History of Spain in 5 minutes

A walk through the history of Spain

On this page, we will try to summarise the impressive history of Spain in only 5 minutes. This is not an easy task, but we have tried our best.

So…let’s just start!

From the origins until the Spanish Reconquest

Because of its complex geography, Spain has been a melting pot of different cultures since ancient times (Iberians, Turdetani, Celts, Phoenicians, Greeks, …) and this culminated with the arrival of the Romans. The first ones to make Spain into a coherent political unit with the creation of ‘Hispania Romana’.

The Roman influence lasted several centuries, until the Fall of the Empire caused by Barbarian invasions who razed the lands. After all this chaos, the Visigoths would take control of the peninsula. These Visigoths won’t last long in Spain. The failure of their monarchy allowed a new civilization to grow. They came from the North of Africa and called the place Al-Andalus.

The Muslims founded the origins of one of the most important states in Europe, which would reach its peak with the Caliphate of Cordoba.

But every kingdom must fall, a fate that did not spare the Caliphate. This resulted in the creation of various Taifa kingdoms, small Muslim kingdoms that fought each other for political, military, and artistic hegemony. 

During these troubling times, the Christian kingdoms in the North of Spain organised themselves and united under the common goal to reconquer Spain. This epic war would be known as ‘La Reconquista’ and would take until 1492 with the conquest of Granada to come to an end. The same year Christopher Columbus sailed to the Americas for Spain, and thus sparked the beginning of the Spanish Empire.

After the Discovery of the “New World”

Thanks to the discovery of the New World, Spain became an important Empire controlling lands far beyond the Iberian peninsula. Charles I would be named as Holy Roman Emperor and managed to expand his control all over Europe.

However, these expansionist policies relied on a strong army: the famous ‘Tercios españoles’ (the Spanish thirds). They caused a lot of debts to the Crown, whose coffers were depleting at an alarming rate.

Charles I’s successor was his son Philip II. He continued the politics of his father. During his reign, Spain had many open fronts and Philip II had to fight the Dutch, English, and Turks. The Spanish power was preserved, but the gold and silver in the coffers were almost gone.

The successors of Philip II were the Austrian kings. They were not very interested in governing, and left the ruling to the nobility. The most famous of these nobles was the Duque de Olivares, who tried to recover the importance of the Empire with the ‘Thirty Years War’.

During this war, the Tercios españoles fought bravely, but the French army came out victorious. Spain’s influence was diminished immensely.

The Spanish society and the Enlightenment

During the 18th century, the ‘War of Succession’ started. Charles II died without an heir, and the Crown went to France. They chose Bourbon for the Spanish throne. This Bourbon introduced the enlightened ideas that were in fashion in France at the time. Some changes came with this Enlightenment, but Spanish society was characterised by old traditions, and religion and nobility had a bigger influence compared to other European countries.

Neither Napoleon and his liberal ideas, nor the ‘Cortes de Cadiz’ with the constitution of 1812 were able to change this Ancien Regime. It went so far that King Ferdinand VII even persecuted everyone who had ideas of changing the system.

The 19th century

The 19th century was a century of big crisis in the Spanish Empire with the loss of its colonies. They also suffered various internal rebellions. Finally, at the end of the century, a Spanish politician stood up and tried to change the political landscape: Cánovas del Castillo. He understood how important new political systems were, in an attempt to create an entrepreneurial society and modernise the national industry.

Cánovas del Castillo followed the English political model of bipartisanism and created two different parties that would take turns in power. However, the parties were unable to solve the internal problems of the country and workers began organising unions and started the first strikes. A lot of them were involved in socialist, communist, and anarchist parties.

Franco and the Spanish Civil War

Spanish society became so incredibly radicalised that the country became ungovernable. This led to the Spanish Civil War  (1936-1939) where the nationalist side led by Francisco Franco took power.

When ‘El Caudillo’, as Franco was also known as, took power, the people believed that he would be a transitional figure that would help reconcile the different factions and let the country return to normalcy somehow. In the end, Franco would create a dictatorship for almost 40 years that only ended with his death in 1975.

After the dictatorship of Franco until today

After Franco’s dictatorship, there would be an immense change in society. New generations wanted to see the world, they had new ideas, and wanted to become closer to Europe.

King Juan Carlos I succeeded Franco and was able to get rid of Francoism, and gave the power back to the people. This way he safeguarded the transition from a dictatorship to democracy.

Politicians were able to work together in order to make Spain the democratic country it is today, and although problems like corruption, crisis, and terrorism have reared their ugly head, Spain still managed to maintain its democracy until today.

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