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History of Spain
By Emmanuelle Poiret

Each country has its history. Invasions, wars for power or religion, conquests, Spain too, has undergone successive periods of glory and crisis. This endless repetition spreads over the timeline of history.


Although archaeological excavations have evidenced human presence on Iberian soil as early as the lower Palaeolithic era, Iberians belonging to the Neolithic civilisation are said to be the first inhabitants that had a name. Between the 3rd and 1st millennium before Christ, trade came into existence. Technical progress allowed working ceramics, copper and bronze, as well as the development of agriculture. The arrival of the Phoenicians and the Greeks in Andalusia towards the end of the 2nd millennium B.C. turned this region of Southern Spain into the trading post of the Mediterranean.

Roman domination

To compensate for the losses incurred against Rome during the first Punic War (264-240 before Christ), Carthage undertook the conquest of Spain. The peninsula therefore became the ground on which Carthaginians and Romans settled score. Eventually, the Romans took control of Carthage’s Spanish territories in 202 B.C. The four centuries under Roman domination that ensued were marked by peace, prosperity and the development of towns such as Tarraco (Tarragona), Hispalis (Seville) or Corduba (Córdoba). During the 2nd century, Christianity also emerges.

Barbarian invasions

In 409, Spain underwent a long period marked by a number of barbarian invasions. As the Vandals took control over Hispania Baetica (today’s Andalusia) and the Balearics, the Alans occupied Lusitania and eventually merged with the Vandals and the Suebi who dominated Galicia. As for the Visigoths, they ruled over Spain for two centuries with Toledo as their capital city.

The Al-Andalus era

In 711, as the Visigoth empire was coming to an end, Andalusia witnessed the arrival, via the Straits of Jebel Tariq (today’s Gibraltar), of the Arab-Berber troops led by Tariq Ibn Ziyad. In 756, Abd al-Rahman the first, prince of the Umayyad dynasty from Damascus, found refuge in Spain and founded the independent Emirate of Córdoba that lasted until 1031. Andalusia fully benefited from the Muslim cultural and artistic influence. In 785, the great mosque of Córdoba was erected. It was a religious but also a great intellectual and artistic centre.

The Reconquista and the Golden Age

The Muslim era ended in 1492, when Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon conquered the Emirate of Grenada, hence ending the Reconquista that had started in 722. With Christian Spain, formed by kingdoms of León and Castile, Navarre and Aragon with the County of Barcelona, the dark history of the Inquisition started, whose main victims were the heretics, the Jews and the Muslims. The reign of Isabella of Castile corresponded with the premises of the colonial era. She supported Christopher Columbus as he landed on Guanahaní Island (San Salvador). Under the reign of Charles V (1516-1556), the Spanish “Indies” Empire was constituted and the conquest of gold really started.

Weakening of the Spanish Empire

Philip II, sovereign of the Netherlands and Sicily, received the crowns of Castile and Aragon in 1561 and embarked on a struggle against Protestantism. This ended in failure and weakened the Spanish kingdom. In 1580, Spain entered a new recession phase. Economic decline was translated into a decrease in economic activity and a heavy fiscal deficit. Poverty increased in cities, Spaniards fled to the Americas and epidemics spread.

The War of Succession

Philip V, grand-son of Louis XIV of France, succeeded to the crown of Spain. His reign was marked by the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714) and by a centralist domestic policy. The 18th century was an era of economic recovery and demographic growth. The population of Spain increased from 7 to 10 million inhabitants. Barcelona became the second most important city after Madrid, thanks to its port activity. In Mexico, the restarting of the mining activities, the discovery of new deposits and the growth of the trade and production of tropical products (sugar, cocoa, tobacco, etc.) benefitted Spain. The economy modernized mostly through agriculture, which, faced with increasing population, had to meet even higher demands.

War against the French

As Charles IV supported Louis XVI, France declared war on Spain. The result was not favourable to Spain and, in 1807, Napoleon took advantage of the situation and entered the country with his troops. The population rebelled and in 1808 the War of Independence started. The consequences for the country were heavy. Weakened once again and with its naval strength reduced, Spain was in a weak position on the American continent. As a result, civil wars and independence movements broke out in the Americas.

Creation of the Second Republic and Franco dictatorship

On 23 September 1923, Primo de Riveira led a successful coup. Monarchy gave place to the Second Republic. He established a weak dictatorship and, due to an unfavourable economic context, eventually went into exile in 1930. After 3 years of intense struggle between loyalist Republicans and fascists, the nationalist forces, under the command of General Francisco Franco, took power. Franco proclaimed himself head of the government of the Spanish State in October 1936. He recruited soldiers, invoking the “War of Christian and Spanish hope against Marxist materialism”. He received the support of Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s Italy. During 35 years, summary executions, repression and exile came one after another: the population was forced into silence. Weakened by the civil war, famine and rationing, Spain recovered some economic prosperity in the 1960s. In 1969, Franco ensured his succession by appointing Prince Juan Carlos, grandson of Alfonso XIII. On 20 November 1975, the Caudillo died of an illness, and Spain turned the page of its most important dictator.

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