- Barcelona offers a wide range of year-round literary events. Among the most important ones are St. George’s Day on 23 April, also known as Day of Books and Roses, a hugely popular celebration with the entire city’s main streets full of people looking for books and authors.
There is also the biennial Kosmopolis Festival with its experimental focus, the annual Poetry Week in May and the Crime Fiction Week in January. For younger audiences, Món Llibre is a free literature festival for children, attracting 25,000 visitors.
- 4. Cervantes’ Don Quixote
- Don Quixote said all his misadventures had been worth it, just for the chance to see Barcelona, the only real city mentioned in Cervantes’ masterpiece.
The ingenious gentleman’s visit to a Barcelona printing press is just one example of a tradition dating back to the Middle Ages of inspiring both local and visiting writers. In 2005 the city celebrated the 400th anniversary of Cervantes’ classic tale and that year, 1,900 literary activities involving more than 8,500 partners were organised. More than 2.5 million people took part in these events.
- 5. Catalan Book Week
- Celebrating the works of old and new authors, Catalan Book Week reinforces and strengthens the links between Catalan authors, publishers and readers. Organised around five main stages set up on the square in front of the cathedral, there are more than 200 activities on offer with something for everyone. From talks to book recitals to live performances, this is a five-day literature extravaganza, with free entry for all.
- 6. Editorial Capital
- A world-recognised editorial capital since the 19th century, Barcelona exports books all over the world. 50% of exports are to Europe, and 44.8% to Latin America. Catalonia has 272 publishing houses, employing 4,907 staff people, and many more freelance, in the publication of 31,759 titles, earning €1,208,990,000. The city’s rich map of bookstores includes independent gems with books in several languages (Laie and La Central) and a weekly second-hand book market that dates back to 1882 (Mercat de Sant Antoni).
- 7. Lifelong Literary Learning
- Barcelona’s lifelong learning in literature is available to all sectors of society, in venues that range from universities to community centres and bookstores.
In addition to the formal Master’s in Literary Creation at the Pompeu Fabra University, the Beckett Theatre offers an experimental creation program for playwrights. The Ateneu houses the second largest creative writing school in the world, teaching more than 100 courses in creative writing, editing, and literature both online and in the classroom, serving more than 1,700 students each year and working in collaboration with publishing houses, magazines and universities as well as a network of writing schools in Europe and Argentina.
The city’s 40 public libraries also offer creative writing workshops and book clubs, including ones held at senior citizen centres, online and even internationally, linking Barcelona with Latin America.
- 8. Barcelona’s Authors
- From Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind to George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, Eduardo Mendoza’s The City of Marvels to Colm Tóibín’s The South, Barcelona has provided the backdrop to countless literary adventures. Barcelona has also been home to a host of authors, including poet priest Jacint Verdaguer (1845 – 1902), Catalan novelist Mercè Rodoreda (1908 – 1983), Manuel Vázquez Montalbán (1939 – 2003) novelist and journalist Juan Marsé (b.1933), and screenwriter Jaume Cabré (b.1947).
- 9. Book Fairs
- The region of Catalonia was Guest of Honour at the 2007 Frankfurt Book Fair. The Guest of Honour programme has been running since 1976. For the Guest of Honour, not only does the country’s literature and culture get to be centre of attention at the world’s biggest trade fair for books and media, so too does the country-specific book industry. In 2013 Barcelona was the City of Honour at Paris’ Salon du Livre, France’s most important book fair.
Barcelona also hosts its own biannual book fair LIBER, the most important Spanish language fair in Europe, with a special focus on digital content, new editors, self-publishing and literary agents.
- 10. The Publishing Gala
- In December, Barcelona celebrates the Publishing Gala, where literary dedication in various spheres is rewarded with several prizes: the Atlàntida Award for the promotion of reading; the Ferran Lara Memorial Award goes to a young entrepreneur in the editorial field; and the Angel Crespo Prize applauds the finest translation.