Spain History, Geography, People
Article Index
Spain History, Geography, People
Page 2


From around 8000 to 3000 BC, people from North Africa known as Iberians crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and settled the peninsula. Around 1000 BC Celtic tribes entered northern Spain, while Phoenician merchants were establishing trading settlements along the Mediterranean coast. They were followed by Greeks and Carthaginians who arrived from around 600 to 500 BC.

The Romans arrived in the 3rd century BC. Christianity came to Spain during the 1st century AD. In AD 409 Roman Hispania was invaded by Germanic tribes and by 419 the Christian Visigoths, another Germanic people, had established a kingdom. This lasted until 711, when the Moors - Muslim Berbers and Arabs from North Africa - crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and defeated Roderic, the last Visigoth king.

By 714 Muslim armies had occupied the entire peninsula. Islamic Spain - known as al-Andalus - was to last almost 800 years in parts of the country. In 722 a small army under the Visigothic leader, Pelayo, inflicted the first defeat on the Muslims - this marked the beginning of the Reconquista, the spluttering reconquest of Spain by the Christians. In 1085, Alfonso VI, king of Leon and Castile, took Toledo. This prompted the Muslim leaders to request help from North Africa, which arrived in the form of the Almoravids. They recaptured much territory and ruled it until the 1140s. The Almoravids were followed by the Almohads, another North African dynasty.

During the Reconquista, the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon emerged as Christian Spain's two main powers, and in 1469 they were united by the marriage of Isabel, princess of Castile, and Fernando, heir to the throne of Aragon. They united Spain and laid the foundations for the Spanish golden age. They also revived the notorious Inquisition, which expelled and executed thousands of Jews and other non-Christians. In 1492 the last Muslim ruler of Granada surrendered to them, marking the completion of the Reconquista.

Also in 1492, while searching for an alternative passage to India, Columbus stumbled on the Bahamas and claimed the Americas for Spain. This sparked a period of exploration and exploitation that was to yield Spain enormous wealth while destroying ancient American empires. For, three centuries, gold and silver from the New World were used to finance the rapid expansion of the Spanish empire and to prop it up during its slow decline.

The disastrous Spanish-American War of 1898 marked the end of the Spanish empire. The early 20th century was characterised by military disasters in Morocco and growing instability as radical forces struggled to overthrow the established order. In 1923, with Spain on the brink of civil war, Miguel Primo de Rivera made himself military dictator, ruling until 1930. The 1936 elections told of a country split in two between the Republican government (an uneasy alliance of leftist parties known as the Popular Front) and the right-wing Nationalists (an alliance of the army, Church and the fascist Falange Party). Nationalist plotters in the army rose against the government in July 1936. During the subsequent Spanish Civil War (1936-39), the Nationalists, led by General Francisco Franco, received heavy military support from Nazi Germany and fascist Italy. By 1939 Franco had won and an estimated 350,000 Spaniards had died. After the war, thousands of Republicans were executed, jailed or forced into exile.

Franco's 35-year dictatorship began with Spain isolated internationally and crippled by recession. It wasn't until the 1950s and 1960s, when the rise in tourism and a treaty with the USA combined to provide much needed funds, that the country began to recover. By the 1970s Spain had the fastest-growing economy in Europe.

Franco died in 1975, naming Juan Carlos his successor. King Juan Carlos is widely credited with having overseen Spain's transition from dictatorship to democracy. The first elections after the civil war were held in 1977, a new constitution was drafted in 1978, and a failed military coup in 1981 was seen as a futile attempt to turn back the clock. Spain joined the European Community (EC) in 1986, and celebrated its return to the world stage in style in 1992, with Expo '92 in Seville and the Olympic Games in Barcelona. In 1997 it became fully integrated into the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), and in 1999, with the fastest growing economy on the continent, it met the criteria for launching the new European currency, the euro.


Spain (505,000 sq km) is probably Europe's most geographically diverse country, with landscapes ranging from the near-deserts of Almeria to the lush, green countryside and deep coastal inlets of Galicia, and from the sunbaked plains of Castilla-La Mancha to the rugged mountains of the Pyrenees.



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