Politics on the menu: Barcelona vs Madrid

By Serena Dania


Map of Spain

When one hears about the rivalry between Barcelona and Madrid, the first thought that crosses your mind is football. However, there is much more than meets the eye when examining these two cities. The antagonism between the two is greater than some would like to admit; it extends and spills out into cultural rivalry.

Sitting in the restaurant Viva Burger in the La Latina district of Madrid, the vegetarian menu offers a wide variety of choices. However, one dish in particular that stands out: El Catalan (the Catalan). It suggests the restaurant feels neutral about the political rivalry between the two major cities of the country. But this assumption was quickly put to rest when your reporter ordered El Catalan, as the waiter directly made a remark under his breath: “anti-Español,” meaning “Anti-Spanish”.

Barcelona and Madrid are two very different cities, both geographically and culturally, yet the two are the most compared entities in Southern Europe. Being two of the most touristic cities, Madrid is the capital of Spain and Barcelona is the largest metropolis on the Mediterranean Sea or, as nationalist Catalans would say, Catalonia.

To understand the rivalry between the two cities, one needs to understand that the issue stems from economic, historical and cultural reasons, as well as the geography of both cities. Further, the heightened political debate amidst the two cities perpetuates the tension between the Catalans and the Castilians. However, it extends all through Spain, and in some provinces the rivalry and tension is more notable than others


Barcelona, the capital of the autonomous province of Catalonia, is situated on the northern coast of Spain. Known for the impeccable Gothic architecture and Gaudi structures scattered around the city, Barcelona is home to 1.6 million people, and in 2013 the city welcomed 7.5 million tourists. Not to mention, Barcelona has one of the best soccer teams in the world with FC Barcelona.


Inside the Sagrada Familia, a Gaudi church that is still in construction


El Catedral, situated in the Gothic Quarter of the city


However, the province is also in the middle of a fierce political debate regarding the issue of Catalonia becoming independent. This ambition is largely tied to Francisco Franco, Spain’s dictator of nearly 40 years, who actively suppressed the Catalan culture, even going as far as preventing the Catalans from speaking their language Catalan.

Maike (21), who has lived in both cities and is a supporter of Catalonia’s independence, claims that the conflict between Spain and Catalonia stems from “an economic factor, a historical aspect, and most of all a lack of sense of identity”. She explains how “[Catalonia] is not respected as a nation… and when someone tries to stamp this out continuously, there is anger and hatred among the Catalans”. She understands why the Catalans are nationalist, “as it seems like the rest of Spain is denying a culture and a group of people”.

Further, the Generalitat of Catalonia strongly believes that over the years the Spanish government has purposely restricted and acted against the Catalan government. In a press conference held in November 2015 Artur Mas, the former president of the Generalitat of Catalonia, held the Spanish government responsible for actions that “punish and harm Catalonia simply for defending political, pacific and democratic ideas”.

However, with regards to independence Maike claims “there are 50% of people who really do actually believe that independence would work and really strive for it. The other 50%, which would be me, we say we want independence but because we feel it’s the only way that we’re going to get listened to. It’s speaking and saying the extreme to get attention for a situation that has gone far out of control”.



The capital of Spain, Madrid, is situated drop dead center of the country and has about three million inhabitants. Moreover, the city is home to the Spanish Royal Family, an important aspect of the Spanish culture. The Spanish Monarch is highly respected and no one dares to question them. However, over the last few years’ Spanish citizens started questioning what the monarchy was doing with the country’s money, as there was a scandal with King Juan Carlos I.

Madrid balances the old and the new in a very elegant manner, this can be seen in the architecture all around the city. Also, a few world famous art museums are situated in the city center, like Del Prado, Thyssen-Bornemisza or Reina Sofia, which holds various collections of Spanish painters such as Goya, Miro and Velazquez, or displays modern and contemporary collections.


History Museum of Madrid


Government building by Puerta del Sol

It is known that the tension resulting from the rivalry between the provinces is very present in Barcelona, but do the Castilians feel the tension? Well, the Castilians have their own opinions.

Laura (34) who was born and raised in Madrid shares her point of view, “the people that I move around with don’t feel the political tension, but I am very aware of what is going on as the problems are constantly televised”. However, Laura did admit that “[she] does feel uncomfortable talking about it, because there are some people who might react very differently than me”.

Laura was open to discuss the topic, Raul (54) on the other hand was a bit more hesitant. He stated, “I feel the tension less and less every time, plus I have a number of friends from Barcelona”. He refused to have his picture taken.


Laura (34)


Atmosphere in Both Cities

Having visited both Barcelona and Madrid, it is fair to say that the tensions are felt to different extents in both cities.

In Barcelona, the feeling of Catalans being anti-Spanish is not weighed heavily in the atmosphere. The Catalans are very proud and will often speak in Catalan, even if responded to in Spanish or English. However, this strongly depends on the crowd that one moves around with and with who one is speaking. For instance, the independistas (the Catalans seeking independence) are strongly in favor of the independence of Catalonia, and will also have a strong sentiment regarding the Castilians.

On the other hand, in Madrid the negative sentiment is felt differently. The nationalism is very pro-Spanish, and anti-Catalan. The Castilians give off the feeling that they are tired of the “Catalan drama”, and want the province to move on.

This suggests that there might be a lack of communication between the two provinces, which is something that Maike also emphasized. She hopes that through her constant standing as an independista together with her comrades, they can make a difference in the future of Catalonia and Spain.

Lastly, one noticeable difference between the two provinces is the flags that are hanging up around the city. In Madrid, the Spanish flag is showcased immensely, whilst in Barcelona one will find the Catalan flag everywhere.