History of The Beautiful Spain
Spain, country located in extreme southwestern Europe. It occupies about 85 percent of the Iberian Peninsula, which it shares with its smaller neighbour Portugal. Spain’s story is one of Europe’s grand epics. It embraces the great struggles between Muslims and Christians of the Middle Ages, one of the world’s biggest-ever empires, and, in the 20th century, civil war, dictatorship and a stunning return to democracy. As you travel around the country it’s delightfully easy to get in touch with Spain’s fascinating past through its countless well-preserved monuments and historical sites, and excellent museums.
At different moments in time, the land of present-day Spain has been sought after by the greatest empires the Carthaginians and the Romans fought over it, the Arabs conquered it, and the Catholic Monarchs recovered it and made it into the most powerful empire in the world with the Spanish conquest of America. In fact, under King Philip II of Spain there was no time in which the sun was not shining on one part of Spain’s territory, which stretched from the Philippines (guess which king they were named after!) to the Americas with Spain, Portugal, Flanders, Italy, and parts of what is now Germany in between.
The Spanish Civil War took place in Spain between 1936 and 1939. How did it all start? In 1936, Manuel Azaña, a democratically elected Republican, was serving as the president of Spain when a group of the most influential generals from the part of the Spanish army based in Morocco carried out a coup d’etat led by General Francisco Franco. Spain quickly erupted into civil war.
The Spanish Golden Age lasted from 1492 to around 1659. It began with the end of the Reconquista, Christopher Columbus’s first voyage to the Americas, and the publication of Gramática de la lengua castellana (Grammar of the Castilian Language) by Antonio de Nebrija, the first person to study Spanish and set the grammar rules — in fact, Nebrija’s work was the first grammar study of any Romance language. 1659 marked the end of the Golden Age in terms of politics, although in terms of art it continued until 1681, ending with the death of the author and playwright Calderón de Barca.
Roderic’s army was decimated, probably near Río Guadalete or Río Barbate in western Andalucía, and he is thought to have drowned while fleeing the scene. Visigothic survivors fled north and within a few years the Muslims had conquered the whole Iberian Peninsula, except for small areas behind the mountains of the Cordillera Cantábrica in the north. Their advance into Europe was only checked by the Franks at the Battle of Poitiers in 732. The death of the Prophet Mohammed in far-off Arabia in 632 sent shock waves far and wide, and Spain, too, would soon feel the effects. Under Mohammed’s successors, known as caliphs (from the Arabic word for ‘follower’), the new religion spread with extraordinary speed. Much of the Middle East was theirs by 656, and by 682 Islam had reached the shores of the Atlantic in Morocco. Spain, and with it Europe, now lay within sight.
For all its significance, there is an element of farce to what happened next. If you believe the myth, the Muslims were ushered into Spain by the sexual misadventures of the last Visigoth king, Roderic, who reputedly seduced Florinda, the daughter of the governor of Ceuta on the Moroccan coast. The governor, Julian, sought revenge by approaching the Muslims with a plan to invade Spain, and in 711 Tariq ibn Ziyad, the Muslim governor of Tangier, landed at Gibraltar with around 10,000 men, mostly Berbers (indigenous North Africans). The Muslims had chosen a good moment to arrive: with the disintegration of the Visigothic kingdom through famine, disease and strife among the aristocracy, the Iberian Peninsula was in disarray and ripe for invasion.