History of Spain

Brief History of Spain through the 19th Century


History of Spain….Archeological research shows the Iberian Peninsula was populated by hominids or great apes over 1.2 million years ago.  Modern humans arrived in the Peninsula by foot from the North around 32,000 years ago.  Testament to these settlements are the famous paintings of the Altamira Caves located in Cantabria, Northern Spain created about 15,000 years ago by the cro-magnons (the first early modern humans).

The two main historical peoples of the peninsula were the Iberians and the Celts, the Iberians lived on the Mediterranean side while the Celts occupied the Atlantic side.  The inner part of the peninsula was inhabited by both groups which formed the distinctive culture known as the Celtiberians.  Basques occupied the western part of the Pyrenees and adjacent areas while other ethnic groups existed along the southern coastal areas.

Between 500 and 300 BC Phoenicians and Greeks founded trading colonies along the Mediterranean Coast.  The Carthaginians briefly exerted control over much of the Mediterranean side of the peninsula until defeated by the Romans during the Punic Wars.

It could be said that the history of Spain actually begins when the Roman Empire took over the Iberian Peninsula, which they called Hispania (Spain).  During this time Hispania was the second most important territory in the Roman Empire after Italy.  Romans contributed three very important things: Latin (Spanish is a direct evolution from Latin), Latin culture (that is why Spaniards and Hispanic Americans are considered Latin) and Christianity introduced into Hispania in the 1st century.  Most of Spain’s present languages, religion and the basis of its laws came from this period in history.  It is important to note that one of the most powerful Roman emperors Traianus was actually from Spain, born in Seville.  The most important monument you can see in Spain from the Roman period is the Aqueduct of Segovia.

The weakening of the Roman Empire began in 409 and around 412 the Visigoths took over Spain.  During this period in the history of Spain the peninsula was poorer both culturally and economically.  Spain managed to preserve its language and its religion.  Most of the Visigoth monuments found in Spain are churches located in the Northern regions.

In the 8th century nearly all of the Iberian Peninsula was conquered by Moorish armies coming from North Africa.  Only a small area in the northwest region managed to resist the initial invasion.  During this time Mediterranean trade and cultural exchanges flourished as Muslims imported a rich intellectual tradition from the Middle East and North Africa.  Muslim and Jewish scholars played an important role in reviving and expanding learning in Western Europe.  Introduction of new crops and techniques led to a remarkable expansion in agriculture.  Cordoba, the capital of the caliphate, was the largest, richest and most sophisticated city in Western Europe. 

During this time small kingdoms in the northwest region of Spain started to fight the Moors in what is known as the Reconquista.  The Christian army’s victory over Muslim forces led to the creation of the Kingdom of Asturias and shortly thereafter Muslim forces were driven out of Galicia.  These areas were to grow into the kingdoms of Navarre, Aragón and Catalonia.  Finally in 1492 the combined forces of Castilla and Aragón captured Granada thus ending the 781 presence of Islamic rule in the Iberian Peninsula.  There are many monuments left from the Islamic rule most important ones are the Alhambra in Granada, the Reales Alcázares of Seville and Cordoba’s Mosque now a cathedral.spanish-history-christopher-columbus

1492 marked a very important year in the history of Spain as Queen Isabella of Castilla and King Ferdinand of Aragón centralized the royal power and with their wide ranging political, legal, religious and military reforms Spain emerged as the first world power and modern nation in history.  This year also marked the arrival to the New World by Christopher Columbus thus starting the Spanish Empire.

The Kings of Spain from 1500 to 1700 ruled over Spain, Portugal, southern Italy, Sicily, Malta, Holland, Belgium, parts of France and Germany in Europe as well as from Argentina to Canada and some colonies both in Africa and Asia. As a matter of fact during the reign of Charles the I of Spain and V of Germany in the 16th century it was said that the sun never set over the Spanish Empire. The Spanish army was totally undefeated for 100 years.  In the latter half of the 17th century Spain went into a gradual decline and in 1714 it surrendered its European territories, however maintained and enlarged its overseas empire. 

In 1793 Spain went to war against the French Republic, defeated in 1795 Spain became a client state.  In 1807 French troops entered the peninsula with the pretense of invading Portugal but instead occupied Spain, this invasion led to the abdication of the Spanish king in favor of Napoleon’s brother, Joseph Bonaparte.  The French occupied Spain until defeated in 1814 when Ferdinand VII was restored as king. The French invasion devastated the economy and left Spain a deeply divided country prone to political instability.  The power struggles of the 19th century also led to the loss of its colonies in the Americas in what is known as “El Desastre” (the disaster).  Spain was never again an important country in history until the present time. Monuments from the Spanish Empire can be found in every city in Spain, particularly in Madrid, Sevilla, Salamanca and Toledo.  The Prado Museum holds a large variety sculptures and paintings from this prosperous period in the history of Spain.

                                                                       Continue to History of Spain 19th Century to now

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