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Barbarian Invasions, the Moorish Kingdom & the Reconquest -- Around 200 B.C., the Romans vanquished the Carthaginians and laid the foundations of the present Latin culture. Traces of Roman civilization can still be seen today. By the time of Julius Caesar, Spain (Hispania) was under Roman law and began a long period of peace and prosperity.

When Rome fell in the 5th century, Spain was overrun, first by the Vandals and then by the Visigoths from eastern Europe. The chaotic rule of the Visigothic kings lasted about 300 years, but the barbarian invaders did adopt the language of their new country and tolerated Christianity as well.

In A.D. 711, Moorish warriors led by Tarik crossed into Spain and conquered the disunited country. By 714, they controlled most of it, except for a few mountain regions around Asturias. For 8 centuries the Moors occupied their new land, which they called al-Andalús, or Andalusia, with Córdoba as the capital. A great intellectual center, Córdoba became the scientific capital of Europe; notable advances were made in agriculture, industry, literature, philosophy, and medicine. The Jews were welcomed by the Moors, often serving as administrators, ambassadors, and financial officers. But the Moors quarreled with one another, and soon the few Christian strongholds in the north began to advance south.

The Reconquest, the name given to the Christian efforts to rid the peninsula of the Moors, slowly reduced the size of the Muslim holdings, with Catholic monarchies forming in northern areas. The three powerful kingdoms of Aragón, Castile, and León were joined in 1469, when Ferdinand of Aragón married Isabella of Castile. The Catholic kings, as they were called, launched the final attack on the Moors and completed the Reconquest in 1492 by capturing Granada.

That same year, Columbus landed in the West Indies, laying the foundations for a far-flung empire that brought wealth and power to Spain during the 16th and 17th centuries.

The Spanish Inquisition, begun under Ferdinand and Isabella, sought to eradicate all heresy and secure the primacy of Catholicism. Non-Catholics, Jews, and Moors were mercilessly persecuted, and many were driven out of the country.

The Golden Age & Later Decline -- Columbus's voyage, and the conquistadors' subsequent exploration of the New World, ushered Spain into its Golden Age.

In the first half of the 16th century, Balboa discovered the Pacific Ocean, Cortés seized Mexico for Spain, Pizarro took Peru, and a Spanish ship (initially commanded by the Portuguese Magellan, who was killed during the voyage) circumnavigated the globe. The conquistadors took Catholicism to the New World and shipped cargoes of gold back to Spain. The Spanish Empire extended all the way to the Philippines. Charles V, grandson of Ferdinand and Isabella, was the most powerful prince in Europe -- king of Spain and Naples, Holy Roman Emperor and lord of Germany, duke of Burgundy and the Netherlands, and ruler of the New World territories.

But much of Spain's wealth and human resources were wasted in religious and secular conflicts. First Jews, then Muslims, and finally Catholicized Moors were driven out -- and with them much of the country's prosperity. When Philip II ascended the throne in 1556, Spain could indeed boast vast possessions: the New World colonies; Naples, Milan, Genoa, Sicily, and other portions of Italy; the Spanish Netherlands (modern Belgium and the Netherlands); and portions of Austria and Germany. But the seeds of decline had already been planted.

Philip, a fanatic Catholic, devoted his energies to subduing the Protestant revolt in the Netherlands and to becoming the standard-bearer for the Counter-Reformation. He tried to return England to Catholicism, first by marrying Mary I ("Bloody Mary") and later by wooing her half-sister, Elizabeth I, who rebuffed him. When, in 1588, he resorted to sending the Armada, it was ignominiously defeated; that defeat symbolized the decline of Spanish power.

In 1700, a Bourbon prince, Philip V, became king, and the country fell under the influence of France. Philip V's right to the throne was challenged by a Habsburg archduke of Austria, thus giving rise to the War of the Spanish Succession. When it ended, Spain had lost Flanders, its Italian possessions, and Gibraltar (still held by the British today).

During the 18th century, Spain's direction changed with each sovereign. Charles III (1759-88) developed the country economically and culturally. Charles IV became embroiled in wars with France, and the weakness of the Spanish monarchy allowed Napoleon to place his brother Joseph Bonaparte on the throne in 1808.

The 19th & 20th Centuries -- Although Britain and France had joined forces to restore the Spanish monarchy, the European conflicts encouraged Spanish colonists to rebel. Ultimately, this led the United States to free the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Cuba from Spain in 1898.

In 1876, Spain became a constitutional monarchy. But labor unrest, disputes with the Catholic Church, and war in Morocco combined to create political chaos. Conditions eventually became so bad that the Cortés, or parliament, was dissolved in 1923, and Gen. Miguel Primo de Rivera formed a military directorate. Early in 1930, Primo de Rivera resigned, but unrest continued.

On April 14, 1931, a revolution occurred, a republic was proclaimed, and King Alfonso XIII and his family were forced to flee. Initially, the liberal constitutionalists ruled, but soon they were pushed aside by the socialists and anarchists, who adopted a constitution separating church and state, secularizing education, and containing several other radical provisions (for example, agrarian reform and the expulsion of the Jesuits).

The extreme nature of these reforms fostered the growth of the conservative Falange party (Falange española, or Spanish Phalanx), modeled after Italy's and Germany's fascist parties. By the 1936 elections, the country was divided equally between left and right, and political violence was common. On July 18, 1936, the army, supported by Mussolini and Hitler, tried to seize power, igniting the Spanish Civil War. Gen. Francisco Franco, coming from Morocco to Spain, led the Nationalist (rightist) forces in fighting that ravaged the country.

The popular front opposing Franco was forced to rely mainly on untrained volunteers, including a few heroic Americans called the "Lincoln brigade." (For those who want an insight into the era, Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls is a good read.) It took time to turn untrained militias into an army fit to battle Franco's forces, and time was something the popular front didn't have.

It was a war that would attract the attention of the world. By the summer of 1936, the Soviet Union was sending rubles to aid the revolution by the republicans. Even Mexico sent war materiel to the popular front. Most -- but not all -- of the volunteers were communists. Italy and Germany contributed war materiel to Franco's forces.

Madrid, controlled by the popular front, held out through a brutal siege that lasted for 28 months. Eventually, the government of the popular front moved to Valencia for greater safety in 1936.

But in the winter of 1936-37, Franco's forces slowly began to establish power, capturing the Basque capital of Bilbao and eventually Santander. The war shocked the world with its ruthlessness. (World War II hadn't happened yet.) Churches were burned and mass executions occurred, especially memorable in the Basque town of Guernica, which became the subject of one of Picasso's most fabled paintings.

By October 1, 1936, Franco was clearly in charge of the leadership of nationalist Spain, abolishing popular suffrage and regional autonomy -- in effect, launching totalitarian rule of Spain.

The republicans were split by internal differences, and spy trials were commonplace. At the end of the first year of war, Franco held 35 of Spain's provincial capitals. In 1937, the republican forces were cut in two, and Madrid was left to fend for itself.

The last great offensive of the war began on December 28, 1938, with an attack by Franco's forces on Barcelona, which fell on January 26 after a campaign of 34 days. Republican forces fled toward France, as a succession of presidents occurred. On March 28 some 200,000 nationalist troops marched into Madrid, meeting no resistance. The war was over the next day when the rest of republican Spain surrendered. Lasting 2 years and 254 days, the war claimed some one million lives.

For memories and a sense of the Spanish Civil War, visitors can travel to El Valle de los Caídos (the Valley of the Fallen), outside El Escorial.

Although Franco adopted a neutral position during World War II, his sympathies obviously lay with Germany and Italy. Spain, although a nonbelligerent, assisted the Axis powers. This action intensified the diplomatic isolation into which the country was forced after the war's end -- in fact, it was excluded from the United Nations until 1955.

Before his death, Franco selected as his successor Juan Carlos de Borbón y Borbón, son of the pretender to the Spanish throne. After the 1977 elections, a new constitution was approved by the electorate and the king; it guaranteed human and civil rights, as well as free enterprise, and canceled the status of the Roman Catholic Church as the church of Spain. It also granted limited autonomy to several regions, including Catalonia and the Basque provinces, both of which, however, are still clamoring for more full-fledged autonomy.

In 1981 a group of right-wing military officers seized the Cortés and called upon Juan Carlos to establish a Francoist state. The king, however, refused, and the conspirators were arrested. The fledgling democracy overcame its first test. Its second major accomplishment -- under the Socialist administration of Prime Minister Felipe González, the country's first leftist government since 1939 -- was to gain Spain's entry into the European Community (now European Union) in 1986.

Early 21st Century -- The shocking news for 2000 was not political but social. Spain came under increasing pressure to conform to short lunch breaks like those in the other E.U. countries. What? No 3-hour siesta? It was heresy. In spite of opposition, large companies began to cut lunch to 2 hours. Pro-siesta forces in Spain cited the American custom of "power naps" as reason to retain their beloved afternoon break.

So the siesta appears to be under serious attack, perhaps as a consequence of the Spanish economy's upswing, which created more new jobs than in any other country in the E.U. More and more families are moving to the suburbs, and more women are joining the workforce. A survey has revealed that only 25% of Spaniards still take the siesta.

On other fronts, Spain moved ahead as an economic force in Latin America, where only 20 years ago Spain was a minor economic presence. Today, it is second only to the United States. The long-held monopoly of the U.S. in the region is being challenged for the first time since the Spanish-American War of 1898. In the last tally, Spaniards in 1 year poured $20 billion of investment value into Latin America.

Although there were some rough transitional periods, and a lot of older citizens were bewildered, Spain officially abandoned its time-honored peseta and went under the euro umbrella in March 2002. During the transition period, as Spaniards struggled to adjust to the new currency, counterfeiters had a field day.

Throughout 2003, Basque terrorists, part of a separatist group (ETA), continued their campaign of terror against the government. Bombs and death tolls in 2003, including attacks in Madrid, brought the total of deaths up to 800 in this 3-decade-old campaign aimed at creating an independent Basque homeland in northern Spain and southwest France. Bombings are usually at vacation resorts, as ETA's announced aim is to disrupt Spain's main industry -- tourism.

On March 11, 2004, terrorists linked to Al Qaeda exploded 10 bombs on four trains going into Madrid from the suburbs, killing 191 passengers and injuring 1,800. This was one of the deadliest terrorist attacks ever to hit Spain.

Since taking office in April 2004, Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero vowed to institute deep changes in social issues after 8 years of conservative rule. On the day he was confirmed as prime minister, he endorsed gay marriage. In approving the resolution in April 2005, the Spanish Parliament became the third European country to recognize gay marriage after the Netherlands and Belgium.

Rodríguez Zapatero has also made peace overtures to ETA, but after the 2006 ETA bombing at the Madrid airport, negotiations with the separatist group were stalled. Spanish Interior Minister Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba told the press that he could not see how the peace process could resume. Indeed, in June 2007, ETA formally called an end to the cease-fire it had declared a year earlier.

Like the rest of the world, Spain's economic growth slowed sharply by early 2009, as many of its companies faced financial turmoil. Spain's 2008 growth rate was a sluggish 1.8%, as opposed to more than 3% yearly growth in the previous decade. In the aftermath of the U.S. subprime mortgage meltdown, Spain took a big hit from more difficult financing conditions. The New York Times reported that unemployment in Spain hit 17 percent in the first quart of 2009, one of the most devastating rates in years. Car sales fell by 28%.

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