An unexpected Catalan legacy in US history

Gaspar de Portolà is credited with helping expand the state of California as we know it

Statue of Gaspar de Portolà (by: Flickr user Bob n' Renee)
Statue of Gaspar de Portolà (by: Flickr user Bob n' Renee) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

February 11, 2020 04:58 PM


Monterey is a city known for its views, a large community dedicated to the arts, and a rich history as a landmark that has lasted through Spanish, Mexican, and American rule of territory that we now know as California. Once the capital of 'Alta California' during Spanish rule, the establishment of Monterey comes from an unexpected place Catalonian explorer Gaspar de Portolà.


Portolà's contributions

Gaspar de Portolà was born in 1716 in Catalonia, and went on to have a long career serving the Spanish crown. Spending his younger years as a soldier in the Spanish army, he was the commander of the Portolà  expedition that occurred from 1669-1770. Portolà's role in the expedition led to the establishmentof a military base in Monterey in 1770. Additionally,the founding of the city of San Diegois also credited to acquisitionsmade on Portolà's journey. 

While Portolà has been acknowledged in history, his Catalan descent, and that of his team members has been broadly overlooked, as stated in research that was presented by independent think tank The Hispanic Council in Barcelona last month. 


Borja Cardelus, an author and the writer of the report outlines that Portolà , alongside other Catalan explorers like Esteban Rodríguez Miró, Pedro Albernit, and Miguel Costanzó were tremendously unknown despite their contributions to the development of North American territories. Portolà 's work expanding California in the name of Spain on behalf of Carlos III was supported by a team “full of” Catalan volunteers.

Lasting legacy

Following the expeditions, Portolà continued a career in government and finally returned to Spain in 1784, where he died two years later. Despite the many years that have passed since the work of Portolà and his team, the lasting impact of their heritage and influence lasts to this day. A large statue commemorating his legacy was erected in Pacifica California in 1988, and there are various schools, a town and a city named after him in his honor.