History of Spain
Spain’s position in the heart of the Mediterranean has made it a major melting pot of cultures over the centuries, all of which have helped shape its complex and fascinating heritage.
There are numerous ways to educate yourself on the history of Spain during a vacation. Explore exquisite Moorish palaces built over a millennia ago, marvel at a sacred cathedral believed to house the remains of a saint, or wander around galleries packed with thought-provoking art in bustling Madrid.
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Early History of Spain
Spain’s early culture was influenced mainly by the Phoenicians and the Greeks, who settled in the region around 1000 BC. Their biggest contributions to Spain were olives and grapes – both still key elements in Spanish cuisine. Head to ancient Cadiz in Andalucia to see where the former landed their ships or follow in the footsteps of the Greeks on a tour of Catalonia’s coastline.
Until 600 AD, Romans occupied the Iberican Peninsula (the collective name for Spain and Portugal) – you can still spot Roman ruins in cities like Seville and Cordoba. Romans additionally brought religion to Spain and developed several Latin-based dialects, which form the basis of languages spoken throughout the Hispanic world today.
Spain has been no stranger to invasions over the centuries. In 711 AD, an army of Moors (known as the Al-Andalus) from Damascus gained control of the Iberian Peninsula. Cordoba in Andalusia, one of Spain’s major Muslim settlements, is packed with fascinating Moorish relics, including the magnificent Mesquita (Grand Mosque). Seville and Granada also have links to Spain’s Moorish past. Granada is where you’ll find the world-famous Alhambra; a fortress revered for its ornate interiors and beautiful gardens.
Known as the La Reconquista, this period saw Christians regain control in Spain over several centuries, beginning in 722 AD.
Santiago de Compostela in Galicia flourished around a cult dedicated to St. James – who is supposedly buried in the Cathedral – and remains one of the most important Christian pilgrimage sites in Europe.
After the defeat of Granada – the last Islamic stronghold – in 1492, Catholicism spread rapidly throughout Spain, led by the country’s new rulers, Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon. They even birthed the Spanish Inquisition to convert non-believers. Alhambra is a prime spot to immerse yourself in 15th century Spanish history as it’s where the Royal Court was established.
Colonial and Renaissance History
Between the 15th and 19th centuries, Spain was extremely successful in colonizing new territories. Expeditions by Christopher Columbus led to Spain’s discovery of the Americas.
Cadiz in Andalusia was one of the main ports from which explorations to the New World departed. Uncover more about this period of discovery at the Torre Tavira, an 18th century watchtower (one of the hundreds along Cadiz’s coastline), which has been turned into a museum.
As the headquarters of a major trading company, San Sebastien on the Bay of Biscay also played an important role. While the original city was burnt to the ground in the 1800s, you can still stroll around the Old Town and learn about its heritage at the San Telmo Museum.
The 17th and 18th centuries not only saw Spain conquer new territories but also flourish in the arts. The country’s Golden Age didn’t last however, with the following centuries punctuated by inequality, famine, and invasions from neighboring France. The early 1800s marked Spain’s resistance to Napoleon’s occupation and the French were driven out with help from the British and Portuguese in 1813. Spain became divided into conservatives, who supported the church and the monarchy, and liberals, who sought reform and democracy.
Spanish Civil War
The remainder of the 19th century was littered with conflicts, the loss of colonies (including Cuba and Puerto Rico) and financial decline. It did, however, bring about a new form of art – Catalan Modernism. You can see prominent works from this era around Spain, including the Gothic Sagrada Familia of Barcelona by Antoni Gaudi.
Spain was thrown into two years of civil war following the victory of the left-wing Popular Front in the election of 1936. The Spanish Civil War is mainly remembered for Pablo Picasso’s painting of the bombing of Guernica (currently hanging in the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid) and the involvement of the International Brigades made up of Communist volunteers – most famously Ernest Hemmingway.
The Nationalists eventually beat the Popular Front supporters and General Francisco Franco became Spain’s dictator. Franco’s rule lasted over 50 years and, while history’s opinion of him is mixed, he did keep Spain out of WWII.
20th Century Spanish history
The 1960s saw tourism take off in Spain, especially along the Costa del Sol in Andalusia and Costa Brava in Catalonia, which boosted the economy. The British in particular flocked to Spain for sunshine, sea, and culture.
In 1975, Prince Juan Carlos I became Spain’s ruler. He appointed Adolfo Suárez as Prime Minister, who reformed the constitution and abolished many of Franco’s more extreme policies, effectively turning Spain into a democracy.
Today, Spain is a stable country with a booming tourism industry and plenty of modern and historic attractions to admire.
To immerse yourself further in the history of Spain, book an exciting tour around the country’s culture-packed cities with Enchanting Travels.
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