SPAIN is a land of sun and passion, art and nature, culture and tradition. If you live here or visit often, it’s good to get a background, and perhaps visit some, of the other areas and towns outside of your own district.
With an approximate population of 40 million, Spain has a constitutional monarchy. The current president of Spain is Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero of the P.S.O.E. (Spanish Socialist Workers Party). He took over from José Maria Aznar of the Popular Party in the election of March 2004, just after the Madrid bombings. Jose Luis is 43 years old. His grandfather was Captain Juan Rodriguez Lozano of the Republican army who was executed by a firing squad of Franco’s troops at the beginning of the civil war. Jose Luis studied law and graduated from the University of Leon in 1982 after which he became a teacher of political law. At 18 he was elected secretary general of the Young Socialists of Leon. At 22 he became the leader of that group in the capital. At 26 he became the youngest deputy in Spain and at 28 he became secretary general for Leon.
With its shores swept by the Atlantic Ocean on one coast and the warm Mediterranean Sea on the other, Spain covers 504,750 square kilometres of the Iberian Peninsula, flanked by Portugal. Its fertile soil, a wealth of underground minerals, an abundance of fish in the seas and beautiful scenery have all contributed over the centuries to make this land a sought after place for many civilisations.
Man started living here in 800,000 BC. The first inhabitants were groups of hunters, followed many years later by tribes of sheep farmers and, around 5000 BC, by agricultural farmers. Later colonisers arrived bringing their own cultures with them. The first to land on Spanish shores were the Phoenicians, around 1100 BC, founding prosperous settlements particularly along the south-east coastline. The Greeks were next settling along the north-east coast, and in 228 BC the Carthaginians began a surge of conquests in Andalucia.
The Roman conquest of the peninsula began in 218 BC, overcoming the Carthaginians by 206 BC. Conquering the rest of the country, fiercely defended by local people, proved a more arduous task which was only completed in 19 BC.
In 74 AD Roman citizenship was granted to all cities in the country, and for centuries afterwards, Spain was the granary of the Roman Empire thanks to the vast areas where cereals were grown. It also became one of the Empire’s principal sources of minerals.
When Roman supremacy began to decline Spain, on the periphery of the Empire, was one of the first provinces to pay the consequences. Halfway through the 3rd century, there had already been numerous incursions by the Franks coming down from the north, but the finishing blow came from the Vandals, Swabians and Alanians who crossed over the Pyrenees in 409 and ransacked the peninsula.
The Visigoths, another Germanic tribe, took over from the Romans after conquering the peninsula in 415. Once they had established their court at Barcelona they left the political, juridical and administrative structures in place, supported by a solid military regime. Unable to impose Arianism on a country where Christianity had been spreading since the 3rd century, the Visigoth king Recaredo converted to the Roman Catholic church at the end of the 6th century and became the first Christian sovereign of Spain.
By the 7th century, the strength of the Visigoth kingdom in Spain had begun to decline, undermined by internal disputes that tormented the aristocratic ranks. In this situation, they were unable to ward off the advancing Arabs and Berbers who landed on the southern coasts in 711.
The Moors, as the Muslim invaders were soon called, very quickly conquered the whole of Spain except for a small strip of land in the Asturias mountains where they were opposed by a large group of Christian and Visigoth noblemen. A rich, refined culture began to flourish leaving indelible traces in Spanish history. Asserting itself as a mighty power, Moorish Spain was to the forefront in all branches of knowledge, from mathematics to architecture, from astronomy to decorative arts, from warfare to navigation techniques.
From 744 Christian resistance became organised in the northern parts of the Iberian peninsula, but it took until 1469 to totally oust the Moors from power.
In 1478 the Catholic Monarchs, through Pope Sixtus IV, introduced the Inquisition. In 1492 they ordered the expulsion of all Jews and in 1502 all Moors who had not converted to Catholicism were banished.
Columbus to the Armada
1492 was also the year when America was discovered by Columbus, sailing under the Spanish royal flag. Conquering these new, immense territories (after landing in the Caribbean Islands, the Conquistadores reached the continent where they occupied Mexico in 1519, Peru in 1532 and Chile in 1541) led to the importation of enormous quantities of products and resources that were fundamental for the future of the Spanish kingdom. Navigation and shipping were greatly stimulated and Seville became one of the most important ports in Europe. Whilst much gold, silver and precious stones were brought into Spain, new products – potatoes, maize, tobacco and cocoa – were also introduced.
There was a dark side to this time of great splendour. The converted Moors began protesting vehemently against persecutions and unjust taxes. Outside of Spain, much clamour was manifested against the extermination of the American natives. Charles I, grandson of the Catholic Monarchs and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire (since he was also heir to the Hapsburgs) led Spanish troops into battle all over Europe. Philip II, his son and successor to the dominions of Spain, Flanders and Italy, was faced with a kingdom on the verge of financial ruin because of the many wars that had been fought. In 1588 Philip witnessed the destruction of the famous invincible Armada, the feared naval fleet that had set forth in vain to conquer England.
The power of Spain and its monarchy in Europe began to decline from this event onwards. Although the Monarchs did much to foster the arts and sciences all through the 17th century, embellishing and enriching cities and buildings and founding the Siglo de Oro for art and literature, they also involved the country in exhausting wars in the Netherlands and Italy without taking into account the financial difficulties of the country. Spain’s drained economy was worsened by a period of critical recession in agriculture, astronomical foreign debt and neglected industry.
Charles II, the last of the Hapsburgs in Spain, died heirless in 1700 leaving the crown to Philip of Anjou the future Philip V and grandson of Louis XIV. The Austrians, fearing that France would have excessive power, opposed Philip and appointed another pretender to the throne, Archduke Charles, to whom Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearic Islands swore their loyalty. This led to the lengthy, arduous War of Succession (1702-1714) which ended when Philip V was acknowledged the rightful king without Flanders, Italy and Minorca, and losing Gibraltar which became English under the Treaties of Utrecht.
This first Bourbon king worked towards a stronger State with fewer powers to the church, revival of the economy by invigorating industries, military reorganisation and investment in arts and culture. His successor, Charles III (1759-1788) was also actively involved in the difficult task of restoring the spirit and substance of Spain. Although a fervent Catholic, he resolutely expelled the General Inquisitor from the land and, in 1766, the Jesuits. He was responsible for completing the Royal Palace in Madrid and the Prado Museum, and he reorganised the river system and road network.
1788 to Napoleon
Charles IV had a different personality. He was the victim of a despotic wife, Maria Luisa of Parma, and was tormented by Napoleon. In 1808 Napoleon convinced Charles to banish his rebel son, Ferdinand, and to abdicate in favour of Bonaparte’s brother, Joseph. Spain, already humiliated by the defeat of its fleet annihilated by Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, reacted vehemently. The peasants were the first to revolt and insurrection gradually extended to all regions, causing the War of Independence that continued until Napoleon’s fall in 1814.
Ferdinand VII refused to acknowledge Spain’s first liberal Constitution, proclaimed in 1812 by the Spanish court in Cadiz. He established rigid absolutism and reinstated the Inquisition and the Jesuits. His intemperate and repressive conservatism caused the revolt and then the secession of the American colonies. On the other hand, Ferdinand changed the laws of royal succession in favour of his daughter, Isabella, engendering the wrath of conservative extremists who counterattacked with his brother, Don Carlos. Hence, the Carlist Wars commenced in 1833 and resulted in many decades of violent civil conflicts between liberals and conservatives supported by the church. There was an interval in 1873 when the First Republic took place, but schism within Spanish society was serious and lasted until the end of the 19th century when Alphonse XII brought the conflicts onto a purely political plane.
At the dawn of the 20th century, in a country that was substantially declining, a few cautious attempts at recovering the economy were insufficient for keeping discontent, that was heightened after the loss of Cuba and the Philippines in 1898, at bay. In spite of a flourishing revival of arts and culture, the continued bloodshed caused by anarchists, the revolt of the workers and warfare in Morocco was exasperated by brutal repression. Strikes and public demonstrations, kindled by anarchist and socialist worker’s unions, were brought under order in 1923 by the resolute dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera, though he did not survive the 1929 great depression.
The 1931 elections, won by the left wing, resulted in the removal of Alphonse XIII (on the throne since 1902) and the proclamation of the Second Republic. The increasingly fierce conflicts between right and left wings led to the outbreak of Civil War on 18th July 1936. After three years of fighting and bloodshed, the victory was General Franco’s Nationalists openly backed by the Spanish army, Italy and Germany. Thousands of supporters of the republican movement were slaughtered, many of whom were well-known intellectuals. A substantially neutral bearing was kept during World War II, except for the support the new dictator offered the German-Italian alliance.
The Francoist regime was backed by both the church and the military, and only initially contested by NATO and the United Nations. The regime made progressive recovery of the Spanish economy and paid particular attention to diffusion of culture.
When Franco died in 1975, one of the Bourbon heirs, Juan Carlos, grandson of Alphonse XIII, sat once more on the throne. Under this much loved, farsighted sovereign with clearly liberal ideas, Spain has marched along the road to democracy with determination and speed establishing itself within the Europe of the third millennium.
Juan Carlos is married to Queen Sophia of Greece and they have three children – Felipe is heir to the throne and Prince of Asturias, and two daughters, Cristina and Elena.