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History of Spain


If you’re thinking of moving to Spain, it is worth knowing a little about the history, as well as the culture, of the country. This brief overview of Spanish history is intended as an introduction – if you want to know more, click on the links at the bottom of the page.

The Iberian Peninsula has been inhabited since prehistoric times with the earliest evidence of humans being found at Atapuerca in Northern Spain, where artefacts have been dated at around 800,000 years old. Around 4000 BC Libyans from the East – the Iberians, settled much of Spain. The Celts arrived shortly after this and mostly established themselves in the Northern areas of Spain.

Around 1100 BC the Phoenicians arrived – they were great sea travellers and set up trading colonies all along the coast, the most notable of which was Cadiz. Phoenician influences are still apparent in many of the coastal towns and villages of Spain. When Phoenicia fell, Spain was ruled by Carthage (what is now Tunisia) but shortly after this was occupied by the Romans. Rome dominated Iberia for six hundred years and laid the foundations of modern day Spain. The Roman legacy for Spain was the Latin language, Roman law, municipal government and the Christian religion. With the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century AD came another shift in power: the Visigoths, a Germanic people from Central Europe, now ruled Spain.

In 711 Spain was invaded by Muslim forces from North Africa. These forces are known as the Moors as they were originally thought to come from Mauritania (NB the Spanish equivalent, “Moro” is now a derogatory term). The Moors dominated Spain for the next seven hundred years and left a rich legacy which is clearly apparent today in the stunning Moorish architecture throughout Spain, especially in Andalucia. The beginning of the end for the Moorish occupation of Spain came in 1469 with the marriage of Fernando II of Aragon and Isabel, Queen of Castile, which marked the starting point of the modern day nation of Spain. Isabel and Fernando were known as the ‘Catholic Kings’ and in 1478 obtained a Papal Bull which enabled them to establish the Spanish Inquisition. The Reconquista aimed to re-Christianise Spain and was characterised by the cult of Sangre Limpia (pure blood). As Spain had the largest Jewish population in Medieval Europe and had been occupied by Muslims for 700 years, the idea of ‘pure’ Christian blood was something of a myth; this did not stop the most notorious of the Inquisitors – Torquemada – in his life’s work of ridding Spain of Jews and Moors. Many thousands who refused to convert were killed or expelled from Spain. The Moors were gradually driven southwards by Christian forces and the last Moorish stronghold of Granada in Southern Spain was conquered in 1492 by the army of Fernando and Isabel.

1492 was also the year that Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas. This marked the start of Spain’s massive expansion of territory – and a period of huge wealth with the treasures seized from the New World. Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries Spain was the greatest power in the world, though constant wars were a massive drain on resources.

During the 19th century Spain was in constant flux, with coups d’etat commonplace and little stability. There was increasing tension between different social groups. The working classes gradually gained power and in the 1931 municipal elections, the monarchists were devastatingly defeated in every large town and city in Spain. Though the King still had much support in rural areas he was persuaded that to abdicate would be in the best interests of his country and so, in 1931, King Alfonso XIII abdicated and Spain was declared a Republic. Five years of unrest ensued, culminating in the bloody Spanish Civil War, of 1936 to 1939. Spain was subject to a brutal dictatorship under General Franco for the next 40 years and all other political parties were illegal. Franco was sympathetic to Hitler and Mussolini and thus Spain was ostracized from the Community of Nations – until it became strategically important to America during the Cold War era.

The Americans set up military bases throughout Spain and slowly, from the 50s onward, it became popular as a holiday destination. When Franco died in 1975, King Juan Carlos I acceded to the throne and gradually established a Western style democracy in Spain. The first democratic Parliamentary elections for over 40 years took place on June 15th 1977, and a new constitution, based on votes for all, was established in 1978. Spain’s bloodless transition from dictatorship to modern democracy is unique in modern history and a source of pride for Spaniards.

Between 1980 and 1982, four regions of Spain elected their own Parliaments and became self-governing: Catalonia; the Basque Region; Galicia and Andalusia.

Today, Spain remains a Parliamentary Monarchy – with King Juan Carlos I still on the throne. The current president is Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who won power in 2004, for the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE).

One of the many attractions of living in Spain is the wealth of history on your doorstep – with so many places of historical significance to visit: history comes to life here. If you choose to make Spain your home, and buy a property here, you will be part of a long legacy of people who have come to this beautiful country – though thankfully the Spanish Inquisition is long consigned to the past!

Links for further reading:

Links for Information on the Moors in Spain

Wikipedia – an open content, free encyclopedia: Information on Moors

Links on Isabel and Fernando (or Isabella and Ferdinand as they are sometimes known in English)

Wikipedia – an open content, free encyclopedia: Information on Isabella of Castile

THE GOLDEN AGE: Ferdinand and Isabella

‘About’ – A Homework Help site: Isabella I of Spain

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