» View our vacations to Spain
Today's Spain exudes a brilliant multicultural heritage that began in its earliest days.
Around 1100 BC, the Phoenicians passed through and established colonies in Andalusia, notably at Cadiz, Malaga, and Tartessus. Greeks, Celts, Carthaginians, Romans, and Visigoths also invaded the country before the Moors conquered all but northern Spain. The Moors, who created an enlightened civilization in Spain, were at constant, violent odds with the Christians for the next 700 years. The Christian Reconquest pushed southward, uniting Spain when King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella drove out the last enclave of Moors from Granada in the late 15th century.
Roman Catholicism was established as the official state religion. The court of the Inquisition, which had been instituted in 1478 by Isabella and Ferdinand, continued on its zealous crusade to discover and punish converted Jews and later Muslims, who were insincere. Christians also were investigated for heresy. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic Ocean, Christopher Columbus, sponsored by the same monarchs, was opening a new era for Spain by discovering America. In the age of discovery and colonization, Spain amassed tremendous wealth and a vast colonial empire through the conquest of Peru by Pizarro (1532-33) and of Mexico by Cortes (1519-21). The Spanish Hapsburg monarchy became for a time the most powerful in the world. In 1588, Philip II sent his invincible Armada to invade England, but its destruction cost Spain its supremacy on the seas and paved the way for England’s colonization of America.
Spain’s subsequent military losses in the Thirty Years’ War, which ended in 1643, further contributed to its decline as a powerful nation. The War of the Spanish Succession (1701-14) resulted in Spain’s loss of Belgium, Luxembourg, Milan, Sardinia, and Naples. Its colonial empire in the Americas and the Philippines vanished in wars and revolutions during the 18th and 19th centuries. Cuban independence at the end of the Spanish-America War in 1898 spelled the end of the Spanish overseas empire.
In World War I, Spain maintained a position of neutrality. In 1923, King Alfonso XIII appointed a military dictator, General Miguel Primo de Rivera, who was later forced into exile. In 1931, the king was deposed and a second republic established with Manuel Azana as president. The new constitution called for liberal reforms that would redistribute land and diminish the power of the Church. It engendered such right-wing opposition that civil war erupted. Francisco Franco, who had led the victorious Nationalist forces, became dictator of Spain. Under his Fascist regime, Spain remained neutral in World War II. Its cordial relations with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy caused its exclusion from the UN until 1955.
Political dissent in Spain was suppressed and civil liberties were stifled until Franco’s death of a heart attack in 1975, at which time Juan Carlos I, grandson of Alfonso XIII, ascended the throne and undertook a policy of liberalization. Spain managed a rapid and relatively peaceful transition to democracy under his supervision.