Flags in the Cultural Landscape

I have always had an affinity for flags, not only for their bright colors, but for the meanings behind them. The specific term given to people such as myself is “ vexillologist”, a fancy name. I am cool with the more colloquial term “flag dude”. We study the meanings of the shapes and colors, and more importantly, the cultural importance imparted to them by those who display them.

As I stroll through the twisted, narrow alleys of the old city on my way to work, I see an abundance of the Catalan provincial flag, as well as many variations of it. I do spot some Spanish national flags, as well as some flags from South American countries, but they are far outnumbered by flags of Catalunya. I don’t ever remember ever seeing many Oregonians flying the state flag of Oregon more often than displaying the Stars and Stripes. The expression of pro-nationalism in Catalunya is ubiquitous in the cultural landscape here in Barcelona.

My students are learning to read the cultural landscape every day. For you non-geographers, the cultural landscape is everything that you see in the landscape which is modified by humans, which you can perceive with your senses. These things reveal the values, hopes, norms of peoples, which manifest themselves in the building styles, dress, diet, customs, etc. of a particular location or region.

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The flag above has an interesting story recalling Catalan bravery and Catalan exceptionalism from a folk hero of the ninth century, Guifre el Pelos ( Guifre the Hairy). The legend goes that Guifre was mortally wounded in battle and that his blood was smeared over his oaken shield. The yellow represents his shield and the four red stripes are of the four fingers of a bloody hand wiping the shield. His legend grows stronger as time goes on. All sorts of nationalists need a hero to hold up to the masses.

Other variations of this flag are more recent. The triangle with the star in the middle over the original flag were probably influenced by more recent resurgences in Catalan nationalism in the 1800s, as they are similar to the flags of Cuba and Puerto Rico, who gained their independence from Spain in the early 1800s.

The flag with the yellow triangle is probably more likely from the 1930s, either because there wasn’t enough money for multi colors, or their was a more Marxist sentiment at that time.

Pro independence flag

The blue triangle flag definitely makes the statement for the independence movement. By comparing the percentage of these flags to the percentage of them displayed in other barrios (neighborhoods), one can tell the political leanings of various neighborhoods around the city.

Yesterday, on the way to school, I took a new route up the alley with the name of Carrer de Assaonadores (street of assassins). I will have to read more history to see which of the many bloody battles which took place here over the centuries. I saw two Uruguayan flags at two different balconies, probably showing migration from that South American country to Barcelona. Further up the street I spotted two foreign flags flying from the same balcony, the Palestinian flag and the Tibetan flag. This probably shows Catalan solidarity for other occupied and oppresses around the world. I hope you look at flags differently now, or at least are looking deeper into reading the “Cultural Landscape.”

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